#1Feb 24th, 2007
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel on Saturday has denied a report in a British daily that it is seeking permission from the United States to fly its bombers over Iraq to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
"There has never been such a request, it is obvious," Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh told public radio.
The Daily Telegraph quoted an unnamed senior Israeli defence official as saying that negotiations were taking place with the US-led coalition in Iraq to provide an "air corridor" over Iraq if the Jewish state decided on unilateral action.
"We are planning for every eventuality, and sorting out issues such as these are crucial," the official told the conservative British broadsheet in a dispatch from Tel Aviv.
"If we don't sort these issues out we could have a situation where American and Israeli war planes start shooting at each other."
Sneh put the report down to "international sources who wish to dodge dealing directly with Iran and invent reports that we allegedly want to attack Iran in order to relieve themselves from the responsibility."
Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has in the past called for Israel to be wiped off the map.
But Israel has consistently said that the Iranian nuclear question should be solved by the international community and not the Jewish state alone, even though it refuses to rule out a preemptive strike against Iran.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report Thursday saying that Iran had not halted, and in fact had expanded, its uranium enrichment programme, defying a United Nations Security Council demand to stop by this week.
The United States, France and Britain have called for tougher Security Council sanctions on Tehran, while Germany, China and Russia have taken softer stances. Iran denies US charges that it seeks nuclear weapons.
An Israeli officer involved in the military planning told The Daily Telegraph: "One of the last issues we have to sort out is how we actually get to the targets in Iran. The only way to do this is to fly through US-controlled airspace in Iraq."
A senior Israeli security official who works on the strategic committee set up to deal with the Iran threat, chaired by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said: "The amount of effort we are putting into this single issue is unprecedented in the history of the State of Israel," the newspaper reported.
Israel is itself considered to be the sole nuclear weapons power in the Middle East. It does not officially acknowledge that it has an arsenal although Olmert appeared to do so in an apparent lapse last year.
Israeli warplanes in 1981 destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad after suspecting Iraq of aiming to build nuclear weapons.
Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse.