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Special Report

Does Israel Have the Military Capability To Stop Iran?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," April 13, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

BRIT HUME, HOST: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he says, is well on the way to developing a nuclear weapon, and Sharon wants the United States to step in now to end the threat without waiting for other nations to act.

FOX News correspondent Jennifer Griffin sat down for an interview with the prime minister today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was probably the most that Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has ever talked publicly about Israel's concerns about Iran and its march towards nuclear capability.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: No doubt that they're ... to possess nuclear weapons.

GRIFFIN: In an interview with FOX News, Sharon suggested it's just a matter of time, merely a few technical difficulties that are standing in the way of Iran reaching the point of no return.

SHARON: I think the issue, the most important part of the issue, how they will be able to overcome the technical problems that they are having. Once they will solve those technical problems, then I think the situation will deteriorate. And I would say then, it doesn't make any difference if we take another year or another few years.

GRIFFIN: He wouldn't put a timetable on it, but Israel intelligence estimates that between a few months to a year Iran will possess a nuclear bomb. According to leaks by Israeli officials, Prime Minister Sharon pressed the president during their meeting in Crawford, Texas, not to wait for Europe to stop the Iranian threat. He brought with him secret satellite photos of Iran's nuclear capabilities.

(on camera): Does American intelligence, does Israeli intelligence know about all of the nuclear facilities, or are there some that you feel we don't know about?

SHARON: Altogether, it seems we have the right picture of what is happening. And I think that the cooperation between the United States and Israel provides what is really necessary. We are not going to be surprised with the development there.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): That means Israel must have good on-the-ground intelligence since most of Iran's nuclear facilities are underground. The prime minister would not, however, say that Israel would go it alone militarily like his country did in 1981 when it bombed Iraq's nuclear facility.

(on camera): Does Israel have the military capability to stop Iran?

SHARON: Israel is not leading the struggle. We, the country and a nation, that ... but to believe that it in the interest of the free world should be led by the United States. And though I hear from time to time that Israel, while planning to ... that's not what we think about. Of course we take all of the precautions and all the steps to defend ourselves.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Regarding the Palestinians, Sharon tried to downplay differences with the president, particularly on halting settlement expansion as called for under the U.S.-backed road map peace plan.

(on camera): Have you called for all construction in Maale Adumim and in other settlements in the West Bank and Gaza to be halted?

SHARON: We, as you know, are committed to the road map, though we are not in the phase of the road map now. We are in the phase of pre — I would say ... stage.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): He wants Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to first crack down on armed Palestinian factions before Israel undertakes its road map responsibilities. The two leaders have not met in months, and Abbas appears to be losing momentum by not making reforms.

(on camera): Are you disappointed in President Mahmoud Abbas? Do you have partner on the Palestinian side?

SHARON: I'm not disappointed, because I don't see anybody else at the current time that could have done it better, or that would be ready to do it better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: The Bush administration, Brit, differs with Sharon as to whether they're in the pre-road map phase. In fact, President Bush would like the Israelis and the Palestinians to both be carrying out their road map responsibilities simultaneously. However, it's unlikely for the president to pressure Sharon until Israel pulls out of Gaza later this summer — Brit.

HUME: We, Jennifer, obviously ... the pulling out of Gaza involves a dismantling of some existing Israeli settlements. The question, of course, is what about the rest of the settlements on the West Bank and around Jerusalem? The idea has been that those settlements will not continue to grow. But some are, aren't they?

GRIFFIN: That's right. And what's interesting, Brit, is today Prime Minister Sharon said that the largest settlement bloc in the West Bank, Maale Adumim, he plans to have that connected to Jerusalem. That's going to require doubling a 30,000-strong settlement, practically making it 60,000 strong.

It's going to expand that...

HUME: And the purpose of that?

GRIFFIN: And the purpose of that is to encircle Jerusalem. And he said this in his own words, encircle Jerusalem so as not to have to divide it down the road. And that's going to set him on a collision course with the Palestinians.

HUME: Because the status of Jerusalem is directly affected by that new reality, correct?

GRIFFIN: That's right. It would make it almost impossible for the Palestinians to have their capital there.

HUME: All right. Jennifer, thank you. Glad to see you here.

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