JERUSALEM – Israel's newly retired spy chief thinks Iran will not be able to build a nuclear bomb before 2015, Israeli media reported Friday — further pushing back Israeli intelligence estimates of when Tehran might become a nuclear power.
Meir Dagan, who left his post as head of the Mossad intelligence service this week, said Thursday that Iran's nuclear program had been delayed by unspecified "measures" employed against it, according to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot.
Other Israeli media reported Dagan's prediction, citing "closed conversations" he held Thursday before leaving his post as head of Israel's covert intelligence arm.
An Israeli government spokesman would not comment Friday.
As recently as 2009, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Iran would be able to build a nuclear bomb by 2011. But since then the projected deadline has been extended. The Israeli Cabinet minister in charge of strategic affairs, Moshe Yaalon, said last week it would take the Iranians at least three years to develop a nuclear weapon.
The assessment by Dagan adds another year to that estimate. Dagan also said Israel "should not hurry to attack" Iran, according to the Yediot Ahronot report.
Israel officially supports the diplomatic efforts in place to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, but has not ruled out the possibility of a military strike.
Iran claims its nuclear program is aimed at producing electricity, but Israel, many of Iran's Arab neighbors, the U.S. and other Western countries are convinced the Iranian program is aimed at producing weapons.
Iran has blamed Israel for disruptions in its nuclear program. In November, assailants on motorcycles attached magnetized bombs to the cars of two Iranian nuclear scientists as they drove to work in Tehran, killing one and wounding another. At least two other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in recent years.
In addition, a computer worm known as Stuxnet is thought to have caused the Iranians serious technical problems in the centrifuges used for uranium enrichment — a process that can be used both to produce reactor fuel and material for nuclear warheads.
Tehran's nuclear program is of particular concern to Israel, which sees a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands as an existential threat. Iran funds Islamic militant groups on Israel's borders, such as the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah, and Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said Israel should be "wiped off the map."
The U.N. Security Council imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran after Tehran refused to halt its program. The council's five permanent members, along with Germany, are set to hold a new round of talks with Iran in late January.
Iran recently invited Hungary, which currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, Russia, China and other countries to tour its nuclear sites before those talks. It pointedly did not invite the U.S. or other Western powers on the Security Council.