Israel speeds up ballistic missile tests as speculation grows of attack on Iran

Israel successfully test-fired a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and striking Iran today, fuelling concerns the country's leaders are considering a military attack.

The concerns were sparked over the weekend by a report in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper that said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak favour an attack.

That was followed by a report in the Haaretz daily today that said Mr Netanyahu is now lobbying Cabinet members for a military strike, despite the likelihood it would draw a retaliation from Iran.

Concerns: Israel has test-fired a missile, thought to be a Jericho missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead today (file picture)

Concerns: Israel has test-fired a missile, thought to be a Jericho missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead today (file picture)

Threat: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to favour military action to thwart Iran's nuclear programme

Threat: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to favour military action to thwart Iran's nuclear programme

An Israeli defence official said the military tested a 'rocket propulsion system' in an long-planned exercise.

Further information about the test was censored by the military, but foreign reports said it was a long-range Jericho missile - capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and striking Iran.

Israel considers Iran its most dangerous threat. It cites Tehran's nuclear programme, its ballistic missile development, repeated references by the Iranian leader to Israel's destruction and its support for anti-Israel militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Iran denies allegations that it aims to produce a bomb, saying its nuclear programme is meant only to produce energy for the oil-rich country.

It has blamed Israel for disruptions to the nuclear programme, including the mysterious assassinations of a string of Iranian nuclear scientists and a computer virus that wiped out some nuclear centrifuges.

But a report by the UN's nuclear watchdog due to be published next week will provide fresh evidence of a possible Iranian nuclear weapons programme, bringing the Middle East a step closer to a devastating new conflict, revealed the Guardian newspaper.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the latest of a series of quarterly bulletins on Iran's activities, but this one will contain an unprecedented level of detail on research and experiments carried out in Iran in recent years, which western officials allege could only be for the design and development of a nuclear warhead.

Israel had repeatedly said that hit hopes economic sanctions will persuade Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions.

Diplomats have been lobbying the international community for tougher sanctions.

Contentious: Mr Netanyahu today defended his decision to extend settlement building on the outskirts of east Jerusalem as a 'fundamental right'

Contentious: Mr Netanyahu today defended his decision to extend settlement building on the outskirts of east Jerusalem as a 'fundamental right'

It comes as Mr Netanyahu defended his decision to expand construction in east Jerusalem.

He said it was Israel's 'right' and 'duty' to build in all parts of its capital.

Israel captured east Jerusalem along with the West Bank in the 1967 war. Palestinians claim that section of the city as their future capital.

Yesterday, Mr Netanyahu's office said 2,000 new apartments would be built in Jewish areas of east Jerusalem.

Officials said the move was a response to recent unilateral steps by the Palestinians, particularly its acceptance in the UN cultural agency UNESCO.

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