Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu has sent an aide to meet Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of ultra-orthodox party Shas, to win his backing for an attack on Iran, Israeli media said on Tuesday.
Yaakov Amidror, head of the National Security Council, visited Yosef, whose party is a member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, at his home in Jerusalem on Friday to discuss the issue, Israeli media reports said.
A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed news of the visit to AFP, but did not give details on the discussions.
Thus far, Yosef has ordered Shas ministers to oppose any Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities that is not coordinated with the United States.
Israeli commentators have said that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak do not have a majority in the country’s cabinet or the security cabinet to carry out an offensive against Iran, hence the importance of Shas.
Army radio reported that, since the visit, Yosef has become less determined in his opposition to an Israeli attack.
It cited extracts from a religious commentary made on Saturday night in which Yosef likened Iranian leaders to Amman, a Persian enemy of Israel in Biblical times.
“We are all in danger,” Yosef was quoted as saying. “We cannot rely on anyone except our father who is in heaven.”
Israel believes the Islamic republic is trying to develop a military nuclear capability under the guise of its civilian program which it says would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state.
Iran denies these accusations.
New weapons unveiled
Meanwhile Iran unveiled upgrades to six weapons on Tuesday, including a more accurate short-range missile, a more powerful naval engine and an airborne testing laboratory, Iranian media reported.
The hardware was presented at a ceremony marking Defence Industry Day and attended by Ahmadinejad and Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
Israel has said it is considering military strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites if the Islamic Republic does not resolve Western fears it is developing atomic weapons technology, something Tehran denies.
Iran says it could hit Israel and U.S. bases in the region if it comes under attack.
It has also threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, the neck of the Gulf through which 40 percent of the world’s sea-borne oil exports pass, which would likely invite a military response from the United States.
Among the upgrades was a fourth-generation of the Fateh-110 missile, with a range of about 300 km (180 miles).
Iran said earlier this month it had successfully test-fired the new model, which it said was equipped with a more accurate guidance system.
“This missile is one of the most precise and advanced land-to-land ballistic missiles using solid fuel,” Vahidi was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency. “In the last decade it has had a significant role in promoting the Islamic Republic of Iran’s defense capabilities.”
In July, Iran said it had successfully test-fired medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel, and tested dozens of missiles aimed at simulated air bases.
It also presented a more powerful, 5,000-horsepower seaborne engine, the Bonyan-4, Fars quoted Vahidi as saying. A previous version had 1,000 horsepower, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) said.
Doubts over capabilities
Military experts have cast doubt on Iran’s claims of weapons advances, especially its assertions about its missile program, saying it often exaggerates its capabilities.
“The Fateh-110 has a crude guidance and control system that operates during the missile’s ascent” rather than during final descent, said Michael Elleman, senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an e-mail.
“The Fateh-110 appears to lack the subsystems needed to effect terminal steering.”
Iran also presented Armita, an “airborne laboratory” to help test aircraft launch systems and oxygen generation and train fighter pilots, Fars reported.
It was named after the daughter of Dariush Rezaeinejad, an Iranian scientist killed last year, Vahidi said, according to ISNA.
Iran believes agents working with foreign intelligence services including the American CIA and Israel’s Mossad are behind the assassinations of several of its scientists.