Israel is engaged in a covert war against Iran with the aim to sabotage, disrupt and in any possible way delay the Islamic republic's nuclear programme, US intelligence sources told The Daily Telegraph.
"It is using hitmen, sabotage, front companies and double agents to disrupt the regime's illicit weapons project, the experts say.
"The most dramatic element of the 'decapitation' programme is the planned assassination of top figures involved in Iran's atomic operations."
Although in both Israel and the US there are fears that Iran is approaching the point of no return in its ability to build a nuclear weapon, Israeli officials are aware of the change in mood in Washington since president Barack Obama took office.
"They privately acknowledge the new US administration is unlikely to sanction an air attack on Iran's nuclear installations and Mr Obama's offer to extend a hand of peace to Tehran puts any direct military action beyond reach for now.
"The aim is to slow down or interrupt Iran's research programme, without the gamble of a direct confrontation that could lead to a wider war.
"A former CIA officer on Iran told The Daily Telegraph: 'Disruption is designed to slow progress on the programme, done in such a way that they don't realise what's happening. You are never going to stop it.' "
The report said: "Mossad [Israel's intelligence service] was rumoured to be behind the death of Ardeshire Hassanpour, a top nuclear scientist at Iran's Isfahan uranium plant, who died in mysterious circumstances from reported 'gas poisoning' in 2007.
"Other recent deaths of important figures in the procurement and enrichment process in Iran and Europe have been the result of Israeli 'hits', intended to deprive Tehran of key technical skills at the head of the programme, according to Western intelligence analysts.
" 'Israel has shown no hesitation in assassinating weapons scientists for hostile regimes in the past,' said a European intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'They did it with Iraq and they will do it with Iran when they can.' "
Last year Israel planned to target Iranian nuclear scientists with letter bombs and poisoned packages and had set off explosions in Iran, an intelligence source in the Middle East told Reuters. Analysts offered similar accounts and said such tactics would be credible, but no confirmation has been available.
However, some analysts caution that reports of such a "dirty war" may form part of a psychological warfare campaign to unsettle Iran.
"A nuclear Iran is without a doubt the main threat to world order and may lead to mass nuclear proliferation in the entire Middle East," Israel's defence minister Ehud Barak said.
"Iran may become an existential threat to Israel," he told a gathering of senior military officers on Sunday.
"Should Iran obtain nuclear weapons, the sense of security among elements that are affiliated with (the Islamic Republic) will increase immensely, and this will lead to the collapse of the non-proliferation regime and the struggle against nuclear armament in the region."
On Tuesday, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said US relations with Tehran and the region can change if there is an effective policy shift by the new administration in Washington.
"If they accept the rights of the Palestinians, the Afghans... if there is a real change, relations can change," Mr Ahmadinejad said.
"We are waiting to see the change. A lot of people are awaiting the change and if they (the United States) do change the relationship will change itself."
However, AFP reported that Ahmadinejad also said his country's controversial nuclear programme which the West suspects is aimed at making atomic weapons is a "closed" chapter.
"If anybody wants to talk of the nuclear issue, they would be hurting themselves," he said in the interview on state-run television.
Reuters reported: "Iran is still not helping UN nuclear inspectors find out whether it worked on developing an atom bomb in the past but Tehran has slowed its expansion of a key nuclear facility, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday.
"Speaking in Paris, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran had not been installing a significant number of centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, as quickly as it could have been.
" 'They haven't really been adding centrifuges, which is a good thing,' ElBaradei said at a think-tank in Paris, adding: 'Our assessment is that it's a political decision.' "
In a rare interview, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad spoke to Ian Black with The Guardian.
"Assad was pessimistic about the prospects for brokering a lasting peace with the incoming Israeli administration, which is likely to be a centre-right coalition. 'Betting on the Israeli government is a waste of time,' he said. But peace talks, he predicted, would resume eventually.
"Israel's recent incursion into Gaza, warned Assad, had implications for the prospect of peace talks with Syria, but he was confident these would restart. 'It will make it harder, but in the end we will return to talks.'
"The US could not afford to ignore Syria, he said. 'We are a player in the region. If you want to talk about peace, you can't advance without Syria.'
"Syrian-US relations deteriorated sharply under the Bush administration, which accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross its border into Iraq. Syria denied doing so, saying it was impossible to control the country's extensive desert border with Iraq.
"Assad also urged the US and Europe to engage with Iran and not to pin false hopes for change on this summer's presidential elections. 'This is an Iranian issue,' he said. 'In Iran there is unity about the main national issues. Forget about the rhetoric.
" 'I would say to Obama and the Europeans: "Don't waste your time on this. Go and make dialogue." The only way is to go for direct engagement.'
"Assad, who is also mending fences with Saudi Arabia, a longtime rival, said he backed a return to the format of the Madrid peace conference of 1991, when all Arab states agreed to negotiate a comprehensive peace with Israel. Yasser Arafat's launch of the Oslo process with Israel had been a mistake, he believed."
With the following words the ghost of Karl Marx has in recent weeks been haunting Wall Street: "Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalised, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism." This isn't actually a passage from Das Kapital but it spread as a viral email riding on the fears of investors who suspect that the nationalisation of major banks may be just around the corner. Indeed, it was Nouriel Roubini, the New York professor who had already been dubbed "Dr Doom" before everyone realised his prescience in predicting the economic crisis, who this weekend declared emphatically that the only way to save the US banking system is to nationalise it. On Tuesday, the same day that president Obama signed a $787 billion economic stimulus package, stock markets around the world plunged amid deepening concerns over the worsening condition of the banking industry and doubts about the capacity of governments to act as the catalysts for a recovery. The state of California facing a $41 billion budget deficit prepared to lay off 20,000 state workers, Ukraine stood at the brink of economic collapse, and in another financial scandal the Stanford Financial Group in Texas was accused of conducting an $8 billion fraud.