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US plans to increase pressure on Iran to prevent Israeli attack

The measures are designed to force Tehran to negotiate more seriously over its nuclear programme and offer Israel a credible alternative to a military strike on the Islamic republic.

WASHINGTON // The White House is undertaking "a range of steps short of war" that it hopes will prevent an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

The measures are designed to force Tehran to negotiate more seriously over its nuclear programme and offer Israel a credible alternative to a military strike on the Islamic republic, The New York Times reported yesterday.

Citing unnamed military officials, the paper reported the United States and more than 25 other countries will this month hold the largest-ever mine-sweeping exercise in the Arabian Gulf, in what is seen as an attempt to prevent Iran from trying to block oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz.

Washington is also completing a new radar system in Qatar that would combine with radars already in place in Israel and Turkey to form a broad arc of antimissile coverage, the report said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that Iran had doubled its uranium enrichment capacity at the underground Fordow facility, in spite of UN Security Council resolutions, sanctions and talk of Israeli military action. The UN nuclear watchdog also said its ability to inspect the Parchin military base, where it suspects Iran conducted earlier nuclear weapons research, has been "significantly hampered" by a suspected clean-up.

With all this in mind, the US and Israeli intelligence agencies are debating possible successors to "Olympic Games", the cyber-attack that infected Iran's nuclear centrifuges with a computer virus and sent them spinning out of control, the Times said.

The administration of the US president, Barack Obama, hopes ramping up such measures against Tehran will give Israel a way to back off from military action, which would almost certainly unleash a conflict in the Middle East.

On Sunday, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accused the international community of failing to draw a "clear red line" for Iran over its nuclear programme.

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