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Israeli Officials Express Alarm Over Iran's Nuclear Program

Senior Israeli officials are expressing alarm over the news that Iran says it has 3,000 gas centrifuges working to enrich uranium. VOA's Jim Teeple reports one senior Israeli official says the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency should step down.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iranian nuclear scientists have 3,000 gas centrifuges running at the country's nuclear facility in Natanz. Experts say that many centrifuges are enough to produce an atomic bomb in about a year.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes, but news of the Iranian nuclear developments is raising tensions in Israel, where officials say the Iranian program is designed to build nuclear weapons.

Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz is accusing the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency of ignoring Iran's nuclear ambitions - saying the time has come for the agency's head Mohammed El Baradei to step down.

Mofaz, who met Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says El Baradei is willfully ignoring intelligence about the Iranian nuclear program, and his policies are a danger to world peace.

In a recent interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, the U.N. official said he had no proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and if it was, it was at least three to eight years away from having a nuclear-weapons capability.

Mofaz is not the only senior Israeli official raising Iranian alarms. Speaking to a Labor Party conference late Wednesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel needs to study military options to bring an end to Iran's nuclear program. Israeli officials believe Iran is about two years away from developing a nuclear weapon.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed two different sets of sanctions on Iran because of its failure to curtail its nuclear program. Security Council members are waiting for the release of a new report on the Iranian program by the IAEA - which could result in a third set of more severe sanctions being imposed on Tehran.