U.S. intelligence agencies predict that Iran will respond if attacked but is unlikely to start a conflict, and they believe that Israel has not taken a decision to strike Iranian nuclear sites, a top U.S. intelligence official said Thursday.
With those comments at a congressional hearing, Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, answered two key questions surrounding escalating tensions with Iran after the United States increased sanctions over its nuclear program.
Burgess also said that despite the ratcheting up of sanctions on Iran, the country's leaders are unlikely to abandon their suspected nuclear weapons program.
Iran responded to the new sanctions that target its central bank and oil exports by threatening to close a key oil shipping lane. There have also been concerns that Israel might strike Iranian nuclear facilities and escalate tensions further.
The West suspects Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing weapons, while Tehran says it is peaceful.
"Iran can close the Strait of Hormuz at least temporarily, and may launch missiles against United States forces and our allies in the region if it is attacked," Burgess told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
"Iran could also attempt to employ terrorist surrogates worldwide. However, the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict," he said.
Israel has strongly accused Iran of being behind all three plots and say Israeli diplomats were the targets.
Hezbollah's leader said Thursday the Iranian-backed group has nothing to do with this week's attack on an Israeli diplomat in India, a botched bomb plot in Thailand, or an attempted bombing in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Speaking by satellite link, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah suggested that this week's plots were too small to be the work of Hezbollah. He said targeting "soldiers or Israeli diplomats or civilians" is "insulting for Hezbollah."
Asked bluntly whether intelligence agencies believed Israel had made a decision to attack Iran, Burgess replied: "To the best of our knowledge Israel has not decided to attack Iran."
On whether sanctions were having an effect, Burgess said Iran was nowhere near giving up its nuclear aspirations.
"Iran today has the technical, scientific and industrial capability to eventually produce nuclear weapons. While international pressure against Iran has increased, including through sanctions, we assess that Tehran is not close to agreeing to abandoning its nuclear program," Burgess said.
Iran proclaimed advances in nuclear know-how on Wednesday, including new centrifuges able to enrich uranium much faster, a move that may hasten a drift toward confrontation with the West over its nuclear program.
U.S. intelligence agencies assess that the Iranian leadership has so far not decided to build a nuclear weapon.
"They are keeping themselves in a position to make that decision, but there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at the same hearing without providing details.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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