Israel helped Iran academic to defect: report

JERUSALEM — Israel helped an Iranian academic with links to the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear programme to defect, army radio reported on Saturday, citing a deputy minister.

Ayoub Kara, deputy minister for development in the Negev and Galilee, told a meeting at Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv that a scholar with ties to Iran's nuclear programme recently asked for asylum in Israel after it helped him to defect.

"It is too soon to provide further details," Kara said, adding only that the unidentified academic was "now in a friendly country."

"Israel will help all those who want to remove the strategic nuclear threat Iran poses not only to our country, but to the entire civilised and democratic world," the radio reported Kara as saying.

Neither Israel nor the United States has ruled out military action to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Tehran insists are peaceful but which the world powers believe mask a drive to manufacture an atomic weapon.

Israel is widely believed to be the sole nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, albeit undeclared, and pursues a policy of ambiguity over whether it has an atomic arsenal.

The Jewish state has been linked previously to reports of defections of key personnel believed to have ties with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

In March 2007, an ex-head of Israel's foreign intelligence service Mossad said that a former Iranian general who went missing in Turkey had probably defected.

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