Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered his defense forces to plan for a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities by the end of March – the time intelligence sources say Tehran will be able to begin producing nuclear weapons.

The directive came after Iran’s President Mahmoud Amadinejad this week suggested Israel should be moved to Europe.

Iran has been ignoring warnings from the International Atomic Energy Agency about its plans to continue enriching uranium.

In early March, Mohamed El-Baradei, the head of the IAEA, will present his next report on Iran. El-Baradei, who received the Nobel peace prize yesterday, warned that the world was “losing patience” with Iran.

Defense sources in Israel believe the end of March to be the “point of no return,” after which Iran will have the technical expertise to enrich uranium in sufficient quantities to build a nuclear warhead in two to four years.

“Israel ? and not only Israel ? cannot accept a nuclear Iran,” Sharon warned recently. “We have the ability to deal with this and we’re making all the necessary preparations to be ready for such a situation.”

The order to prepare for a possible attack went through the Israeli defense ministry to the chief of staff, according to a report today in the London Sunday Times.

Israeli intelligence has reportedly identified a number of Iranian uranium enrichment sites unknown to the IAEA, according to the Times.

If a military operation is approved, Israel will reportedly use a combination of air and ground forces against several nuclear targets in the hope of stalling Tehran’s nuclear program for years..

The Times reports Israel would likely call on its top special forces brigade, Unit 262 and the F-15I strategic 69 Squadron, which can strike Iran and return to Israel without refueling.

Russia last week signed an estimated $1 billion contract to sell Iran advanced Tor-M1 systems capable of destroying guided missiles and laser-guided bombs from aircraft.

“Once the Iranians get the Tor-M1, it will make our life much more difficult,” an Israeli air force source told the Times. “The installation of this system can be relatively quick and we can’t waste time on this one.”

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