REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Iran's government is fighting for its survival amid unprecedented political and economic pressure caused by international sanctions and internal opposition. But even as it moves to improve its nuclear capability, it has not yet made the final decision to build a nuclear warhead.
That's the Israeli intelligence assessment that U.S. officials will hear this week during security meetings with U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to Israeli media reports.
The conclusions may signal that a possible Israeli airstrike against Iranian nuclear facilities is not as imminent as some believe. But U.S. officials remain concerned that Israel may act alone in attacking Iran's nuclear program, possibly sparking a regional war.
This week's visit is part of the Obama administration's effort to address Israel's growing anxiety about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, where leaders have frequently called for the destruction of Israel.
The Israeli intelligence assessment found that U.S.-led economic sanctions -- and the threat of more to come -- are hitting ordinary Iranian pocketbooks and devastating the Iranian currency, according to Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
At the same time, internal political and religious battles are eroding the government's stability, raising doubts about its performance in parliamentary elections in March.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made contradictory statements in recent weeks about the sanctions policy. He has praised the success of economic sanctions in comments to international audiences but labeled them inadequate at home.
Israel, which has been a nuclear power for decades, though officially unacknowledged, has said it might attack Iranian nuclear facilities, but such a decision remains controversial.
Instead, analysts say Israel and U.S. intelligence agencies are probably behind a series of covert assassinations, facility explosions and computer viruses that have hampered Iran's nuclear program over the last two years. U.S. officials denied that they were involved in an assassination last week of a nuclear scientist in Tehran. Iran blamed on the attack on Israel, which declined to comment.
Although Israel, the U.S. and their allies say Iran's nuclear program aims to develop a weapon, Tehran contends that it is intended only for peaceful purposes.
-- Edmund Sanders