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With a view toward Iran, Israel launches spy satellite | Ap (www.union-bulletin.com)

JERUSALEM — Israel said it successfully launched a new spy satellite into space on Monday as its leaders hinted it was behind a massive fire at an Iranian nuclear site last week — potentially ratcheting up a long-running covert war.

If Israel was responsible for the fire at the heavily fortified Natanz facility, it would mark another in a series of daring strikes against Iran’s nuclear program attributed to Israel, while also risking Iranian retaliation on either Israeli or Western targets.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the launch of the new Ofek 16 satellite, the latest addition to a fleet deployed over the past two decades.

“The success of the Ofek 16 satellite very much increases our ability to act against Israel’s enemies, near and far alike,” he told his Cabinet. “It greatly expands our ability to act on land, at sea, in the air and also in space.”

Netanyahu did not mention Iran or last week’s fire. But the Islamic Republic is Israel’s top security concern and a target of its satellite intelligence-gathering efforts.

After initially playing down last Thursday’s fire, Iranian officials over the weekend confirmed the blaze was much more powerful than initially indicated and that advanced centrifuges at the top-secret facility had been damaged. Iran’s nuclear agency said the damage to the centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for both civilian and military purposes, could delay research and development for the “medium term.”

A new satellite photo released Monday by Planet Labs Inc. showed extensive damage to the centrifuge facility. The image, taken Sunday, shows the roof apparently torn away by the blast and debris scattered across the ground.

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