December 16, 2011 - 1:00am

Israel said on Thursday it was unifying its special forces under one command, a move experts say could help Israel strike countries like Iran, whose nuclear programme the Jewish state deems a threat to its existence.

"The primary task of the Corps will be to extend joint IDF (Israel Defence Force) operations into the strategic depth," said a statement from the military, announcing the formation of the "Depth Corps".

Citing interviews with senior Israeli officers, American journal Defense News said the Corps commandos would be able to operate "far from Israel's borders" in the "third circle" - a term that generally applies to the Gulf and the Horn of Africa.

Israeli media predicted that the Depth Corps might operate inside Iran, which a U.N. nuclear watchdog report last month said appeared to be working on designing a nuclear weapon.

That finding has ratcheted up tension between Iran and Western powers and Israel. Diplomatic sources said on Wednesday Iran could soon begin sensitive atomic activities in an underground facilty deep inside a mountain.

Iran, which denies seeking the bomb, has lost several nuclear scientists and military brass to assassinations, suspected defections and explosions, feeding speculation that Israel and Western allies are already waging sabotage campaigns.

Elite ground, air and naval units would all retain their unique capabilities, Defense News reported, but the new structure would encourage them to more closely collaborate in mission planning.

The IDF's most prestigious unit, Sayeret Matkal, counts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu among its veterans and is famed for carrying out the 1976 rescue of Israeli airline passengers hijacked on an Air France plane and flown to Uganda.


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