Israel's Barak: 'No Option' Off Table on Iran
"This is our position. We mean it," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, standing alongside Gates. At the same time, Barak said that the current priority should be diplomacy.
Gates's visit to Israel was partially aimed at dissuading Israel from taking any military action and buying time for U.S. diplomacy to bear fruit. But Barak's no-options-off-the-table comment, uttered three times, seemed to indicate Gates made no visible headway in getting Israel to soften its line.
Still, the comments did not signal a major rift with the United States, which has also said there is a time limit for its diplomatic outreach. Israel has shown little enthusiasm for a global diplomatic effort that so far has failed to persuade the Iranians to curb their nuclear program.
The U.S. and Israel believe Iran is attempting to develop atomic weapons. Israel sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, particularly in light of bellicose comments from Iran's hardline president and Tehran's support for violent anti-Israel militant groups. Iran says its nuclear program is aimed at producing electricity.
Acknowledging Israel's concerns, Gates said the U.S. administration's attempt to engage Iran was "not an open-ended offer" and that the U.S. was aware the Iranians might try to "run out the clock."
"We will deal with the situation at the appropriate time," Gates said, saying he hoped Iran would respond by the U.N. General Assembly this fall. He said sanctions were a possibility if diplomacy fails, while also mentioning plans for a loosely defined "defense umbrella" meant to protect U.S. allies in the region.
"We will continue to ensure that Israel has the most advanced weapons for its national defense," he said.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed skepticism that diplomacy could work with what they see as a hostile, anti-Western theocracy in Iran.
Barak said he hoped diplomacy would succeed, but urged the U.S. to set a short deadline and prepare hard-biting financial sanctions against Iran.
"Israel remains in its basic position that no options should be removed from the table, despite at this stage the priority should be given to diplomacy," he said.
Israeli officials have said little about what military action they might have in mind. But it has conducted a number of military exercises widely seen as possible preparations, including long-range air force maneuvers and recent movement of Israeli warships and submarines through the Suez Canal, the quickest route to the Persian Gulf from Israel.
Last week the U.S. and Israel conducted a joint missile-defense test off the coast of California designed to protect against a possible Iranian strike on Israel. The test failed, though Israeli officials characterized it as a minor setback.
In 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in a surprise raid. Iran is believed to have concealed its nuclear facilities deep underground and spread them out over vast distances, raising questions about what sort of blow an Israeli attack could deliver. But Israeli analysts say a military strike could likely set back the Iranians by several years.