By AMY TEIBEL
Associated Press Writer
November 10, 2006, 12:17 PM EST
JERUSALEM -- The deputy defense minister suggested Friday that Israel might be forced to launch a military strike against Iran's disputed nuclear program -- the clearest statement yet of such a possibility from a high-ranking official.
"I am not advocating an Israeli pre-emptive military action against Iran and I am aware of its possible repercussions," Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, a former general, said in comments published Friday in The Jerusalem Post. "I consider it a last resort. But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort."
Sneh's comments did not necessarily reflect the view of Israel's government or of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said government spokeswoman Miri Eisin.
Olmert, who was arriving in Washington on Sunday, said he was confident in the U.S. handling of the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program. The Bush administration and other nations say is a cover for developing atomic weapons, but Tehran says the program is peaceful.
"I have enormous respect for President Bush. He is absolutely committed," Olmert said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show. "I know that America will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons because this is a danger to the whole Western world."
The United States and its European allies have proposed a raft of sanctions to try to curb the country's nuclear development.
Israel sees Iran as the greatest threat to its survival. Hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel's destruction, and Israelis do not believe his claims that Iran's nuclear program is meant to develop energy, not arms.
Israel crippled Iraq's atomic program 25 years ago with an airstrike on its unfinished nuclear reactor. Experts say Iran has learned from Iraq's mistakes, scattering its nuclear facilities and building some underground.
Sneh's tough talk is the boldest to date by a high-ranking Israeli official. Olmert and other Israeli leaders frequently discuss the Iranian threat in grave terms, but stop short of threatening military action.
Years of diplomacy have failed to persuade Iran to modify its nuclear program so it can't develop weapons.