Israeli army chief suggested stopping Iranian nuclear program by military

Israel 's army chief said in an interview published Tuesday that the world has the military might to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and suggested Israel could be involved in such an attack. Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, interviewed on the occasion of Israel 's Memorial Day, also said separately that if Iran did obtain nuclear capability, it would threaten Israel 's existence.

Israel has long considered Iran its top enemy, and has dismissed Tehran 's claims that its nuclear program is peaceful. But it advocates international diplomatic pressure as the front line of defense against Iran 's nuclear ambitions, and has repeatedly said it would let the international community take the lead on any military strike. Asked if the world had the ability to stop Iran 's nuclear program with a military strike, Halutz told the Maariv newspaper, "The answer is yes."

Pressed on on whether Israel would be involved in such a military operation, he replied, "We are part of the world." Halutz's comments were among the most explicit by Israeli officials on the country's prospective involvement in such a strike.

In 1981, Israel launched an air strike to destroy an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor. Experts have said such a pinpointed strike against Iran would not be possible, because Tehran 's nuclear program is intentionally dispersed throughout the country, some of it hidden underground. Western nations have been considering tough sanctions not yet including military action against Iran if it continues to enrich uranium, a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for a bomb.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has threatened to wipe Israel off the map, contends his country has the right to enrich uranium as long as it does not attempt to use it for nuclear weapons. Halutz told Maariv it was not clear if Iran would be able to achieve nuclear capability by the end of the decade, as Israeli officials had predicted earlier. Israel is convinced that the international efforts against the Iranian program can help persuade Tehran to back down, Halutz said.

If Iran does one day possess a nuclear weapon, Israel 's survival would be in jeopardy, Halutz told Israel Radio. "When the Iranians will have a nuclear, military capability, then we will be able to talk about an existential threat," Halutz said. "If they have a nuclear weapon and the rulers speak as they do today, this combination will be a dangerous combination for Israel ." Iran 's refusal to stop enriching uranium has opened the way for the U.N. Security Council to take punitive measures against Iran , but immediate action was not seen as likely because of Russian and Chinese opposition, reports the AP.