JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned yesterday that all options are open when it comes to keeping Iran from obtaining atomic weapons, his clearest sign yet that Israel could use force against a nation considered among its most serious threats.
Addressing a closed meeting of the parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Olmert was quoted as saying that Israel would not accept an Iran armed with nuclear weapons.
Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and a recent report by US intelligence agencies concluded that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. However, Israel continues to warn that Iran's goal is to acquire nuclear weapons.
Israel considers Iran a serious threat because of suspicions over its nuclear program and its long-range missile capabilities. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," and there is evidence that Iran bankrolls such extremist anti-Israel groups as Hezbollah and Hamas.
A participant in the committee meeting yesterday said Olmert warned, "Israel clearly will not reconcile itself to a nuclear Iran," adding, "All options that prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities are legitimate within the context of how to grapple with this matter."
The meeting participant spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was closed.
Israel has been warning about Iran's nuclear program for more than a decade.
It has said that since Iran threatens not only Israel but also Europe and the Middle East, Israel will not take the lead in the struggle to keep Iran free of nuclear weapons.
But there has been speculation that Israel might mount a preemptive strike at Iran, similar to its 1981 Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor.
However, analysts have pointed out that the Iranian nuclear facilities are spread around the country, many of them hidden, and doubt whether Israel has the military capability of destroying Iran's nuclear program.
Meir Javedanfar, an Israel-based Iran analyst, said Olmert refused to rule out a military option "in order to increase the urgency to find a diplomatic solution."
"I think this is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's way of making sure that the international community stays alert on the Iranian nuclear issues," Javedanfar said.