msnbc.com news services
updated 12/1/2011 10:11:47 AM ET 2011-12-01T15:11:47

Israel does not want to take military action against Iran over its nuclear program, but at some point may have no other option, Israel's defense minister said Thursday.

The Jewish state at this point did not intend to launch a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, but retained the option as a "last resort," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio.

"We don't need unnecessary wars. But we definitely might be put to the test," he said.

He said he hoped that sanctions and diplomacy would pressure the Iranian leadership to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, but did not expect that to happen.

Israel, like the West, is convinced Iran is developing a nuclear bomb, despite Tehran's insistence that its nuclear program is designed to produce energy.

Story: Britain, EU to ramp up pressure on Iran

Israel says a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten the Jewish state's survival, citing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated references to Israel's destruction, Iran's arsenal of ballistic missiles and its support for militant groups that fight Israel.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, citing intelligence reports, said last month Iran appeared to have worked on designing an atom bomb and may still be pursuing secret research to that end.

Barak was interviewed a day after the top U.S. military officer said he did not know whether Israel would alert the United States ahead of time if it decided to strike Iran, the Jewish state's arch-adversary in the Middle East.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also acknowledged differences in perspective between the United States and Israel over the best way to handle Iran and its nuclear program.

Dempsey said the United States was convinced that sanctions and diplomatic pressure were the right ways to take on Iran, along with "the stated intent not to take any options off the table" — diplomatic language that leaves open the possibility of future military action.

"I'm not sure the Israelis share our assessment of that. And because they don't and because to them this is an existential threat, I think probably that it's fair to say that our expectations are different right now," Dempsey told Reuters.

Iran is facing new sanctions following the U.N. report.

The U.S. — as well as some security experts in Israel — have loudly opposed the prospect of an Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, because of its potential for touching off retaliation against Israel and a broader, regional conflagration.

Mysterious blasts, computer viruses and assassinations have disrupted Iran's nuclear program, and there has been speculation of Israeli involvement.

Barak would not comment on that possibility, but said, "We are not happy to see the Iranians move ahead on this (program), so any delay, be it divine intervention or otherwise, is welcome."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: UK closes Tehran embassy, Clinton visits Myanmar

  1. Closed captioning of: UK closes Tehran embassy, Clinton visits Myanmar

    >>> new fallout from the attack yesterday on the british embassy in tehran. today the uk ordered the embassy closed. they pulled their people out, ordered all iranian diplomats out immediately.

    >>> and a history-making visit by secretary of state hillary clinton to myanmar, the first visit to that repressive regime by a top u.s. official in more than half a century. there have been some signs of reform recently. secretary clinton says she is there to see how real they are.

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