Israel's military chief said Monday that all options remain "on the table" in dealing with Iran's nuclear program, indicating that the Jewish state has not abandoned the possibility of a military strike.
Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's comments came a day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Israeli officials assured him Israel was not planning to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. A senior Israeli government official also said the country's policy has not changed.
Israel accuses Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons. While Tehran has denied the charge, it continues to threaten Israel with harsh statements while developing medium-range missiles capable.
Speaking to Army Radio, Ashkenazi said the best way to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat was through sanctions against the regime. But he said Israel was preparing for every option to make sure the Islamic regime did not go nuclear.
"The possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear power is a threat not only to the state of Israel, but for the Middle East and the entire free world," he said. "Israel has the right to defend itself, and all the options are on the table."
'Iran is forbidden to go nuclear'
Ashkenazi, who rarely gives interviews, essentially repeated Israel's formal position that Iran's nuclear ambitions should ideally be thwarted by diplomatic pressure, but a military option should not be discarded.
On Sunday, in an interview with CNN television, Medvedev indicated that Israeli President Shimon Peres assured him Israel would not launch a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. It was unclear if he was also referring to secret talks in Moscow by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month.
Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, responded Monday, saying that the Russian president may have misunderstand or misinterpreted Peres.
"In any event, he is certainly not authorized to speak for us, and there is no change whatsoever in Israel's policy," Ayalon told Army Radio. "President Medvedev, with all due respect, will not decide what Israel's policy is ... and this is not just Israeli policy, but the international policy — that Iran is forbidden to go nuclear, period."
Russia has cultivated close cooperation with Iran, including building the Bushehr nuclear power plant. But Russia has shown irritation with Iran's failure to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency as it seeks to determine if Iran is pursuing nuclear arms.