JERUSALEM – Israel's defense minister warned Monday that as long as Iran poses a threat to Israel with its nuclear program, all options are on the table, a reference to a possible Israeli attack.
Ehud Barak was speaking before The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Israel and the West suspect Iran is trying obtain nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
Barak said, "I believe it is well understood in Washington, D.C., as well as in Jerusalem that as long as there is an existential threat to our people, all options to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons should remain on the table."
Israel considers Iran a threat to its existence because of its nuclear and missile development programs, frequent reference to Israel's destruction by Iranian leaders and Iran's support of violent anti-Israeli groups in Lebanon and Gaza.
Barak and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have frequently hinted at the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities but have not made an open threat.
"I have enough experience to know that a military option is not a simple one," Barak said of a potential strike. "It would be complicated with certain associated risks. But a radical Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons would be far more dangerous both for the region and, indeed, the world."
His remarks come as a steadily growing chorus of Israeli ex-security officials speak out against an Israeli strike on Iran. Former internal security chief Yuval Diskin recently caused an uproar when he said the government is misleading the public on the level of effectiveness of a military strike.
Other critics have warned that Israel could do no more than delay Iran's nuclear development for a few years at best, and an Israeli attack could trigger punishing retaliation from Iran and its proxies — Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza — and possibly set off a regionwide war, dragging the U.S. in.
Barak concentrated on the perceived threat to Israel, dismissing the case of the critics.
"Parts of the world, including some politically motivated Israeli figures, prefer to bury their heads in the sand," Barak said Monday.
Barak said that time is running out for a strike, as "Iran's military nuclear program will be sufficiently developed and suitably concealed, rendering the facilities immune to surgical attacks."
Iran is believed to have multiple underground nuclear sites.
Barak also addressed a year of upheavals in the Middle East that have overthrown several leaders, and Islamist political parties have gained prominence.
"Israel has found itself sitting as an island of stability in a stormy sea, a sea in which the waves of radicalism are growing in strength," Barak said.
Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979, but relations have been cool. Some Israelis warn that the rise of Islamists to power in Egypt could endanger the treaty, but the dominant Muslim Brotherhood has said the pact will be preserved.
At the same time, many Egyptians want changes in its conditions, particularly the limits on Egyptian forces in the Sinai desert, near Israel's borders.
Sinai has become increasingly lawless over the past year. A gas pipeline between Egypt and Israel has been bombed repeatedly, Palestinian militants used Sinai to infiltrate into Israel and killed eight people and smugglers use the desert to smuggle migrants and drugs into Israel.
"We urge Egypt to contain lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula," Barak said. "This is imperative in order to keep our two nations firmly on the path of peace, a peace that has contributed so much to so many for so long now."
Barak also addressed Syria, where a bloody 14-month uprising against President Bashar Assad is in progress. Israel and Syria are bitter enemies.
"Whatever follows Assad's bloodstained regime will be greeted with Israel's extended hand of peace," Barak said.