JERUSALEM – Israel's defense minister warned on Tuesday of a possible Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear program and rejected suggestions the Jewish state would be devastated by an Iranian counterattack.
Ehud Barak spoke a day before the United Nations' nuclear agency was expected to release a critical report on the Iranian program. The report is expected to implicate Iran in bomb building and erase any doubts about the nature of the program, which Iran says is designed to produce energy, not weapons.
Barak told Israel Radio he didn't expect the International Atomic Energy Agency report to persuade Russia and China to impose what he called "lethal" sanctions on Iran to pressure Tehran to dismantle its nuclear installations.
"As long as no such sanctions have been imposed and proven effective, we continue to recommend to our friends in the world and to ourselves, not to take any option off the table," he said.
The "all options on the table" phrase is often used by Israeli politicians to mean a military assault.
The U.N. has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Tehran, but none has succeeded in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. On Tuesday, Barak suggested adding a naval blockade that would cut off Iran's economic lifeline, oil.
Israel views Iran as its greatest threat because of its nuclear program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated references to the destruction of the Jewish state and Iran's support for Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups.
With most of its population concentrated in a narrow corridor of land along the Mediterranean, Israel's homefront could be vulnerable to a counterattack if Israel were to strike.
An Israeli attack would also likely spark retaliation from local Iranian proxies, the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip to Israel's south and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon along Israel's northern border.
Barak lashed out against recent media reports and statements by current and former officials suggesting that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were intent on attacking Iran, over the objection of Israeli defense chiefs.
Any Israeli attack would likely draw Iranian retaliation, with media reports suggesting as many as 100,000 Israelis could be killed.
"This outlandish depiction (by the media) of two people, the prime minister and the defense minister, sitting in a closed room and leading the entire country into an adventurist operation is baseless and divorced from reality," he said.
A larger forum of Cabinet ministers would have to make that decision -- if it is made at all, he said. "We haven't decided yet to embark on any operation," he said. "We don't want war."
But if Israel is dragged into one, he said, "I tell you there won't be 100,000 casualties, and not 10,000 casualties and not 1,000 casualties," he said. "And Israel won't be destroyed."
In 1981, Israel stunned the world with an airstrike on an unfinished nuclear reactor in Iraq that destroyed Saddam Hussein's nuclear program. Israeli warplanes also destroyed a site in Syria in 2007 that the U.N. nuclear watchdog deemed to be a secretly built nuclear reactor, though Israel never acknowledged responsibility for the attack.
Iran's program would be significantly more difficult to cripple because its facilities are scattered, and some are mobile and built underground.