Ex-Israel Military Chief:West Can Cripple Iran Nuclear Program

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JERUSALEM (AP)--A retired Israeli military chief said Friday that Western nations and Israel have the ability to launch a military strike that will set back Iran's nuclear program for many years.

Israel TV reported Thursday that Moshe Yaalon, who retired in June after a 37- year military career, told an audience in Washington that Israel has the capacity to carry out a military strike against Iran by itself.

Yaalon told Israel TV on Friday that he stood by his earlier comments, but he didn't repeat his reported assertion that Israel had the capacity to attack Iran's nuclear program alone.

"I spoke about the military option of the West, whether it's U.S. forces, NATO, also the Israeli army that deal with the Iranian capability," Yaalon said. "There is a military capability that will set back the program for many years."

Israel considers Iran one of its top enemies and says Iran's nuclear program is meant to produce weapons. Tehran says the nuclear program is for energy production. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped "off the map."

Although Israel has backed international efforts to get a resolution against Iran's nuclear plans passed in the U.N. Security Council, it has tried to maintain a low profile, preferring to let its main ally, the U.S., take the lead.

Yaalon reportedly made the initial comments Thursday in a question and answer session after a speech he gave at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank. Several calls to the institute requesting a transcript of Yaalon's comments were not returned Friday.

The reported comments caused an uproar in Israel.

"This is a very sensitive period in which the matter of Iran is being referred to the (U.N.) Security Council," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the TV. "As soon as Israel jumps forward and says this is our issue and we will attack ... this is so needless to say now."

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called Yaalon's remarks "unnecessary" and said Yaalon should have been more responsible when speaking publicly about matters key to Israel's security.

In response to the criticism, Yaalon said from the U.S. that he didn't understand "what all the fuss is about in Israel.

"In the West and in many places there is a baseless claim, in my eyes, that allegedly there isn't an (military) ability, and thus it was important for me to make these remarks clearly," Yaalon said.

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