'No option is off the table on Iran'

Barak says Israel not blind to implications of attack; Gates: Offer of dialogue "not open ended."

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, shakes ha (photo credit: AP)
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, shakes ha
(photo credit: AP)
Israel does not rule out any means of dealing with Iran's nuclear threat, and is taking "no option off the table", Defense Minister Ehud Barak told US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday.

"This is our position. We mean it," Barak added.

Speaking alongside Gates in a joint press conference at the Jerusalem King David hotel, the defense minister's declaration indicated that a military strike by Israel was still a possibility, though Barak also said he hoped diplomacy would succeed, while urging the US to set a short deadline and prepare hard-biting financial sanctions against Iran.

"Israel remains in its basic position that no options should be removed from the table, even though priority at this stage should be given to diplomacy," he said.

At the same time, Barak did not ignore the predicted implications of an Israeli offensive against Teheran. "We are not blind, whatever we do can have implications on our neighbors and others, we are trying to take that into account," he said.

Gates's visit to Israel is seen in part as aiming at dissuading Israel from taking any military action against Teheran and buying time for US diplomacy to bear fruit. However, Barak's no-options-off-table comment - repeated three times - may indicate Gates made no visible headway in that goal.

Acknowledging Israel's concerns, Gates said the US administration's attempt to engage Iran diplomatically was "not an open-ended offer" and that the US was aware Iran might try to "run out the clock."

Gates said the Obama administration wanted an answer from the Iranians by the time of the UN General Assembly convention, at the end of September. "I think that the president is certainly anticipating or hoping for some kind of response this fall, perhaps by the time of the UN General Assembly," he said.

He said sanctions were a possibility if diplomacy fails, while also mentioning plans for a loosely defined "defense umbrella" meant to protect US allies in the region.

The US was contributing financially and technically to fortifying Israel's missile defense program, Gates added, reiterating a pledge that Israel would maintain its technological advantage over its enemies.

"We will continue to ensure that Israel has the most advanced weapons for its national defense," he said.

The secretary of defense is scheduled to meet later with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.