By DIAA HADID
Israel's military chief said Thursday that other countries have readied their armed forces for a potential strike against Iran's nuclear sites to keep Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons.
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz did not specify which nations might be willing to support or take direct action against Iran. Still, his comments were one of the strongest hints yet that Israel may have the backing of other countries to strike the Islamic Republic to prevent it from developing nuclear arms.
"The military force is ready," Gantz said. "Not only our forces, but other forces as well."
"We all hope that there will be no necessity to use this force, but we are absolutely sure of its existence," he told The Associated Press, adding that he was not speaking on behalf of any other nation.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and that it does not aim to develop atomic weapons.
Israel, which views a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, has said it will not allow Tehran to acquire a nuclear bomb. It cites Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, Tehran's support for militant groups and its development of missiles capable of striking the Jewish state.
Israel's key ally, the United States, favors diplomacy and economic sanctions and has said military action on Iran's nuclear facilities should only be a last resort if all else fails. U.S. logistical and diplomatic support would likely be crucial to any potential Israeli strike.
Washington and other major powers have imposed a series of crippling economic sanctions while opening a dialogue with Iran.
Gantz said that in his assessment Iran is seeking to develop its "military nuclear capability," but that the Islamic Republic would ultimately bow to international pressure and decide against building a weapon.
The key to that pressure, he said, were sanctions and the threat of a military strike.
Gantz's stance on Iran's intentions appeared to put him at odds with Israel's political leaders, who have staked out a more hardline position. Gantz denied that was the case Thursday, saying there was no internal disagreement over Iran's aims.
Israeli President Shimon Peres echoed Gantz's comments. In an interview Thursday with Israeli Channel 2 TV, Peres said, "We are not alone on this issue."
Peres dismissed claims that Israel faces an existential threat.
"We have overcome, I believe, more difficult situations," Peres said. Peres, 88, fills a mostly ceremonial role as president.
In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNN on Tuesday that international sanctions have not changed Iran's behavior, and that the country continues to enrich uranium _ a key step toward developing a weapon.
The sanctions "haven't rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota," Netanyahu said.