21 Sep 2009 10:49:47 GMT
By Alastair Macdonald
JERUSALEM, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Israel has not given up the option of a military response to Tehran's nuclear programme, senior officials said on Monday, after Russia's president said his Israeli counterpart assured him it would not attack Iran.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was asked by Reuters if that comment by Israeli President Shimon Peres, as reported on Sunday by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, was a guarantee there would be no Israeli strike on Iran.
Ayalon replied: "It is certainly not a guarantee.
"I don't think that, with all due respect, the Russian president is authorised to speak for Israel and certainly we have not taken any option off the table."
Echoing that, the chief-of-staff of Israel's armed forces, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, later told Army Radio when pressed on whether Israel could attack Iran: "Israel has the right to defend itself and all options are on the table."
Israel has long dismissed Iranian assurances that its nuclear programme is not intended to produce weapons and has said it would not tolerate such a level of armament in the Islamic Republic, which is avowedly hostile to the Jewish state.
A Kremlin transcript of an interview Medvedev gave to CNN last Tuesday quoted him as saying that an attack on Iran would lead to "a humanitarian disaster" and risk provoking retaliation against Israel that would also affect other nations.
"But my Israeli colleagues told me that they were not planning to act in this way and I trust them," Medvedev added.
During a meeting on the Black Sea in August, Peres, a former prime minister whose current role is largely ceremonial, had told him Israel would not attack Iran, Medvedev said.
"Israeli President Peres said something important for us all: 'Israel does not plan to launch any strikes on Iran, we are a peaceful country and we will not do this'," Medvedev said.
Russia plays a role in the stand-off between Israel and Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made an unannounced visit to Moscow this month, has been keen that Russia not sell anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran and also that Moscow support international sanctions against Iran.
Last week, a former senior Israeli defence official told Reuters that Israel would be compelled to attack Iran's nuclear facilities if the international powers had not agreed by the end of this year on crippling sanctions to force Tehran's hand.