JERUSALEM - Israel’s military chief said in an interview published Wednesday that Iran will ultimately decide against building a nuclear weapon - putting him at odds with Israel’s more pessimistic prime minister.
Major General Benny Gantz told the Haaretz daily that he believes that diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions, along with Israel’s determination to strike if it deems it necessary, will deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.
“I don’t think [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei] will want to go the extra mile,’’ he said. “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.’’
At the same time, he warned that Israel is moving forward with its preparations to take military action if the order is given. “We are preparing for it in a credible manner. That’s my job, as a military man,’’ he said.
He said this year would be critical in determining whether Iran decides to take the final steps needed for a weapon.
“We’re in a period when something must happen: Either Iran takes its nuclear weapon to a civilian footing only or the world, perhaps we, too, will have to do something. We’re closer to the end of the discussions than the middle,’’ he said.
Gantz’s comments contrasted with much tougher statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who complained in an interview Tuesday with CNN that international sanctions have not changed Iran’s behavior.
The sanctions “are certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy, but so far they haven’t rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota,’’ he said. Nuclear centrifuges are “spinning as we speak. So if the sanctions are going to work, they better work soon,’’ he said.
Israel and much of the West think Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. But differences have emerged on how to deal with the issue.
The United States and other major powers have imposed economic sanctions while opening a dialogue with Iran. Netanyahu expressed skepticism about the talks, saying Iran is trying to buy time as it pushes a weapons program, while hinting that Israel would be ready to attack Iran’s nuclear installations.
Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Netanyahu dismissed the denials. He cited Iran’s development of missiles capable of dropping a bomb on Israel, Iranian leaders’ calls for Israel’s destruction, and the fortifying of Iranian nuclear sites deep underground.