Defence Minister Ehud Barak played down on Tuesday speculation that Israel intended to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, saying it had not decided to embark on any military operation.
War is not a picnic. We want a picnic. We don't want a war, Barak told Israel Radio before the release this week of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran's nuclear activity.
(Israel) had not yet decided to embark on any operation, he said, dismissing as delusional Israeli media speculation that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had chosen that course.
But he said Israel had to prepare for uncomfortable situations and ultimately bore responsibility for its own security.
All options to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions should remain open, Barak said, repeating Israel's official line.
The IAEA report is widely expected to strengthen suspicions that Iran is seeking to produce nuclear weapons despite its statements that its uranium enrichment programme is aimed at power generation.
I estimate that it will be quite a harsh report ... it does not surprise Israel, we have been dealing with these issues for years, Barak said.
He voiced doubt, however, that the U.N. Security Council, where Tehran's traditional sympathisers China and Russia have veto power, would respond to the IAEA's findings by imposing tough new sanctions.
We are probably at the last opportunity for coordinated, international, lethal sanctions that will force Iran to stop, Barak said, calling for steps to halt imports of Iranian oil and exports of refined petroleum to the Islamist Republic.
Such steps, he said, will need the cooperation of the United States, Europe, India, China and Russia -- and I don't think that it will be possible to form such a coalition.
Speculation in Israel about an imminent attack on Iran was fuelled last week by its test-launching of a long-range missile and comments by Netanyahu that Tehran's nuclear program posed a direct and heavy threat.
Pressed in the radio interview about a military option, Barak said he was aware of fears among many Israelis that a strike against Iran could draw catastrophic retaliatory missile attacks by Tehran and its Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah allies.
There is no way to prevent some damage. It will not be pleasant, Barak said. There is no scenario for 50,000 dead, or 5,000 killed -- and if everyone stays in their homes, maybe not even 500 dead.
Israel held a wide-scale civil defence exercise last week, a drill that Israeli officials said was routine and scheduled months ago.
Interviews by Reuters with government and military officials, as well as independent experts, suggest that Israel prefers caution over a unilateral strike against the Iranians.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)