Israeli Deputy Chief of General Staff Major General Dan Harel warned Tuesday that the Jewish state would face "huge security challenges" in the next year and military attack against Iran in the future is possible.
Harel made the warning during a background briefing on strategic picture of Middle East in the coming year, listing three major threats to Israel: Iran's long range attacking capability, military organizations in neighboring countries and asymmetric terrorism activities.
Israel is surrounded by them, he warned, while dividing the Middle East region into two camps: one camp, with the United States as its leader, comprises Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate; the other one mainly consists of Iran, Syria and Palestinian Hamas movement.
Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan were affected by the two sides and would fall into different camps at last, Harel said, adding that Russia also had important influence to the situation.
The Israeli top officer particularly accused Iran of being "on the way to be a nuclear country" and urged the international community to implement "decisive and timely" measures, such as more strict political and economic sanctions, to stop Iran's nuclear program.
"The question is not when Iran can be a nuclear country than when we can not prevent it from being a nuclear country," he emphasized.
He cited intelligence reports as saying that Iran so far had up to 6,000 centrifuges and stockpiled about 300 kilogram of low-enriched uranium. "On this pace, Iran will have enough nuclear materials in two or three years."
Moreover, Iran has had long-and-mid-range missiles including Shahab 3 missile which can hit target within a range of 2,000 kilometers, he warned.
Harel predicted that Iran would be more likely to provide nuclear umbrella to military groups like Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hamas in Lebanon, and to upgrade all their actions against Israel to be more aggressive.
Asked if IDF had capability to take preemptive military action against Iran without help from the United States, Harel said "military option is possible and nothing should be took out of table."
Last week, the Ha'aretz daily, citing a source close to U.S. president-elect Barack Obama, reported that the new U.S. administration will provide Israel with nuclear deterrent guarantees in case of a potential nuclear attack from Iran.
Harel confirmed that the new Arrow-2 Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile (ATBM) developed by Israel "is very successful" and "it will be deployed in 2010."
The Israeli general also considered Hamas to be targets of Israel, stressing that Israel's continual military operations and blockage to Gaza Strip are not punishment but effective defending measures to prevent Israel from attacks.
Until Monday, some 3,010 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel from the Palestinian enclave this year, he denounced.
Meanwhile, Harel, who was the head of the South Command from 2003 to 2005, noted that the IDF has learnt lessons from the Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah and made enough preparation for possible conflicts in both northern and southern borders.
IDF equipped new weapon systems and new vehicles, trained reservists, and strengthened border control, he said, adding "we have a better and more prepared military now."