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Israel says decision on attack on Iran is not close

By Kevin Flower, CNN
January 18, 2012 -- Updated 1646 GMT (0046 HKT)
Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said a decision to strike Iran's nuclear program was
Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said a decision to strike Iran's nuclear program was "very far off."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Russian official says an attack on Iran would be a "disaster"
  • Defense Minister Ehud Barak talked about Iran during an interview with Israel Army Radio
  • The interview comes amid tensions over Iran's nuclear program
  • "I wouldn't want to make any estimates. It's not urgent," Barak says

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that a decision on whether to strike Iran's nuclear program was "very far off."

Speaking to Israeli Army Radio, Barak would not offer a concrete estimate as to when he believes Iran may develop a nuclear weapon.

"I don't know; it's a long way off. Some will say a few years, some will say six months. It really doesn't matter."

Pressed on whether the decision to use force might be weeks or months away Barak said: "I wouldn't want to make any estimates. It's not urgent."

Barak's comments come a day before the American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey is scheduled to visit Israel for talks on regional security matters and days after the two countries announced the postponement of a large-scale joint missile defense drill dubbed "Austere Challenge 12."

Dempsey's trip, his first to Israel since becoming America's highest-ranking military officer, comes amid growing international tensions over Iran's nuclear program and its threats to close the Strait of Hormuz to international shipping.

A Pentagon spokesman said Sunday the U.S.-Israel military exercises would be pushed back until the second half of 2012 for "a variety of factors."

Israel's Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren combated reports that the exercise was canceled because of strategic or financial concerns. He released a statement Tuesday saying the decision was made jointly with the United States and "stemmed solely from technical issues" calling the postponement "routine."

In the interview, Barak deflected questions on media speculation that Dempsey was visiting to ask the Israeli government not to strike unilaterally against Iran.

"The U.S. understands that we have to listen to what they say and, I think, they listen to us," Barak said. "I don't think there is much difference in how we see things."

Asked whether Israel had pledged to notify the United States ahead of any unilateral military action against Iran, Barak said: "I don't want to go into this. We haven't made any decision on this. All of this is very far off."

Speaking to CNN in December, Dempsey said there is no guarantee that Israel will give the United States warning if it decides to attack Iran, but that despite that, America was sharing intelligence with Israel.

"We are trying to establish some confidence on the part of the Israelis that we recognize their concerns and are collaborating with them on addressing them," he said at the time.

The possibility of a strike against Iran was also addressed separately Wednesday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"The consequences will be really grave, and we are seriously concerned about this," he said, calling such an attack, "a disaster."

An attack on Iran would create a wave of refugees who likely would end up in Russia and neighboring countries, he said.

Also, "an attack against Iran would also pour oil on the latent smoldering flames of the Sunni-Shiite confrontation. Then a chain reaction will begin, and I don't know where it will stop," he said.

Russia will never support sanctions against Iran, he added.

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