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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is readying all options to try to force Iran to halt its atomic program, Israel's top general told a parliamentary panel Tuesday, an official said.
He said he expected world leaders to decide by the close of 2009 which course of action to take to try to stop the Iranian program, the Israeli official said, briefing reporters.
"We are readying all the options and decision-makers will have to consider which paths to take" to stop Iran's nuclear development, Gabi Ashkenazi, chief-of-staff of Israel's armed forces told parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.
Hinting Israel was still weighing a military option to stop what Israel sees as a plan to produce nuclear weapons -- which Iran denies -- Ashkenazi suggested diplomatic or economic sanctions may also help.
"If the Iranians understand they will have to pay a steep price, it wouldn't be illogical or unreasonable to say they may change their current direction," the official quoted Ashkenazi as saying.
Israel routinely declines comment on international assessments that it currently possesses the region's only nuclear arsenal, of more than 100 atomic warheads.
Ashkenazi said Iran plays an active role in what he called a "battle being waged between radicals and moderates for hegemony in the Middle East" and is a key supplier of weapons to two arch enemy militias of Israel's -- the Hezbollah guerrillas of Lebanon and the Islamist Hamas group in the Gaza Strip.
Israel cites Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for the destruction of the Jewish state as a clear sign that Iranian nuclear weapons, if they are made, would threaten the country's existence.
"We cannot protect the entire country with an iron dome," he said, using the name of an interceptor system for short-range rockets that Israel has plans to deploy in two years' time.
(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Louise Ireland)