JERUSALEM — Israeli forces are carrying out more special operations beyond the country's borders and will be ready to attack Iran's nuclear sites if ordered, the chief-of-staff said in an interview on Sunday.
In an extract from an interview with the top-selling Yediot Aharanot daily, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said that 2012 would be a critical year in efforts to halt what Israel and much of the international community believe is an Iranian nuclear arms programme.
"We think that a nuclear Iran is a very bad thing, which the world needs to stop and which Israel needs to stop -- and we are planning accordingly," Gantz said.
"In principle, we are ready to act.
"That does not mean that I will now order (air force chief) Ido (Nehushtan) to strike Iran," he added in the interview which will be published in full on Wednesday, on the eve of Israel's 64th anniversary as a state.
The United States says it does not believe Iran has so far taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon, or that the time is right for military action, preferring to give international sanctions time to work.
But Israel, which sees a nuclear Iran as a threat to its very existence, claims Tehran may be on the cusp of "breakout" capability -- when it could quickly build a nuclear weapon -- and it does not rule out staging a pre-emptive strike of its own.
Gantz said he had increased the number of Israeli special operations in other countries but did not give details.
"I do not think you will find a point in time where there is not something happening, somewhere in the world," he said. "The threat level is also higher."
"I'm not taking the credit," he added. "I'm just accelerating all those special operations."