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Israel general doubts power to hit Iran atom sites

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel may lack the military means for successful preemptive strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, its former top general said on Saturday.

While endorsing international efforts to pressure Tehran into curbing sensitive nuclear technologies, Israel has hinted it could resort to force. But some analysts say Israeli jets would be stymied by the distance to Iran and by its defenses. Asked in a television interview about Israeli leaders' vows to "take care" of the perceived threat, ex-general Dan Halutz, who stepped down as armed forces chief in 2007, said: "We are taking upon ourselves a task that is bigger than us."

"I think that the State of Israel should not take it upon itself to be the flag-bearer of the entire Western world in the face of the Iranian threat," Halutz, whose previous military post was as air force commander, told Channel Two.

"I'm not some passer-by ... I've filled a few positions that give me a different level of information to the average person," he said without elaborating.

The United States and European nations are trying to enlist other world powers in stepping up sanctions against Iran for its uranium enrichment, a process with bomb-making potential. Tehran denies having hostile designs but its anti-Israel rhetoric has stirred war fears.

Some analysts believe Israel, which is assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal but neither confirms nor denies this capability, is boosting its defenses to deter a nuclear-armed Iran from future confrontations.

The United States, publicly circumspect about the prospect of another regional war, has stationed a strategic radar in Israel and last year held anti-missile drills with its ally.

Asked what Israel should do if its foreign allies failed to prevent Iran going nuclear, Halutz said: "Then we will have to think about how to handle it, and I won't say anything more."

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)