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He added: “You always have the last resort of military action, but it must be the last resort, not the first.”

Zalman Shoval, a special envoy for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that when dealing with someone like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a three-year detail may turn out to be significant.

“When you look at someone who denies the Holocaust and makes no secret of his intention to wipe out the state of Israel, and is making a major effort to lay his hands on a nuclear weapon in order to do that then you say to yourself lots of things can happen in three years in Iran,” Mr. Shoval told The Times.

“You don’t have to take it for granted that if something is held up for three years, then after the three years he comes back with a bang. Who knows?”

Israeli news reports say that Mr. Netanyahu has tried to build a political consensus to strike Iran.

Israel’s potent air force includes long-range F-15Is, a specially configured version of the U.S. Air Force Strike Eagle. It is capable of flying low and at night while carrying bunker-busting bombs.

The problem Israeli pilots would face is first getting to Iranian airspace, then penetrating the country’s multilayered air defenses.