The Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern I
The Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern IAFP/Mehr News/File

A former U.S. military commander warned on Wednesday that a potential U.S. strike against Iran would take weeks and probably only set back the country's nuclear program by several years, AFP reports.

Admiral William Fallon, the former head of U.S. Central Command which covers the Middle East, said that Iran posed concerns for both the United States and Israel but voiced hope for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row.

"If the U.S. were to put a full-fledged strike campaign in there, that would probably take several weeks, it could put this program back for several years," Fallon was quoted as having said at the American Security Project, a research group.

Israel, which has not ruled out military action, has less capability than the United States and would face a more difficult task than in 1981 and 2007 when it secretly bombed nuclear sites in Iraq and Syria, Fallon said, according to AFP.

Iran's suspected nuclear facilities are not a "pinpoint target" but are instead dispersed and largely underground, he said.

"The bottom line is, it's not going to be a one-time shot. It's not going to be like '81 or even 2007," Fallon said.

Fallon resigned as Central Command chief in 2008 and ended a four-decade military career after an article in Esquire magazine portrayed him as critical of then president George W. Bush's stance on Iran.

Fallon joined other former U.S. officials last year in signing a study that said military action should be a last resort on Iran and estimating that military strikes could set back the nuclear program by up to four years.

Other signatories included former senator Chuck Hagel, recently nominated by President Barack Obama to be defense secretary.

Several months ago, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, made remarks similar to those of Fallon’s.

“I might not be aware of all their capabilities, but I think it is a fair assessment that [Israel] can delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities,” Dempsey said.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated in November that by the time his next term as Prime Minister is over, Iran will not have a nuclear weapons program, stressing that if it is necessary, he will lead an independent Israeli attack against Iran, even without the support of the United States.

“When former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel, was it with the consent of the Americans? When former Prime Minister Menachem Begin bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, was that with the consent of the Americans?” asked Netanyahu.

“If there someone here who, as Prime Minister of Israel, cannot act on things that are fundamental to the State, to its future and to its security and depends only on approval of others, he does not deserve to lead,” said Netanyahu.

A U.S. think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, said on Monday that Iran was on track to be able to produce material for at least one nuclear bomb by mid-2014.

The group’s report calls on Obama to make it clear to Iran that its behavior will not be tolerated. At the very least, the report says, the U.S. must impose “de facto international embargo on all investments in, and trade with, Iran” if Tehran does not cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspection program.