JERUSALEM (AP) _ Edging close to acknowledging that Israel is a nuclear power, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres said Friday that the Jewish state pursued a nuclear option to prevent war.

Peres was the main force behind the establishment of Israel's nuclear reactor in the southern Negev Desert town of Dimona in the 1950s. At the time, he was director-general of the Defense Ministry and a confidant of then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

Asked by Israel TV's Channel Two why Dimona was built, Peres said he had hoped it would help Israel negotiate peace agreements with its Arab neighbors.

``No one made a bomb to use it. Instead, we wanted a veiled nuclear option in order to prevent war,'' Peres said in excerpts of the interview broadcast Friday.

Israel has never acknowledged that it has nuclear weapons, saying only it would not be the first to use them in the region. But Western intelligence reports say Israel is the only nuclear power in the Mideast and has a significant stockpile.