Israel's central bank chief has applied to head the International Monetary Fund, the bank said Saturday, acknowledging that obstacles stand in his way.

Stanley Fischer has headed the Bank of Israel since 2005 and has held top jobs at the World Bank and at Citigroup Corp.

He has been widely credited with enabling the country to largely escape the global economic crisis. Unemployment in Israel is just over six per cent, and the real estate sector is booming.

Last year, he was appointed to a second five-year term.

"An extraordinary, unexpected and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has arisen, to run for the head of the International Monetary Fund, which I decided I wanted to do after many considerations," Fischer said Saturday.

Despite Fischer's achievements, the position may be a long-shot for the Zambia native. The post has traditionally gone to a European, and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has emerged as the front-runner.

Fischer over the age limit

Beyond that, the Bank of Israel said in a statement Saturday that the IMF accepts candidates under 65 years old. Fischer is 67.

Fischer said he was applying knowing it is "a complex process and despite the potential barriers."

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said Saturday he supported Fischer's candidacy.

"The position fits Fischer like a glove," he said.   

The IMF's last managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, quit last month after he was accused of attempting to rape a New York hotel maid.

IMF investigating attack on its computer system

Meanwhile, the IMF is investigating an attack on its computer system.

Spokesman David Hawley said the organization is fully functional. He declined to provide further details on what he termed an "IT incident," including its scope or nature and whether any sensitive data were taken. The IMF has confidential information on countries in financial trouble.

The New York Times cited unnamed IMF officials as saying the attack was sophisticated and serious.

The IMF told staffers about it on Wednesday but hasn't made a public announcement.

It's not clear if hackers were targeting the IMF. Hackers sometimes try to distribute malicious software code widely and see which organizations it can infect.

But they can also choose targets. Using a technique called "spear phishing," for instance, they can trick employees of a specific organization into clicking a link that then gives hackers access to its computer systems.

Dave Jevans, chairman of computer security firm IronKey Inc., said he's concerned by an uptick in "hacktivism," where groups target organizations for political purposes.

It's possible the IMF was the victim of such hacktivism. However, one official cited by the Times said the attack occurred over the last several months, before the troubles involving Strauss-Kahn.

Concerns about the IMF attack were great enough that the World Bank cut a computer link that allows the two organizations to share non-sensitive information, according to a bank official. The move was taken out of "an abundance of caution," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the security issues around the incident.