Setting Iran’s nuclear plans back a few years to buy time for regime change or
other unforeseen developments would be good in its own right, even if Israel
cannot completely take out Iran’s nuclear program, Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu said recently, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
private meetings, repeated a number of times that before Israel’s 1981 attack on
Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, the Mossad and Military Intelligence were opposed
because they thought the best that could be done was to delay the program for a
couple of years.
They also argued at the time, Netanyahu said, that
nothing would be solved in the long term, and that the operational risks were
The prime minister, according to government sources, said that
taking action to set back the program is legitimate because the delay could give
birth to numerous unforeseen developments.
For instance, he has said,
such an attack – one that demonstrates the vulnerability of the regime – could
hasten regime change inside Iran.
According to government sources,
Ambassador to the US Michael Oren was reflecting Netanyahu’s thinking when he
said on Wednesday at a public forum in Washington that Israel would be willing
to hit Iran if it only set back – and did not destroy – its “One, two, three, four years are a long time in the Middle East – look what’s
happened in the last year,” Oren said.
Among the arguments used most
against a solo Israeli attack, indeed an argument voiced on Tuesday by Gen.
Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is that an Israeli
attack could not take out the Iranian program. Many also argue that it would
rally the Iranian population around an unpopular regime.
also discounted the second part of that argument in recent meetings, saying that
the Israeli rescue raid on Entebbe in 1976 did not bring the Ugandan public to
rally around its dictator Idi Amin, but rather strengthened the opposition
fighting him by showing his weakness.
In addition to Mossad and IDF
Intelligence opposition, President Shimon Peres, then a Labor MK, also opposed
the attack on the Iraqi reactor in 1981. He stood by his opposition during a
Channel 2 interview on Thursday marking his 89th birthday, saying that the Iraqi
reactor that was destroyed was not able to produce nuclear weapons.
said that after the Israeli bombing, the Iraqis moved to centrifuges to enrich
uranium, and that were it not for the US invasion in 2003, they would have been
farther along with the centrifuges than the Iranians.
Peres said that the
world realized the danger posed by a nuclear Iran, and that Israel was not in
this battle alone.
Asked whether he was convinced that US President
Barack Obama would take action to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons,
Peres replied, “I am convinced that this is an American interest, and I am sure
that he sees the American interest and he isn’t saying this just to keep us
happy. I have no doubt about it, after having had talks with him.”
said that it was “clear to us that we can’t do it alone. We can delay. It’s
clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about
coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we
are not alone.”
Peres also dismissed the notion that Israel had to take
action before the November 6 US elections, as many have speculated. “I don’t
think they will do it before the elections,” he said.
Sources close to
Netanyahu slammed Peres for his statements, saying that he had forgotten the
president’s largely symbolic role. The sources said Peres had made numerous
wrong assessments of the security situation in the past, particularly in
opposing the attack on the Iraqi reactor; in believing the Oslo Accords – which
led to the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis – would usher in a “new Middle
East”; and in minimizing the threats posed by the unilateral withdrawal from
Gaza in 2005, which led to thousands of rockets and missiles being fired on the
Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich said that Netanyahu harmed the
institution of the president by responding so fiercely.
attack on Peres was gross and violent and the fact that he’s hiding behind his
associates does not diminish the harshness of his response,” she said.
response to Peres’s statements, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said the
difference between the president’s role and the prime minister’s was
“The president has a symbolic role, while the prime minister and
the government are the ones who make decisions. It is important to keep this
division for the sake of the democratic nature of the State of Israel and
especially for subjects like these.”
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud
Barak – who has emerged as the most bellicose minister regarding Iran – told the
Knesset during a special session, called to approve Avi Dichter’s appointment as
home front defense minister, that taking action against Iran today was “not
simple, without risks or unintended consequences.”
At the same time, he
added, “I believe that it is inestimably more complicated, inestimably more
dangerous, inestimably more complex, and inestimably more expensive in terms of
human life and resources to deal with a nuclear Iran in the
Deflecting criticism that the government was not discussing the
matter in sufficient depth, or that he and Netanyahu were likely to make the
decision to attack Iran alone, Barak said that in all his years in government no
issue – neither dealing with peace nor with war – has been discussed in as much
depth and detail as this issue. “This does not mean there are no disagreements,”
he said. “The issue is complicated. But it is being
Referring to the loud and very public discussion of the
issue, Barak said “there is authority given to the prime minister, the defense
minister and the foreign minister. There is a forum of nine [ministers], there
is a security cabinet, and when a decision needs to be made it will be taken by
the Israeli government.
That is the way it always was, and the way it
needs to be. Neither citizens’ groups nor even editorials [will make the
If it were up to the public, according to a poll of the
Jewish population commissioned by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv
University, Israel would not attack without US assistance.
conducted on August 7-8 by the Dahaf Institute among 516 Israeli Jews, found
that 61 percent were either strongly or moderately opposed to an Israeli attack
without US cooperation. Only 27% said they either strongly or moderately
supported such a move.
The poll also found that despite numerous reports
in the Israeli press about an imminent attack, 56% said the chances of such an
attack were low, while just 33% said there were very high or moderately high
chances of an Israeli military action.
And while Peres said he was
convinced that the US under Obama would take action, the Israeli public –
according to the poll – is far less certain. Asked if Israel could rely on a
promise US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made on his recent visit that “Iran
will never have nuclear weapons,” only 22% said Israel could rely on that
promise, while 70% said it could not.
The survey had a 4.5-percentage
point margin of error.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.