Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lashed out Sunday at a spate of newspaper stories reporting an imminent Israeli attack on Iran, the opposition of the senior defense establishment to such an attack, and the country’s lack of preparedness for its aftermath, calling them a “worldwide scandal.”
Netanyahu, responding to a question during a meeting with Likud ministers over the media frenzy over the past few days regarding the Islamic Republic, said the reports were designed to “prevent Israel from independent action.”
The prime minister did not say who he thought was behind the reports.
Netanyahu said that while he only spoke “little and in a measured” way about Iran, others were creating damage by making “specific information and operational details” part of the public discussion.
Netanyahu’s close ministerial ally Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the current public discussion – with leaks and details – was liable to “cause damage to the state’s security.”
Steinitz, speaking to reporters before Sunday’s cabinet meeting, said that “one day we will have to check ourselves and see how the situation deteriorated to the point where there is such an exposed public discussion in the media.”
Last week, for instance, Yediot Aharonot ran a story saying that the Saudis had threatened to shoot down Israeli planes flying over their airspace on the way to Iran. The paper printed a diagram of three possible air routes into Iran.
These and other stories have led to intense speculation as to what is behind the leaks. Some say the leaks and stories are an attempt by the government to get the world community to take harsher steps against Tehran at a time when the current sanctions are not having an impact on its nuclear program, and the diplomatic negotiations between Iran and the world powers – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – have essentially broken down.
Strengthening this theory were comments Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon made to Israel Radio Sunday.
Ayalon called on the international community to declare the diplomatic channel with Iran a failure, make clear to the Iranians that the world’s patience had reached its limit, and that if they continued their nuclear development “all options are on the table.”
The Iranians need to understand that this does not just mean Israeli action, but rather action by NATO, the US and other forces, he said.
Ayalon said “several weeks” remained for the sanctions to show that they were having an impact.
Reflecting a line repeated frequently by government officials, including Netanyahu, Ayalon said that if the choice was made starker for the Iranians, they might alter their policies.
Others maintain that the reports are an effort to prepare Israel psychologically for the possibility of war.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Israel had no reason to launch a strike against Iran anytime soon.
“There is no reason whatsoever for Israel to act in the near future, not in the coming weeks and not in the coming months,” said Olmert, speaking at Ono Academic College. “That is not to say that Iran isn’t thinking of nonconventional weapons... That said, Israeli [military] actions are not necessary within the near future.
“The discussions over Iran’s nuclear program do not reflect reality,” added Olmert. “We do not have to be hysterical. We have to calm down.”
The former prime minister said the relationship with the US was of paramount importance for Israel, and slammed the Israeli leadership for driving a wedge between the two. “Pressure coming from Israel is unhelpful when the United States is two and a half months before an election,” he said.
“Where will the planes come from [that Israel would use to strike Iran]? Where will the other tools come from? Will they come from here, or from somewhere else? Who will help us?” Olmert asked, hinting at the importance of US support.
Rather than preparing the country psychologically for a possible war, the current debate was having a demoralizing effect, he said.
Olmert said he did not remember a time where there was a more dangerous public debate taking place in the country.
“The significance is not only in exposing things, but also in the mood it creates in Israeli society,” he said.
“This does not contribute anything to our ability to deal with the threat Iran represents to Israel,” he said. “On the contrary, this makes it difficult for us, isolates us, burdens us and does not give us any benefit in dealing with this thing.”
Meanwhile, just as the war talk is reaching a fever pitch in the media, Netanyahu bade farewell at the weekly cabinet meeting to Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i, who is leaving to take up his post as ambassador to China.
Netanyahu made it clear that he would name a replacement for Vilna’i in the coming days.
In an apparent reaction to a Yediot Aharonot story Sunday saying that the home front was woefully unprepared for an attack on Iran and its aftermath, Netanyahu lauded Vilna’i and said the country had made huge strides in preparing itself for any contingency.
“Who knows better than you that for decades the government of Israel did not invest sufficiently in home front defense,” Netanyahu said.
In a reference to the First Gulf War and Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles, Netanyahu said, “The missile era began in 1991, with the Gulf War, and there are those who say even before that. I think there’s been a very great change during our government’s term in office.”
For example, the prime minister said, a separate ministry to deal with this issue was set up, meetings every two weeks were held between him, Vilna’i and other ministers to deal with the issue and assess the situation, and billions of shekels have been spent on home front defense, including the Iron Dome, the Arrow and other weapons systems.
He said Israel had developed perhaps the most advanced warning system in the world. Despite the improvements, however, Netanyahu said it was impossible to say that there were no problems with home front defense, “because there always are.”
But, he said, “all of the threats that are currently being directed against the Israeli home front pale against a particular threat, different in scope, different in substance. Therefore, I reiterate that Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.