On December 18, 2009, Aluf Benn and Amos Harel, writing in Haaretz, offered one
of the most important insights into Israeli policy regarding the Iranian nuclear
“When Netanyahu was finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s cabinet,
he urged Sharon to focus on the struggle against Iran. When Netanyahu resigned
over the disengagement plan, and Sharon left Likud and established Kadima,
Netanyahu told Sharon that if he acted against Iran before the election,
Netanyahu would support him. Sharon did not act.” (Neither did Netanyahu –
“The uranium conversion plant in Isfahan has an important function
in the chain of Iran’s nuclear program. It first went into operation in 2004...
[and] since 2004, hundreds of kilograms... were sent to the enrichment plant in
Natanz [stored in] underground tunnels.”
“It is possible that years ago,
the problem of Iran’s nuclear project could have been solved by one tough blow
and with relatively minimal risk. At the time, the project was dependent on one
facility... Isfahan. If it had been bombed, Iran would have lost large
quantities of raw material for uranium enrichment, and its nuclear program would
have been set back years. But nothing happened.”
Why not? Benn and Harel
did not answer this crucial question, nor did the media pick up their
observation. Was the IAF incapable? Did Israel lack essential information? Was
America, bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, reluctant to agree? Was Israel
misled by faulty intelligence reports that the Iranians were not developing
nuclear weapons? According to a senior military advisor, the IDF and IAF
instituted operational plans to bomb the Iranian facility, but the political
echelon opposed any action.
In hindsight, the decision not to bomb the
Iranian facility was a gigantic mistake that changed the course of
There was, however, another reason for Sharon’s inattention:
criminal charges against him and his sons and his preoccupation with unilateral
withdrawal from Gaza and Northern Shomron.
The “Disengagement,” which
took place in August 2005, took a year to prepare, mobilized massive resources
and cost billions of shekels. Focused on expelling Jews from their homes and
destroying 25 communities, Sharon ignored the primary and critical threat to
Three other people (at least) share responsibility
for Israel’s blunder: defense minister Shaul Mofaz, vice prime minister Shimon
Peres and Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, then commander of the IAF, designated in
February, 2005 to replace Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon as IDF Chief of Staff (who
opposed Sharon’s policy). Enthusiastic supporters of Sharon’s plans to evacuate
Jews, they overlooked Iran in what seems to have been a pattern of confused
Mossad directors Efriam Halevy and Meir Dagan played
down the Iranian threat; Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland, head of National Security
Council, was tasked with the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Virtually the
entire military and political echelon was focused on destroying Jewish
communities, not on Iran.
Similarly, in 2006, prime minister Ehud Olmert,
in the midst of the war in Lebanon, announced his intention to evacuate more
settlements. Seemingly irrelevant, it dramatically illustrates his obsession
with further unilateral withdrawals from and destruction of Jewish communities
in Judea and Samaria.
Had the Israeli government prepared for war with
Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas instead of attacking tiny hilltop communities, the
outcome of the Second Lebanon War would have been different. Instead, the
Iranian threat was lost on Israel’s radar.
A year later (2007) Haaretz
reported that foreign minister Tzipi Livni believed “Iranian nuclear arms pose
little threat to Israel.” Once again, the focus was to destroy settlements, not
Iran and its proxies.
The war in Lebanon was not a military defeat. It
was a political defeat which allowed Hezbollah to control south Lebanon and
dominate the government, while Hamas consolidated its rule in Gaza. Because
Olmert’s primary agenda was political, not military, instead of defeating
Hezbollah, he legitimized them. He failed to respond effectively to Hamas terror
attacks until, in an effort to gain position in the coming election, he
authorized the Cast Lead operation into Gaza.
When Binyamin Netanyahu
became prime minister in 2009 and appointed Uzi Arad to head the National
Security Council, Israel’s Iran policy became a priority. By then, however, Iran
had multiple nuclear centers, a well-developed program, and the new Obama
administration was more concerned about Israeli plans to build apartments in
east Jerusalem and stopping all settlement activity.
Although its Iranian
policy is more realistic, however, the Israeli government seems again caught on
the hook of the settlement issue.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with Prime
Minister Netanyahu’s approval, is intent on carrying out his private political
agenda to destroy settlements despite widespread opposition from government
ministers and Knesset.
Instead of developing a coherent national policy
his call for unilateral withdrawal, like those implemented by Sharon and planned
by Olmert, distracts from more serious issues – e.g. a compromised judicial
system, crime and corruption, social and economic inequality, monopolies and
cartels, and the infiltration of hundreds of thousands of illegal
The failure to bomb Iran under Sharon and Olmert-led
administrations, entangled in the “two-state” delusion and an obsession with
Jews living in Yesha, fits a pattern.
Although Netanyahu and others have
spoken eloquently about the Iranian threat, the international community is
unwilling to act decisively and it is unlikely that Israel will act
unilaterally. As Israel faces increasing demonization and threats to its
legitimacy and its very existence, it also confronts a domestic crisis – and an
ideological one as well.
The issue is the sovereignty of the Jewish
People in the Land of Israel. We dare not lose that focus.