Maj.-Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze’evi Farkash is worried.
So worried that he
decided this week to break his longstanding silence on Iran and to share his
concerns with the world.
As head of Military Intelligence from 2001 to
2006, Farkash is intimately familiar with Iran’s nuclear program and oversaw a
large part of the intelligence work done in 2002 that led to the concrete
evidence Israel had been looking for to prove that Iran was developing a nuclear
weapon. He was later sent by prime minister Ariel Sharon on a number of
diplomatic missions throughout Europe to present Israel’s smoking
What prompted Farkash to speak out this week? A concern that an
Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities could take place within the
near future, a move that he says would be premature.
As a 40-year veteran
of Israel’s intelligence service, Farkash bases his assessment on what he reads
and hears between the lines in speeches given by the Israeli political
leadership and primarily by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak.
Israel, he explains, will likely not want to attack
right before the US presidential elections on November 6.
“I think that
within this window it is difficult to imagine that something will happen a month
before elections,” he said.
Farkash added that from what he is reading
and hearing a decision is not far off.
But, he warns, a strike against
Iran’s nuclear facilities now would be wrong.
“The timing is not now
since, even if it is successful, it will ruin the legitimacy that is needed,” he
said, suggesting instead that Israel wait six to eight months or even until
spring 2013 before deciding on such an attack.
One word that repeats
itself throughout the interview with Farkash is “legitimacy,” a reference to the
required diplomatic support Israel will need after a strike to ensure that the
Iranians are not allowed to rebuild their facilities and race toward the bomb –
something he believes they will definitely and immediately do.
is not a single strike and once it happens we are in a whole other world,” he
said. “Iran will pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, [Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei and [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad will reunite and it
will be clear that they need a bomb now so that we cannot attack them
This means that Israel will need legitimacy to be able to maintain
the operation with more attacks within weeks, months and years after. Otherwise
what did you do?” “Israel needs to know if it can, over time, ensure that the
attack is maintained,” he added. “This is the key to success or
Another reason for Israel to hold off on attacking Iran,
according to Farkash, is due to the enormous additional challenges that the
country is currently facing.
“We are standing before five decisions on
security... and we confront them all by ourselves at once,” he
These situations that must be dealt with include a possible attack
against Iran, a possible attack to stop the proliferation of Syria’s chemical
weapons arsenal, a growing terrorist threat in the Sinai Peninsula, a looming
operation in the Gaza Strip to stop rocket attacks and the constant need to be
prepared for a possible confrontation with Hezbollah and its 50,000
While he is currently opposed to a strike against Iran, Farkash
said he understood Netanyahu and Barak’s ultimate concern that Israel would be
left alone to deal with the Iranian threat. He also praised the current
government for its success in turning Iran into a global issue and making the
world understand that with a nuclear weapon, the Islamic regime would be a
threat to all countries and not just to Israel.
“The prime minister and
the defense minister look at Syria, where more than 20,000 people have been
killed and [President Bashar] Assad is massacring his people, and no one is
doing anything,” he said. “The lesson they learn is that we need to take our
fate in our hands; but for me this doesn’t have to mean an attack against
He admits that the sanctions have not yet had the desired effect,
as is demonstrated by Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium and the failure of
the last three rounds of talks between Iran and the P5+1.
But, he adds,
there is a process in play that should not be stopped, which includes Assad’s
eventual downfall, the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt, the European
Union oil embargo on Iran, the removal of Iran from the SWIFT banking network
and the new round of sanctions imposed this week by President Barack
“All of this tells me: let the process run its course and don’t
break the legitimacy,” he said.
But what exactly is legitimacy? As an
example, Farkash refers to the Second Lebanon War. “We had unbelievable
operational freedom then because five times Hezbollah tried kidnapping soldiers
and we were restrained,” he said.
Right now, he adds, European and Asian
countries are paying a heavy price for agreeing to the sanctions and stopping to
do business with Iran.
“If Israel attacks, we will find ourselves being
asked why we attacked when the world was imposing tough economic sanctions and
was paying for this and was hurting as a result,” he said.
But what about
the argument made by Barak that if Israel waits too long Iran will enter the
socalled immunity zone – with the fortification of its facilities and
centrifuges – and Israel’s military option will no longer be viable? Farkash
does not accept the “immunity zone” argument – he is not alone; the Pentagon has
also dismissed it – but ultimately says that when the immunity zone is up
against the question of legitimacy, legitimacy should take
“This window [of the immunity zone], which some leaders say
is irreversible, either has passed or is not as significant as they are making
it out to be and if I put it up against the question of legitimacy then
legitimacy is more important,” he claimed.
In addition, Farkash added,
the Iranians have not yet gotten to the breakout stage and are still enriching
uranium to 20 percent and lower while military-grade uranium needs to be
enriched to over 90%.
“The assessment is that we will know when they do
this and therefore the significance is to not ruin the legitimacy,” he
“Israel without legitimacy will not be able to – over time –
maintain the results of a successful attack.”
Farkash believes that what
will ultimately stop Khamenei and Ahmadinejad is a feeling that the Islamic
regime is facing an “existential threat” that endangers its future existence as
the government of Iran.
This can be done by imposing more sanctions, by
further isolating the Islamic regime and by making it clear that the military
threat is real and capable. One way to do this is by the US sending four
aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf and by Israel holding civil defense
exercises and long-range air force drills.
“They need to know that there
is not just a glove but there is a fist behind it,” he said.