Defense: Don't attack Iran now, warns ex-intel chief

Exclusive: Aharon Farkash fears an attack on Iran’s nuclear program may be imminent, but would be premature.

Bushehr nuclear power plant_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Bushehr nuclear power plant_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
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 gun.
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.
“An attack 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 again.
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 failure.”
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 said.
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 missiles.
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 Iran.”
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 Obama.
“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 precedence.
“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 said.
“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.