Barak at Herzliya Conference 390.
(photo credit: Screenshot)
The Herzliya Conference almost always provides news headlines, but this year it
was Israel’s official Iranian outing.
Just a month ago, it would have
been impossible to get IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz or head of
Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi to speak about Iran in
closed-door meetings. This week, they spoke openly and publicly about
Iran’s nuclear program, what its status is, what its intentions are and the need
for a viable and credible military option.
It is true that Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu has spoken before about the need to present a credible military threat to Iran, but it is something else to
hear this from the men – Gantz, Kochavi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – who
would be in charge of carrying it out.
Barak was also more forthcoming on
Iran than in previous public appearances, saying Thursday night that if
sanctions didn’t work, Israel would need to take action.
When would this
be? Barak did not specify, but according to a report in The Washington Post
came out Thursday afternoon, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta believes it
could be as early as April, May or June.
How did Panetta reach this
conclusion? Probably from his talks with Barak, whom he has met a number of
times in Tel Aviv and Washington since he took up his post last July.
main question, though, is what has suddenly changed, and why Israel’s entire top
military and political leadership is speaking openly and publicly about Iran in
the span of just 24 hours.
For whom are their threats meant? And if
Israel was planning a strike in the near future, would it not make more sense to
lead the Iranians to believe that it is not happening and to retain the
operational element of surprise?
There are no clear answers, but a strong
possibility is that Israel is trying as hard as possible to get the world to
believe that it is serious about using a military option so it will instead keep
on escalating sanctions. David Ignatius’s column in The Washington Post
Panetta’s fears is an example of Israel’s possible success in doing just
In addition, Israel wants Iran to believe that a military strike is
real in order to hopefully convince the regime that if it doesn’t stop its
enrichment of uranium, it will be attacked. As Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon said
on Thursday: A credible military threat could get the Iranians to alter their
current course of action.
The reason Gantz, Barak, Kochavi and Ya’alon
are all speaking so candidly about Iran now is mostly the timing.
Israel is satisfied with the European Union’s recent decision to ban Iranian
oil, but it would like to see additional sanctions directed at the Central Bank
of Iran, which could create a devastating economic blow from which Iran would
have difficulty recovering.
The feeling within the government and the
defense establishment is that the next few months are critical and provide the
world with an opportunity that will likely not repeat itself – to stop Iran
without using military force. For that to happen, though, Israel needs to talk
like it is going to use military force.
The truth is that if all else
fails, it likely will one day.
There is a consensus within the Israeli
political and defense establishment that a nuclear Iran would pose an
existential threat to Israel and is something that in one way or another needs
to be stopped.
Israel prefers not to have to attack Iran for the obvious
reason – so as not to face the war that will most likely ensue. Nevertheless,
the consensus is that the war will not be as devastating as some former
officials like ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan make it out to be, and that the price
it will pay for stopping Iran will be less than the potential price it could pay
if Iran succeeds in going nuclear.