(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ehud Barak said a plan to attack Iranian nuclear facilities when he was defense minister was sabotaged by the hesitancy of fellow cabinet members Yuval Steinitz and Moshe Ya’alon, the man who would replace him at the Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv.
The bombshell revelations were made in a tape recording obtained by Channel 2 that was aired on its flagship Friday news magazine.
Barak said the attack plans against Iran were drawn up and approved by him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sometime between 2009 and 2010.
According to Barak, when the plan went before the so-called “Forum of Eight” ministers, it was then-strategic affairs minister Ya’alon and then-finance minister Steinitz – two of the most vocal anti-Iran hawks in the current administration – who “melted.”
Once it became apparent that Ya’alon and Steinitz were not on board with the attack plan, Netanyahu and Barak lost their majority in the Forum of Eight, forcing them to shelve the initiative, the former defense minister is heard saying.
According to Channel 2, Barak tried to prevent the television station from airing the audio, claiming it would violate military censorship rules. However, the Military Censor’s Office approved the contents, Channel 2 said.
Ya’alon and Steinitz both refused to comment on Barak’s allegations, releasing a statement to Channel 2 expressing bewilderment as to how the Military Censor’s Office permitted the contents of sensitive cabinet discussions to be aired in such a public way.
The Barak tapes were made available to Channel 2 following the completion of a forthcoming Hebrew-language biography about the former defense minister titled Milhamot hayay
(“My Life’s Wars”), written by Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor.
According to Barak, another critical factor that short-circuited an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was opposition from then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
Ashkenazi rejected Barak and Netanyahu’s pleas to officially declare that the proposed strikes on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities were within “the threshold of [the IDF’s] operational capacity.”
“You can’t go to the cabinet [and expect it to endorse an attack on Iran]” when the army chief refused to definitively state that the IDF was fully capable of executing an assault, Barak is heard saying.
Another obstacle standing in the way of Netanyahu and Barak was the Forum of Eight.
According to Barak, he was assured by Netanyahu that Ya’alon and Steinitz were on board with the attack; their support was critical since other more dovish members of the forum – Minister-without- Portfolio Bennie Begin, then-deputy prime minister Dan Meridor and then-interior minister Eli Yishai – were opposed to the plan, as were senior officials in the defense and intelligence communities.
Once the Forum of Eight convened to discuss the plan, Barak said he “saw before my own eyes how Steinitz and Ya’alon were melting.”
“It was their questions, their facial expressions – and these are the men who are the most militant ministers when it comes to Iran,” Barak is heard saying.
After it became clear Steinitz and Ya’alon were no longer in the “yes” camp, Netanyahu and Barak had lost their majority in the Forum of Eight.
“Without a majority in the Forum of Eight we didn’t have the legitimacy to bring the plan before the entire cabinet,” Barak said.
Barak said Israel had another opportunity attack Iran – this time in 2012, as has been reported in foreign media outlets.
According to Barak, Israel was set to attack Iran – but there was a major problem.
It had scheduled a large joint military drill with the United States, and the government did not want to embarrass Washington by attacking Iran just as it was set to engage in the military exercise since that would give the appearance that the Americans were involved.
Without offering an explanation, Barak convinced then-defense secretary Leon Panetta to reschedule the drill, but the new time frame still did not allow enough time for Israel to strike Iran without implicating the Americans.