'Iranian threat not understood'

Gantz to 'Post': In a culture like Iran, a covert nuclear weapons program "doesn't seem farfetched."

gantz 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gantz 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite international efforts to impose sanctions on Iran, the world does not yet appreciate the gravity of the Iranian nuclear threat, and "one miss" in its assessment has the potential to alter the international community's course of action and enable Iran to turn nuclear, Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, the IDF's incoming military attaché to the United States, has told The Jerusalem Post. Gantz's warning was not referring specifically to the US National Intelligence Estimate, which was released two weeks ago and claimed Iran had stopped its development of a nuclear weapon. It was, however, the first public comment on Iran by a senior member of the IDF General Staff in the wake of the report's publication. "The world understands [Iran is a problem], since [countries] are holding talks and imposing sanctions... but I am not sure that it understands the severity of the problem and its urgency," Gantz told the Post in an exclusive interview over the weekend at his office at the Kirya General Staff Headquarters in Tel Aviv. Iran, he said, was a threat not just for Israel but for the entire world. "Therefore, one miss can put us in a different place and change the course of action," he continued, refraining from referring directly to the NIE report and warning that as a consequence of such a miss, Iran could turn nuclear, and only then would the world "take action." In a ceremony at the Kirya on Thursday, Gantz will step down from the post he has held for the past two years as head of the IDF Ground Forces and will hand over command to Maj.-Gen Avi Mizrahi. Gantz and his family are scheduled to fly to Washington on Sunday, where he will take up his new post as military attaché. Defense officials said recently that Gantz's new position would be of extreme importance for Israel in the coming years, ahead of possible military action against Iran and an American withdrawal from Iraq that could have potentially detrimental consequences for Israel. Gantz is replacing Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel, who was recently appointed deputy chief of staff. While saying he did not want to argue with the NIE report, which was an "internal American issue," Gantz said that despite the report's findings, it was possible that Iran was continuing its development of nuclear weapons. "In a large country like Iran, in a culture like Iran, the ability to do things covertly is not something that seems so farfetched, and I would not stop tracking this situation in the broadest way possible, since this is an international and not just an Israeli interest," he said. Pointing to remarks by US President George W. Bush following the report's publication that Iran was still dangerous, Gantz said the US understood the gravity of the Iranian threat and "does not think that you can start releasing white doves in Iran or go camping there." He said Israel and the US shared a common culture and set of values and that the two countries' bond was of strategic importance for both. Meanwhile Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for his ministers to refrain from discussing the Iranian nuclear situation and the controversial NIE report. A delegation from Military Intelligence is currently in the US for meetings with American officials as part of an effort to convince Washington that Iran is still pursuing nuclear weapons. In an apparent reference to Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, who blasted the NIE on Saturday, Olmert said at the weekly cabinet meeting that these types of declarations "do not help in waging the struggle against the nuclearization of Iran, and do not help in the relations with Washington." "I ask the ministers to stop making declarations about Iran and the American report," Olmert said, not mentioning Dichter by name. "I remind you that the security cabinet held a discussion on the issue, and at the end of that meeting we presented the Israeli position, and there is no place for declarations by each minister on such a sensitive, complex and complicated issue." This was not the first time Olmert had asked his ministers to restrict their public statements to matters that directly impacted their ministries. Olmert warned that "utmost caution" must be used in dealing with the Iranian issue. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Olmert's words were directed not only at Dichter, but also at senior defense officials who were widely quoted last week as saying the US intelligence report was badly flawed. One government official, however, doubted that Dichter's comments - in which he warned that a nuclear Iran could lead to a regional war and that if Washington were wrong about Teheran, it could be wrong about Palestinian intentions - would damage ties with the US. At the most, he said, they could annoy US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. It is doubtful, the official said, that Bush would get too angry over comments by a minister with whose name "he was probably unfamiliar." At last week's security cabinet meeting on the matter, Olmert made clear that Israel did not accept the bottom line of the NIE and would continue its efforts to halt the Iranian nuclear program. The full interview with Gantz will appear in Friday's Frontlines.