Iran is as resolved now as ever to acquire a nuclear bomb, but is held back from taking the last, decisive step towards this goal by the fear of a military attack by the US “or someone else”, said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a radio interview Thursday, March 22.
His interview aimed to rebut arguments by unnamed Obama administration officials appearing in recent US media against the wisdom – or indeed the point – of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. One source maintained that American and Israeli intelligence experts agreed that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had not yet given the order to start building a nuclear weapon; another, that an Israeli attack would set back the program by no more than a year.
Israeli political, military and intelligence leaders are uncomfortable with the intensified wrangling between Washington and Jerusalem over the nuclear issue. They frown especially on the way the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, was dragged into the argument this week, and the way the minority view of one of its retired chiefs, Meir Dagan – that Israel should leave the military option against Iran solely to the United States – was thrown in as though it represented the consensus of Israel’s intelligence chiefs. This was a gross distortion of the truth.
Stepping into the argument, Barak defined the differences between Washington and Jerusalem as boiling down to timetables for when to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear program.
As a major world power, the United States commands enough resources to wait longer before an attack becomes necessary, he explained. Time for Israel is shorter due to its more limited capabilities.
That is the nature of the gap between US and Israeli “perspectives,” according to Barak.
A majority of key ministers support an attack
The disparity in their respective military capabilities lies at the heart of this gap: America possesses the resources to hit nuclear installations after they are buried in fortified underground sites. However, once Iran starts using those bunkers for building a bomb, Israel forfeits the military option for attacking them.
The Israeli Defense Minister insisted that American and Israeli intelligence evaluations of the state of Iran’s program are in accord – contrary to the impression gained from Obama administration officials.
Both are of one mind on the imperative to paralyze that program even by force if Iran refuses to give up its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington and Jerusalem sources say that, while making much of the broad areas of agreement on Iran between the Israeli government and the Obama administration, the defense minister was saying clearly that if Israel is resolved to attack Iran, it will have to move quite soon.
He was referring to a three-month timeline for Iran to halt its nuclear projects – after which, starting from the end of May 2012, Israel can wait no longer.
It was possible to lay this position out clearly thanks to three new developments:
1. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been able to round up a solid Security and Diplomatic Cabinet majority of six ministers versus two, who are convinced of the need to strike Iran.
He is now backed by the two deputy prime ministers, the defense, foreign affairs, interior and finance ministers, while Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin are unconvinced.
Netanyahu can therefore go ahead and safely put the military option to the vote in the cabinet for the first time.
Gen. Gantz: Three months left to stop a nuclear Iran before Israel acts
2. With this endorsement in the bag, Netanyahu and Barak felt able to send the IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz to Washington to meet Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin E. Dempsey with a clear message:
Israel will be happy if the US halts Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks, no matter whether this is done by economic sanctions, an oil embargo, negotiations between Tehran and the world powers, or secret US-Iranian diplomacy.
But time is not unlimited. In Israel’s view, if within the next three months Iran doesn’t begin dismantling its nuclear program, stop enriching uranium and discontinue the transfer of its facilities to fortified underground sites, Israel will have to go on the offensive or miss its last chance – with or without America.
3. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington add that this week, high Israeli officials met discreetly with leading Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives, and updated them on Israel’s timetable for an attack on Iran and its rationale.
4. In the Israeli circles with influence on political and economic decision-making, the awareness is growing that Israel may have to part ways with the United States on the Iranian issue the first time in its short history, because the Netanyahu government has no choice but to embark on a military operation to cripple Iran’s nuclear capacity before it is too late.
Israeli public opinion polls showing a majority as being opposed to an attack on Iran are being staged and played up by various US bodies.
The reality is different. Most people are alive to the menace Tehran consistently beams against the “Zionist identity” per se and find the notion of a nuclear Iran insupportable and pretty scary.