Why the Olmert Government Won’t Declare Iran an Enemy State
Giving the warlike rhetoric coming from Tehran, it should be obvious to anyone that the Islamic Republic is an enemy of the Jewish state.
Not in Jerusalem. For weeks, the prime minister’s office, the military high command and the various intelligence and security services have been locked in a debate over the expedience of this step.
The debate was spurred of late by four developments, revealed here by DEBKA-Net–Weekly:
1. The Mossad intelligence service, Israel’s high military brass and some of the Iran experts on the National Security Council attached to the prime minister’s office have concluded there is no sidestepping a military operation to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
2. Such operation could bring the 25,000 Jews remaining in Iran in dire jeopardy. Some of the experts tell DEBKA-Net-Weekly that this threat has touched off a quiet exodus in the last two years, which has brought the community’s numbers down to 17,000. In January, the Jewish Agency announced a $5,000 grant in cash to arrivals from Iran on top of the usual basket of benefits awarded new immigrants. Under this policy, a family of six which can get out of Iran and reach Israel will find $30,000 I cash waiting to be collected. The relevant ministries are now discussing doubling this grant as a further incentive for Iranian Jews to leave.
3. It took the government headed by Ehud Olmert eight months – up until April 2007 – to rectify a bad mistake and classify the July-August 2006 operation fought against the Lebanese Hizballah as a full-scale war, although Hizballah has still not been tagged an enemy. Now Israel’s security and intelligence experts are trying to look ahead instead of back and find out what is entailed in declaring Iran an enemy state.
4. It is already clear to them that the first thing to do is to stop Israelis from traveling to Iran, because of a risk that a military operation involving Iran, Syria or Hizballah, will leave them stranded inside the country, prey to capture as hostages or worse.
The number of Israelis of Iranian extraction paying visits to Iran of late is around 50, about half the figure cited by the Shin Bet. The visits began during the presidency of Mohammed Khatami, the relatively more enlightened predecessor of the Israel-hater Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Olmert thinks declaring Iran enemy would be an Israeli declaration of war
But pretty soon, Iranian intelligence saw a chance to recruit agents. Israeli intelligence caught onto this danger from the first. It made certain that no Israeli with access to sensitive or military information was allowed to reach the Islamic Republic and kept those who did under close surveillance. This was not lost on Iran’s recruiting agents, but did not deter them. They were intent on planting their first intelligence foothold inside Israel, to be built up later for direct access into high-placed and sensitive circles.
Eight months ago, a few days before the Lebanon war’s eruption, the Mossad pressed the case for a law banning Israeli visits to Iran. It was opposed by prime minister Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who feared the step would be treated as a declaration of war and provide Tehran with an excuse for military or terrorist actions in the guise of a pre-emptive commando operation against the Zionist enemy on the warpath.
Olmert and Livni were also reluctant to make Israel the first foreign country to classify Iran an enemy state and thereby weaken Israel’s diplomatic campaign for an international embargo against Hizballah, Hamas, Jihad Islami and the other terrorist groups supported, armed and sponsored by Tehran.
Those discussions were interrupted by the Hizballah’s kidnap-rocket-attack on Israel at the end of July, 2006. This hostile act by Iran’s leading proxy, rather than spurring a decision, delayed it further – even when Iran continued to arm and train the Lebanese militia and Palestinian terrorist groups.
The discussions were finally resumed in March 2007, but, again Olmert, put off a decision; he only allowed the Shin Bet to launch an information campaign to stop Israeli travel to Iran. The intelligence service’s exposure of Iran’s recruiting methods on Tuesday, April 17, was part of that campaign. It included the case of a young man paid cash when he applied for a travel permit at the Iranian consulate in Istanbul and arrested on his return to Israel.
Tehran does not let Israelis enter the country with their Israeli passports. They are forced to deposit passports at the Iranian consulate, in exchange for a travel document. Passports are collected on their way back. This enables Iranian intelligence to photograph the document and prepare perfect facsimiles for use by its own agents.
The particular young Israeli held up by the Shin Bet was persuaded by Iranian intelligence interviewers to part with some general information and accept several thousand dollars “to cover his expenses.”
Revealing the incident, the intelligence service stressed that he was detained and released, without explaining why.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say that the purpose of the exercise was not to put anyone behind bars or threaten Israelis recruited as Iranian agents with real punishment, but merely to deter them from traveling to Iran by pointing up the risks.
This half-measure was the most the Shin Bet was able to extract from its political masters. Iran is still not classified as Israel’s enemy and the anomaly remains.