Herb Keinon – Jerusalem Post August 17, 2012
Setting Iran’s nuclear plans back a few years to buy time for regime change or other unforeseen developments would be good in its own right, even if Israel cannot completely take out Iran’s nuclear program, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said recently, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Netanyahu, in private meetings, repeated a number of times that before Israel’s 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, the Mossad and Military Intelligence were opposed because they thought the best that could be done was to delay the program for a couple of years.
They also argued at the time, Netanyahu said, that nothing would be solved in the long term, and that the operational risks were too high.
The prime minister, according to government sources, said that taking action to set back the program is legitimate because the delay could give birth to numerous unforeseen developments.
For instance, he has said, such an attack – one that demonstrates the vulnerability of the regime – could hasten regime change inside Iran.
According to government sources, Ambassador to the US Michael Oren was reflecting Netanyahu’s thinking when he said on Wednesday at a public forum in Washington that Israel would be willing to hit Iran if it only set back – and did not destroy – its “One, two, three, four years are a long time in the Middle East – look what’s happened in the last year,” Oren said.
Among the arguments used most against a solo Israeli attack, indeed an argument voiced on Tuesday by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is that an Israeli attack could not take out the Iranian program. Many also argue that it would rally the Iranian population around an unpopular regime.
Netanyahu has also discounted the second part of that argument in recent meetings, saying that the Israeli rescue raid on Entebbe in 1976 did not bring the Ugandan public to rally around its dictator Idi Amin, but rather strengthened the opposition fighting him by showing his weakness.
In addition to Mossad and IDF Intelligence opposition, President Shimon Peres, then a Labor MK, also opposed the attack on the Iraqi reactor in 1981. He stood by his opposition during a Channel 2 interview on Thursday marking his 89th birthday, saying that the Iraqi reactor that was destroyed was not able to produce nuclear weapons.
He said that after the Israeli bombing, the Iraqis moved to centrifuges to enrich uranium, and that were it not for the US invasion in 2003, they would have been farther along with the centrifuges than the Iranians.
Peres said that the world realized the danger posed by a nuclear Iran, and that Israel was not in this battle alone.
Asked whether he was convinced that US President Barack Obama would take action to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, Peres replied, “I am convinced that this is an American interest, and I am sure that he sees the American interest and he isn’t saying this just to keep us happy. I have no doubt about it, after having had talks with him.”
Peres said that it was “clear to us that we can’t do it alone. We can delay. It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”
Peres also dismissed the notion that Israel had to take action before the November 6 US elections, as many have speculated. “I don’t think they will do it before the elections,” he said.
Sources close to Netanyahu slammed Peres for his statements, saying that he had forgotten the president’s largely symbolic role. The sources said Peres had made numerous wrong assessments of the security situation in the past, particularly in opposing the attack on the Iraqi reactor; in believing the Oslo Accords – which led to the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis – would usher in a “new Middle East”; and in minimizing the threats posed by the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which led to thousands of rockets and missiles being fired on the South.
Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich said that Netanyahu harmed the institution of the president by responding so fiercely.
“Netanyahu’s attack on Peres was gross and violent and the fact that he’s hiding behind his associates does not diminish the harshness of his response,” she said.
In response to Peres’s statements, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said the difference between the president’s role and the prime minister’s was clear.
“The president has a symbolic role, while the prime minister and the government are the ones who make decisions. It is important to keep this division for the sake of the democratic nature of the State of Israel and especially for subjects like these.”
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak – who has emerged as the most bellicose minister regarding Iran – told the Knesset during a special session, called to approve Avi Dichter’s appointment as home front defense minister, that taking action against Iran today was “not simple, without risks or unintended consequences.”
At the same time, he added, “I believe that it is inestimably more complicated, inestimably more dangerous, inestimably more complex, and inestimably more expensive in terms of human life and resources to deal with a nuclear Iran in the future.”
Deflecting criticism that the government was not discussing the matter in sufficient depth, or that he and Netanyahu were likely to make the decision to attack Iran alone, Barak said that in all his years in government no issue – neither dealing with peace nor with war – has been discussed in as much depth and detail as this issue. “This does not mean there are no disagreements,” he said. “The issue is complicated. But it is being deliberated.”
Referring to the loud and very public discussion of the issue, Barak said “there is authority given to the prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister. There is a forum of nine [ministers], there is a security cabinet, and when a decision needs to be made it will be taken by the Israeli government.