Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have “almost finally” decided on an Israeli strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities this fall, and a final decision will be taken “soon,” Israel’s main TV news broadcast reported on Friday evening.
Channel 2 News, the country’s leading news program, devoted much of its Friday night broadcast to the issue, detailing the pros and cons that, it said, have taken Netanyahu and Barak to the brink of approving an Israeli military attack despite opposition from the Obama administration and from many Israeli security chiefs.
Critically, the station’s diplomatic correspondent Udi Segal said, Israel does not believe that the US will take military action as Iran closes in on the bomb.
The US, the TV report said, has not provided Israel with details of an attack plan. President Obama has not promised to attack Iran if all else fails. Conditions cited by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for an American attack do not calm Israeli concerns. And Obama has a record of seeking UN and Arab League approval before action. All these factors, in Jerusalem’s mind, underline the growing conviction of Netanyahu and Barak that Israel will have to tackle Iran alone, the TV report said.
Israel’s leaders have also noted that president George W. Bush vowed repeatedly that North Korea would not be allowed to attain a nuclear weapons capability — a vow that proved empty.
Obama does not want to intervene militarily before the presidential elections in November, and it is doubtful that he would act afterwards, runs the Israeli assessment, the TV report said. Obama may believe that the US can live with a nuclear Iran, but Israel cannot, the report quoted those in “Netanyahu’s circle” as saying.
As for presidential challenger Mitt Romney, he takes a more forceful position, but would probably not have the domestic support necessary to act in the first year of his presidency, if elected, and after that it would be too late.
The US can live with Iran as a “breakout state” — on the edge of attaining a bomb, the report said the prime minister’s circle believes. But “for Israel, a breakout state is a nuclear state.”
Netanyahu, for his part, “is convinced that thwarting Iran amounts to thwarting a plan to destroy the Jewish people,” Channel 2’s Segal said. The prime minister considers Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to be acting rationally in order to achieve “fanatical” goals.
Segal said that, when considering the imperative to attack, Netanyahu and Barak reason that “we may have reached the moment of truth” after which it would be too late to stop Iran, and that “the price of an attack is far lower than the price of inaction.” It will be “a matter of a few months” before it is too late, Segal said — before, that is, Iran would be immune from damage by an Israeli strike.
The TV report cited intelligence information suggesting that Iran “is much further ahead” than previously thought in its uranium enrichment and in other aspects of its nuclear weapons program.
Segal said Israel’s capacity to impact the Iranian program was dwindling, and the “window of opportunity” was closing. “Four years ago,” he said, an Israeli strike could have set back the Iranian program “by two to four years.” A year from now, an Israeli strike “would have a negligible impact.”
Netanyahu was reported to have said in private conversations that “if no one attacks, Iran will get the bomb” — underlining that he does not believe sanctions will thwart Tehran.
The extensive TV report detailed what it said was the Israeli leadership duo’s thinking on the military, diplomatic and economic consequences of an Israeli strike, and the consequences of Iran getting the bomb.
Militarily, an Israeli strike would prompt missile attacks on Israel, attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah from the south and the north, and upheaval on the Arab street, in the leadership’s assessment. The assessment is that Syria’s President Bashar Assad would not get involved, since this would finish him off, the report said. But if Iran got the bomb, the missile threat would be escalated, Hamas and Hezbollah further empowered, and there would be a danger of any crisis escalating into a nuclear crisis.
Diplomatically, an Israeli strike would prompt a confrontation with the US, global protests, international isolation for Israel, delegitimization, and a situation in which Israel was seen as the aggressor. But if Iran got the bomb, Israel would be defeated and humiliated diplomatically, and would become a liability to the US, the TV report said Israel’s two key leaders believe.
Economically, an Israeli strike would deepen the economic slowdown and lead to a suspension of foreign investment. An Iranian bomb would end foreign investment in Israel, however, and prompt an exodus of Israel’s best brains.
Netanyahu and Barak were said to believe that an Israeli military strike, though opposed by Washington, would not shatter ties with the US. Survey figures that have impacted their thinking suggest significant US support for an American and for an Israeli strike on Iran, the TV report said.
Israel would not be planning to draw the US into a war with Iran by striking at Iran’s nuclear facilities, the report said. And Israel does not believer an attack would prompt regional war.
The TV report made much of a recent speech by Netanyahu, at the scene of Sunday’s terror attack thwarted by Israel at the Gaza-Egypt-Israel border. Visiting the area on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel “must and can” only rely on itself to safeguard its security.
“It becomes clear time after time that when it comes to the safety of Israeli citizens, Israel must and can rely only on itself. No one can fulfill this role except the IDF and different Israel security forces of Israel, and we will continue to conduct ourselves in this way,” Netanyahu said.