Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are both pushing for an Israeli strike on Iran this fall, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.
Fearing that time is running out before the Iranian nuclear program reaches a point of no return in its drive to weaponize, the two may be looking to hit Iran before the US presidential elections in November, a move which could anger the Obama administration, the newspaper’s senior commentators Shimon Shiffer and Nahum Barnea wrote.
Among both the Israeli and the American leaderships, they added, there is an awareness of the possibility that an Israeli strike just ahead of the US presidential elections might embarrass Barack Obama’s administration and boost his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Wrote Shiffer and Barnea: “In America, many, including government officials, are convinced that the military action that Netanyahu and Barack are promoting is set to cause one thing – force America into a war with Iran against its will. Israel will need the Americans’ help.”
According to the report in Yedioth, Barak brought up the issue of a strike on Iran during a recent meeting of military chiefs, but faced stiff opposition to a unilateral strike. Israel’s senior security chiefs, and President Shimon Peres, all oppose the idea, the paper said.
The report added that the two are unwilling to rely on Washington protecting Israel from a nuclear Iran, believing that the US will not act in time. In a recent speech, Netanyahu said only Israel could defend itself.
Barak reportedly anticipates that Iran would hit back at an Israeli attack by using Hezbollah in south Lebanon, but the defense minister is confident that Israel will survive any Iranian response.
At the same time, an unnamed Israeli official told Haaretz that the Iranian threat was sharper than that which faced Israel on the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967.
The official, whom Haaretz identified as somebody in a senior position, said Jerusalem would not look to push the US into the war by launching a unilateral strike.
“We will absolutely not deliberately drag the United States into a war,” the official told the paper. “If we decide to undertake an operation, it must be an operation that does not rely on the expectation of igniting some large chain reaction. A country does not go to war in the hope or expectation that another country will join it. Such an act would be an irresponsible gamble.”
In a meeting with senior military figures last week, Netanyahu reportedly ran up against opposition to a strike, but was unfazed. “I’m responsible, and if there’s a commission of inquiry later, it’s on me,” he reportedly said, according to a number of the prime minister’s aides.
On Thursday, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz said the country needed to prepare for war “on multiple fronts.”
While Netanyahu and Barak reportedly prefer the United States lead a potential strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, a complex sortie that would require over 100 fighter jets, refueling planes and possible international coordination, they have been increasingly hinting that Israel may have to go it alone.
The US has reportedly been trying to prevent a unilateral strike, which analysts say would prove mostly ineffectual. On Thursday, US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told reporters that there was still time for diplomacy to work.
That statement came on the heels of a Haaretz report that a recent National Security Estimate showed Iran making marked progress toward a nuclear weapon, which put the report mostly in line with Israeli thinking.
A previous NIE, in 2007, reported that iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
Iran claims its enrichment drive is for peaceful purposes only. Israel and much of the west challenge that claim.
On Thursday, Barak told Israel Radio that the US was moving closer to Israel’s thinking, but gaps remained between the two on how to move forward.
Nonetheless, he said, Israel would decide for itself on matters, such as thwarting Iran, that affected the security and future of the country.
Earlier in the week, during a tour of the Kerem Shalom crossing, where the IDF thwarted a terror attack, Netanyahu told reporters that it was up to Israel to take care of itself.
“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 like that,” Netanyahu said.
Some analysts have predicted that an attack on Iran in the run-up to US elections would push Obama into a corner, as he may be forced to act to avoid looking weak.