A former senior Mossad official who wrapped up a stint as head of the military’s political-military bureau this week has spoken publicly to the media for the first time, opening up about how he opposed Israel’s plan to attack Iran a decade ago, and his opposition to a new nuclear deal which may be nearing finalization.
Talking to the Haaretz daily, Zohar Palti said he led opposition to Israel taking military action against Iranian nuclear facilities in 2012, when then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak were pushing for a strike.
“During the spring-summer of 2012, the operational preparations reached a peak. In my understanding, [Netanyahu and Barak] were truly preparing to attack,” he told the newspaper.
“I am not claiming to read the secrets of the heart. But when the IDF is instructed to deploy for ‘P+16’ [possible attack within 16 days], when air force aerial refueling planes are brought back from long-term servicing, it’s an emergency situation. The air force put all its planes into the air in order to prepare. Quite a few risks were taken in that period,” he said.
“But what are you going to attack in Iran? An enrichment facility? I am in favor of attacking if there is an urgent need, if a sword is held to your throat, as [former Mossad head Meir] Dagan put it. But that was not the situation in 2012 or in the preceding years,” he added.
Palti, who served several decades in the Mossad and Military Intelligence before his appointment as head of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Bureau in 2017, dismissed the argument that the attack preparations were a ruse by Netanyahu and Barak to influence the US position.
“So the two of them just tricked the chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence, the commander of the air force? What do they earn from this? They prepared a false operation at the chief of staff’s expense? I’m not buying it,” he said.
He also asserted Israel’s conduct during this period accelerated US efforts toward reaching an interim deal with Iran in 2013, and the nuclear accord itself in 2015.
“We created a certain sense of urgency among them and this led the Obama administration to create a secret negotiating backchannel with Iran. A year later the interim agreement was signed and the attack was dropped,” he said.
In a separate interview with Channel 13 news, Palti claimed Israel will be given free rein to act against Iran if it does build a bomb.
“If they go for the bomb, in my opinion there will be no limitations on us. If the Iranians build a bomb and continue on their current path, I don’t know a single democratic state on earth, and certainly none that is allied with us, that would stop us. To the contrary. They would greatly respect our right to make our own decisions, on the basis of our capabilities.”
Palti also described the emerging agreement to restore the nuclear deal following the US pullout in 2018 as “crap,” saying it did not properly address Israeli concerns such as the continuation of the UN atomic watchdog’s probes into suspected illicit nuclear activity by Iran.
“On the other hand, they aren’t really asking us. For the US and the Europeans, what is important at the moment is stopping the uranium enrichment… and they also want to remove Iran from the agenda and concentrate what is urgent for them at the moment — China and Russia-Ukraine,” he told Haaretz.
“From the moment the agreement is signed, billions of dollars will flow into Iran. That money will not reach the civilian population, it will go first of all toward financing the terrorism of the Revolutionary Guards,” Palti continued.
“The Americans need to understand that ultimately they’ll be dragged into again dealing with Iran.”
The publication of interviews on Thursday came as Iran’s foreign minister claimed Tehran was ready to reach a lasting agreement with world powers and blamed the latest failure to revive the nuclear deal on an allegedly “unrealistic vision” by the US.
Earlier in the week, the US State Department acknowledged the “significant progress” that world powers negotiating in Vienna have made in recent weeks, but expressed some significant caveats.
“In fact, we are preparing equally for scenarios with and without a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” spokesman Ned Price said.
Nuclear negotiations nearly reached completion on the deal earlier this month before Russia demanded that its trade with Iran be exempted from Western sanctions over Ukraine, throwing the process into disarray. Negotiators have yet to reconvene in the Austrian capital, and it is unclear exactly what hurdles lie ahead.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.