Iran is simply not afraid of the United States, says Israel’s former military intelligence chief

Adds Amos Yadlin: As Israel agonizes over whether to let its military option lapse, it needs more indications of US commitment to use force if necessary

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Amos Yadlin (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Amos Yadlin (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Iran’s behavior shows it does not seriously believe the US will resort to military action against its nuclear program, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, told The Times of Israel.

As for Israel, Yadlin said, it needs to see both firmer US declarations, and actual indications that the US means what it says about a possible resort to force, as it agonizes over whether to let its window for military action against Iran close and place its faith in the US to thwart Iran come what may.

That window for Israeli action “extends into 2013,” Yadlin added. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, by contrast, has said it closes at the end of this year — one of the factors behind the feverish speculation of recent weeks about an Israeli strike in the fall.

In a clear and candid interview Wednesday, Yadlin, who retired as MI chief at the end of 2010, urged President Barack Obama to make a statement to Congress, specifying “that if the steps the administration is relying upon today, like negotiations and sanctions, do not achieve success by the summer of 2013, then the Americans will deal with the problem via military intervention.”

Such a statement, he said, could assuage Israeli concerns over American policy. And in addition to declarations, he said, the US should take certain actions “to show that you’re serious. More intensive missile defense in the Middle East, exercises with your allies in the Middle East — in order to demonstrate to the world more clearly that you’re really training for this and preparing for this.”

As things stands, said Yadlin, who today heads the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, “The Iranians have just said that they’re not afraid of the Israelis. They didn’t say they’re not afraid of the Americans. But you can see from their behavior that they’re not afraid.”

It was unacceptable, Yadlin added, for a US defense secretary “to stand up publicly and say that an attack on Iran will plunge the world into World War III or the Middle East will go up in flames. That shows that you don’t really mean to do it.”

A former IAF fighter pilot who fought in the 1973 war, and who was one of the eight pilots who bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, Yadlin said he was certain that, if all else failed, a single “smart, surgical” air operation by the US could halt the Iranian nuclear program. And he said there was a “high likelihood” of a US attack in 2013-2014, if “all the other options will be exhausted in the eyes of the Americans.”

“The United States can do it when it finally understands that negotiations will get nothing from the Iranians and that the sanctions are not achieving what is necessary,” Yadlin said. “I am one of those who believes that President Obama understands the American interests regarding Iran, regarding the proliferation that would follow if Iran goes nuclear. The next day the Saudis, the Turks and after that maybe Egypt and Iraq [would seek to go nuclear]. There is no American president who wants the NPT [the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] to collapse on his watch and for Iran to be the Middle East hegemon because it is nuclear.”

He added: “Look, President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, but he’s not a ‘vegetarian.’ Ask bin Laden. What has happened to various al-Qaeda leaders?”

But if Israel’s concerns were not assuaged, and if it saw no alternative, the possibility of Israel attacking Iran “cannot be excluded,” he said. The pre-conditions set by the prime minister and the defense minister that would lead to an attack on Iran have been fulfilled, he noted:

“What they say, more or less, is that all the strategies being employed against Iran have either failed or are not working. The diplomatic negotiations that took place in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow produced nothing. The sanctions may be painful for the Iranians, but not to the extent that they change their minds. The secretive operations for which no one takes responsibility have not stopped the Iranian nuclear program. The regime is relatively stable.”

“On the assumption that the cost of an Iranian nuclear bomb to Israel’s security, and the danger it poses, are greater than [the cost of] an attack on Iran, I think it can happen.

Still, Yadlin said, he did not believe Israel’s capacity to intervene militarily would end this year. Asked when Israel would no longer be able to take effective military action, he answered, “It was presented by the defense minister as the two final quarters of 2012. There are people who think differently — who think that for us, too, it extends into 2013. I’m one of those people.”


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