Israel was set to strike at Iran nuclear facilities in 2012, but the operation was aborted because it coincided with a joint military exercise with the United States, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported Friday.
Relying on tape recordings of former defense minister Ehud Barak and other unnamed foreign reports, the TV report made clear that the US was opposed to the strike on Iran, but Israel was going to go ahead with it anyway. However, Israel did not want to complicate matters for the United States by carrying out the attack while the two armies were drilling together.
The attack was being readied for January 2012, but it turned out that it would coincide with the long-planned Austere Challenge 12 exercise here, the largest ever joint Israeli and American military drill, the TV report said.
“We intended to carry it out, so I went to (then US Defense Secretary Leon) Panetta and asked him if we could change the date of the exercise,” Barak said in a recording broadcast by Channel 2. “So they delayed it as much as they could… to a few days before the election (in the US that November).”
“Things did not work out in the first part in 2012 and it was pushed back toward the end (of the year),” Barak said.
However, Barak went on, the new date set for the operation was also not convenient. He did not elaborate.
“You demand that America respect your sovereignty and decide you want to do it (strike Iran), even if America is opposed and it is contrary to their interests,” Barak said in the recording. “You can’t find yourself then going back on that by trying to force America to be party to (the strike) just as it comes here for a pre-planned drill. That’s how it ran into difficulties in 2012,” he explained.
Barak’s revelation about a thwarted strike in 2012 was only one in a series of bombshells in the tape recordings of his conversations broadcast Friday night.
He also detailed that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to strike Iran in 2010 and 2011, but were thwarted by opposition from the army’s chief of staff and ministerial colleagues.
The material apparently comes from conversations related to a new biography of Barak being written by Danny Dor and Ilan Kfir. The former defense minister, who was also previously prime minister and chief of staff, attempted to prevent the broadcasting of the recordings, but Israel’s military censors allowed Channel 2 to play them.
Netanyahu maintains to this day that Israel will act alone if necessary to prevent Iran attaining nuclear weapons, and has been a leading critic of the P5+1 deal with Iran that curbs but does not dismantle its nuclear program
The Austere Challenge 12 drill ultimately went ahead in mid-October 2012.
Panetta had visited Israel that August. During that trip, he said repeatedly that “all options,” including military force, were on the table to stop Iran, should sanctions and diplomacy — the preferred means of persuasion — ultimately fail. He said he hoped Iran would see that negotiations were the best way out of the crisis, but “If they continue and if they proceed with a nuclear weapon, … we have options that we are prepared to implement to ensure that that does not happen.”
Then-defense minister Barak, standing beside Panetta at a stop on the trip, said he saw an “extremely low” probability that sanctions would ever compel Iran to give up its nuclear activities. Barak said Israel “has something to lose” by waiting for sanctions and diplomacy to run their course, because Iran was continually accumulating enriched uranium as the key ingredient for a nuclear bomb.
When Netanyahu hosted Panetta on that trip, the prime minister said Iran was not yet fully convinced the West intends to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, despite statements by the US and Israel regarding possible military action.
“Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said. “This must change, and it must change quickly, because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”
Barak expressed outrage Friday that the recordings had been released and tried to prevent them from being aired, Channel 2 noted. The station stressed, however, that the contents of the recordings had been approved for broadcast by the military censor.