In case you missed this over the weekend, former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak revealed that the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was on the verge of attacking Iran on 3 separate occasions in 2010-2012, but was consistently blocked by other cabinet ministers or by the military chief of staff.
The New York Times reported, Israel Came Close to Attacking Iran, Ex-Defense Minister Says:
A former Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, revealed new details to his biographers about how close Israel came to striking Iran’s military facilities in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and why it did not despite his and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to do so, according to interview excerpts aired on Israeli television Friday night.
Mr. Barak, who also previously served as Israel’s prime minister, said that he and Mr. Netanyahu were ready to attack Iran each year but that in 2010, the military chief of staff said Israel lacked the “operational capability”; in 2011, two key ministers waffled at the last minute; and in 2012, the timing did not work out because of a joint United States-Israel military exercise and visit by the American defense secretary. He noted that the two ministers who balked in 2011, Moshe Yaalon and Yuval Steinitz, “are the most militant about attacking Iran” today.
The interview excerpts were aired by Israel’s Channel 2, which stressed that Mr. Barak had sought to prevent them from being broadcast, but that they had been approved by Israel’s military censor. Reached late Friday by telephone, Mr. Barak confirmed that the recordings were authentic but said he had provided the information on background to the authors, Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, whose book, “Barak: The Wars of My Life,” came out this week in Hebrew.
“It was not supposed to be published,” Mr. Barak said. “I don’t want to comment on it. I tried to convince them not to broadcast it. But it’s true, it’s my voice. I don’t deny my voice, it can be recognized.”
Mr. Barak was known at the time to be a prime advocate for a unilateral Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear plants, something Washington strongly opposed.
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In the interviews broadcast Friday, Mr. Barak said “we’d planned to do it” that year. He recalled “demanding” of Leon E. Panetta, then the secretary of defense, to postpone the joint military exercise, and succeeding, but still being unable to find the right moment.
“You ask, you demand that America respect your sovereignty to make a decision that you want to do that, even if America is opposed to that and it is against its interests,” Mr. Barak said. “So you can’t, you yourself, in the opposite direction, try to force America — precisely when it is here carrying out an exercise that’s been scheduled in advance. That’s how it got tied up in 2012.”
In 2011, Mr. Barak said, Mr. Netanyahu told him and Avigdor Lieberman, then the foreign minister, that Mr. Yaalon and Mr. Steinitz were on board with a planned strike. But when military leaders briefed them as part of so-called Forum of Eight top ministers on how complex it would be, both demurred. “You can see, in front of our very eyes, them melting,” he recounted. “You see it in their reactions, their questions, their faces.”
“Had they not changed their minds, that would have created a majority,” Mr. Barak noted, “and then we might have convened the cabinet.”
Channel 2 said Mr. Steinitz, who is now Israel’s energy minister and its leading spokesman against the Iran deal, issued a statement wondering “how things of this sort get past the censor” and saying he would not confirm, deny or comment on Mr. Barak’s account. Mr. Yaalon’s office, Channel 2 said, also said he would not speak about meetings of the inner cabinet “and distorted and tendentious accounts, in particular.”
The interviews also confirmed a longstanding sense that Israel’s security chiefs held back the political leadership, particularly in 2010. Mr. Barak described a meeting “in a side room” of “a very small group” – Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Lieberman, himself, the top military man at the time, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and the heads of the three intelligence agencies.
“In the end, we need a statement to be made by the chief of staff that the plan, as is, has ripened, has crossed the threshold of operational capability,” Mr. Barak explained. “And the answer wasn’t affirmative. That couldn’t be gotten out of him. He said that only once he’d been painted into a corner, and he realized that there was going to be a decision. And then, with that, he created a situation in which we couldn’t move ahead.”
Another excerpt was broadcast by Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday. Juan Cole at Informed Comment reports, Is Israeli military using Barak in struggle w/ Netanyahu over Iran deal?
The revelations from former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s memoir keep coming. Another excerpt was broadcast by Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday.
Barak gave the interviews as background to his autobiography “Wars (Milhamot) of my Life.”
“Bibi is weak, he doesn’t…he doesn’t want to take tough steps unless he is forced to do so . . . Bibi himself is immersed in a kind of deep pessimism and has a tendency…in the balance between fear and hope, he prefers, generally, to err on the side of fear. He once referred to it as ‘worried . . .”
In an excerpt released Saturday, Barak had said that he and Netanyahu were ready to launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities (at Natanz outside Isfahan) on three separate occasions in 2010-2012, but were foiled each time.
In 2010, Israeli chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi stopped them by maintaining that the military did not have the capacity for this mission. (Iran is very distant and Israel’s planes can’t get there and back very easily, nor would they be allowed to fly over Turkey or Iraq, nor would the Iranians take it lying down). In 2011, even other far right wing hard liners on the cabinet voted against. And in 2012, the US launched joint military maneuvers with Israel around the time of the planned attack, which would have made it look as though the US were behind the strike and even Netanyahu and Barak couldn’t risk Washington’s wrath.
Note that strikes on thousands of active centrifuges and stockpiled enriched uranium would have released enormous amounts of radioactive material into the air of Isfahan (pop. nearly 2 million, i.e. nearly the size of Houston, Texas), constituting a de facto dirty-bomb attack on Iran with large loss of life. Some of the radioactive fallout would have come back on Israel itself.
Apparently Barak thought that the interviews would remain background for his book and not be leaked because military censors in Israel would never approve them for publication or broadcast.
But the military censor has twice given Israel 2 radio the go-ahead to broadcast excerpts from the tapes.
While speculation rages in Israel that Barak is trying to undermine his enemies as part of a bid to come back as the head of the Labor Party and make another bid to be prime minister (Ashkenazi is a rival here), and that trash-talking Netanyahu is part of this plan, it seems more likely that he did not expect the interviews to be allowed on the air.
If this interpretation is true, then it is likely that elements in the Israeli military high command ordered the censor to allow the tapes to come out in public, and that it is they who want Netanyahu weakened.
We know that Israeli army chief of staff Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and many other high officers do not think Iran is the primary security threat to Israel. It is likely that they have been extremely annoyed by Netanyahu’s challenge to the Obama administration in trying to derail the Iran deal on monitoring its nuclear facilities.
The tapes would serve the Israeli military well in any struggle with Netanyahu. First, they underline that a previous chief of staff, Gaby Ashkenazi, had the ability to block the prime minister from a reckless strike on Iran in 2010. Second, Barak’s comments make Netanyahu look like an unstable combination of Hamlet and Napoleon– pessimistic, depressed, timid, and yet capable of erratically deciding to lash out at a country 10 times the size of Israel that has millions of armed allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
The airing of the interviews also undermines Barak himself (a fierce opponent of the Iran deal), who is widely considered a wild card in Israeli politics. He looks like a blabbermouth and backstabber. He was never likely to come back to the helm of Labor, but now is even less so.
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Israeli parliamentarians are demanding an inquiry as to how in the world the military censors allowed the Ehud Barak tapes to air. How, indeed.
The military censors — Israel is a democracy? — made the right call. The people are entitled to know what their government is doing in their name. It appears that Israel’s military and intelligence agencies are far more responsible than the politicians Israeli’s elect to office.