The rumblings about a possible attack by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities have quieted over the last few weeks as negotiations with Iran began. These kinds of talks have gone nowhere in the past, and we’ll see whether it’s different this time.
But another reason there’s less war chatter has been an amazing outpouring of questions and criticism from former top military and intelligence officials about military action.
That comes after weeks of very public warnings by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak that they would attack the Islamic Republic if necessary to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.
The battle over this critical issue boiled over Sunday at the first Jerusalem Post conference in New York, where former and current Israeli officials revealed their differences in an amazing display of candor and sheer bile.
It got so nasty even Alan Dershowitz, the staunchly pro-Israel Harvard Law School professor, warned both sides not to air their dirty laundry in public.
But the speeches and panels revealed a substantive split in Israel’s revered military and intelligence establishment over the consequences of unilateral military action against Iran.
“I think there is enough time to try different areas of pressure…without direct military intervention…,” said former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was often booed by the hawkish, mostly American crowd.
Gabi Ashkenazi, former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, supported international action against Iran, with “crippling sanctions, much more severe sanctions,” adding: “I think we still have time. It’s not tomorrow morning.”
Former commander in chief of the Israeli Air Force Elyezer Skeddy agreed that attacking Iran should be “the last resort.” “If the US and the whole world are with you, it’s a different story,” he added.
And the outspoken Meir Dagan, former director of the Mossad intelligence agency, whose views were aired on “60 Minutes” a few weeks ago, repeated his warnings about Israel going it alone against the Islamic Republic.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the Israeli air force has that capability [to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities],” he said. “The question is what happens five minutes after that? Because you are going to be in a regional war.”
Dagan also defended Yuval Diskin, Israel’s ex-head of domestic intelligence service Shin Bet, who harshly criticized Netanyahu and Barak.
“I have no faith in the prime minister, nor in the defense minister,” Diskin said.”I really don’t have faith in a leadership that makes decisions out of messianic feelings.”
And even the current IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that Iran “is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.”
This is all pretty extraordinary—as if former presidents, current and former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the former heads of the CIA and FBI had warned President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney not to invade Iraq.
But there was unanimity on one thing: A nuclear-armed Iran was unacceptable, an existential threat to Israel. So, if diplomacy and sanctions fail, Israel must be prepared to act alone militarily to prevent that from happening.
Only not just yet, they all warned—which may prevent it from happening, for now.