This weekend, CNN reported that in recent years, Israeli leaders planned three attacks on military targets in Iran. CNN based this story on an audio recording with former Defense Minister (and one-time Prime Minister) Ehud Barak. The recording was leaked to an Israeli television station.
Why didn’t Israel carry through with the planned attacks? In the first case (2010), Israeli military leaders reportedly nixed the idea. The head of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) simply didn’t believe the planned attack was “operational.”
In the second case (2011), the IDF signed off on an attack. However, two key ministers had doubts that could not be overcome.
In the third case (2012), the attack didn’t come off because of scheduling issues. Supposedly, the planned strike conflicted with a joint military exercise with the United States. The Israeli didn’t want to embarrass Washington by attacking Iran just as it was set to engage in the joint military exercise because this would give the appearance that the Americans were involved. (The explanation in CNN’s report for why the attack wasn’t rescheduled is garbled).
In all three instances, according to Barak, Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted to attack. In all three instances, Barak, who is not a member of Netanyahu’s party, concurred.
In none of these instances does it appear that President Obama’s obvious opposition to an Israeli attack on Iran was the dealbreaker, if CNN’s report is to be believed (though Obama’s views may have contributed to the two ministers getting cold feet in 2011).
CNN’s report thus raises this obvious question: Will Israel attack Iran now that the U.S. and its European allies are about to enter a deal that effectively grants Iran the right to become a nuclear power?
One might think not. The deal has the support of European governments eager to allow their businessmen to take advantage of Iranian markets. Here in the U.S., the deal is unpopular, but Obama considers it the main element of his foreign policy legacy.
There will be hell to pay if Israel upsets these expectations by attacking Iran.
But the more we learn about the farcical nature of this deal, the more Israel’s calculus may tilt in favor of an Israeli attack — if not in 2015 or 2016, then in 2017 when Obama is no longer president. After all, the hell Israel would pay if it attacks Iran must be weighed against the threat of a nuclear Iran. Barak’s account, if accurate, adds plausibility to the view that Israel sees the latter as more hellacious.
In a very real sense, then, the key people evaluating Obama’s deal aren’t U.S. Senators and Representatives, but rather Israeli generals, intelligence chiefs, and ministers. They are the ones who, effectively, can nullify the deal.
It seems to be that with every revelation of a major Obama/IAEA concession to the mullahs, the prospect that Israel will exercise its veto increases.
UPDATE: David Horovitz, writing in the Times of Israel, is extremely skeptical of Barak’s account. He argues, plausibly, that it was Netanyahu himself who got cold feet about attacking Iran.
However, Horowitz says that during Barak’s era as defense minister to Netanyahu, Israel may have come close to striking at Iran. At a minimum, that option was very much on the table.