Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Netanyahu – Unlike Olmert – Refuses Explicit Iran Attack Threat

The government of Benjamin Netanyahu enjoys a hawkish reputation, but both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been careful to avoid publicly making explicit threats to Iran.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Inter Press Service

The perception that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is threatening to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities unless sanctions and diplomacy succeed in shutting them down has been the driving force in the Iran crisis.

But although Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak have made some tough statements, especially over the past several months, there is still one gaping hole in the record of their rhetoric on Iran: neither Netanyahu nor Barak has ever made an explicit public statement threatening to attack Iran.

And in recent months, both have refused to make anything like such a threat when invited to do so by interviewers.

The absence of any such explicit threat of force by Netanyahu and Barack does not in itself rule out the possibility that he is prepared to attack Iran under some circumstances. A review of the history of Israeli declaratory policy toward Iran, however, reveals that the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert twice actually did issue explicit threats to attack Iran if it did not end its nuclear programme.

In February 2006, then Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz declared that, if diplomacy failed to “delay or curb” the Iranian nuclear programme, Israel couldn’t “sit idly by” while Iran was on the threshold of achieving nuclear capabilities.

That language suggested a serious threat, because it is well known that the People’s Republic of China warned the U.S. Army early in the Korean War that it could not “sit idly by” if the U.S. forces crossed the 38th parallel, before making good on its threat by sending massive ground forces to fight them in North Korea.

On Jun. 8, 2008, Mofaz, then deputy prime minister in the Olmert government, was even more explicit, declaring, “If Iran continues with its programme for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it.”

In contrast to those straightforward conditional threats to use military force against Iran, Netanyahu and Barak have either refused to address the issue in speeches and interviews or have limited themselves to much broader statements about “all options” being “on the table” and Israel’s “right to self-defence”.

When asked by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Nov. 20 whether Israel was going to attack Iran, Barak would not answer, saying it was not a “subject for public discussion”. Instead Barak talked about the vague notion of an Iranian “zone of immunity”, in which a sufficient proportion of Iran’s nuclear capabilities would be in sites protected from a potential Israeli attack so that such an attack would be futile.

In Ottawa before his visit to Washington in March, Netanyahu said only, “(L)ike any sovereign country, we reserve the right to defend ourselves against a country that calls and works for our destruction.”

In his speech to the influential lobby group American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Mar. 5, Netanyahu sought to refute the argument that “stopping Iran from getting the bomb is more dangerous than letting Iran have the bomb” and likened it to arguments made by the United States against bombing Auschwitz in 1944.

But that appeared to be an argument against the Barack Obama administration’s policy of refusing to attack Iran in the absence of evidence of moves to enrich uranium at weapons grade. Netanyahu refused to say under what circumstances his government would resort to force against Iran.

“I read about what Israel has supposedly decided to do or what Israel might do,” he said. “Well, I’m not going to talk to about what Israel will do or will not do. I never talk about that.”

In an interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News Mar. 7, Netanyahu repeated that generic idea: “If it’s necessary we’ll act in our own defence.” But when she asked if Israel could act alone, he said, “You know I never talk about that.”

The closest Netanyahu has come to a direct threat of war was on Mar. 10, when he said he hoped “there won’t be a war at all, and that the pressure on Iran will succeed,” but added that the “eleventh hour” is approaching for Iran to “halt its nuclear programme or suffer the consequences”.

Netanyahu and Barak apparently went much further in off-the-record meetings with a small number of Israeli reporters. The message, wrote Ari Shavit of Haaretz in a Mar. 26 report, was, “If the international community doesn’t stop Iran by summer, Israel will soon strike.”

But Shavit and other reporters were forbidden from quoting from those briefings or identifying the officials giving them.

The public reticence of Netanyahu and Barak may reflect the fact that the two leaders are not in a position to commit the Israeli government publicly to an attack on Iran. Press reports have portrayed Netanyahu and Barak as representing a distinct minority on the issue in Israel’s nine-member “security cabinet”.

Even Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who argued publicly last month in an interview with Haaretz that the only alternatives in regard to Iran are “bomb or bombing”, was said by his interviewer, Ari Shavit, to express “deep concern” in private conversations about Netanyahu being dragged by Barak into a “wanton Iranian adventure”.

In late October 2011 it was leaked to the Israeli Hebrew language newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that Netanyahu and Barak were seeking to convince the Israeli cabinet to support an attack on Iran. Barak then told Israel Radio that no decision had been made and that it would not be taken by two people.

Raviv Drucker, political commentator for Israel’s channel 10, noted that such press speculation “works rather well for Netanyahu, as he can be portrayed as keen to deal with Iran but being ‘held back’ by others in the Israeli establishment.”

Netanyahu and Barak may also be constrained by the consensus of the Israeli national security establishment in opposition to an attack on Iran under present circumstances. IDF and Mossad officials have told Netanyahu that Israeli intelligence agrees with the U.S. intelligence community that Iran has not yet decided to take the critical steps that would be required to have nuclear weapons.

Barak even alluded to that fact himself in an interview with Israel Radio Mar. 22. He said Iran “wants to achieve a military nuclear capability” but was “not breaking out”. One of the reasons, Barak said, was its “fear of what will happen, if, God forbid, the United States or maybe someone else acts against them.”

That statement implied that Iran was already being deterred from advancing to nuclear weapons – a position at odds with the Netanyahu government’s posture.

Netanyahu’s refusal to make a public threat to attack Iran is also consistent with his well-established reputation as an extremely “risk averse” political figure.

“Netanyahu is known for his caution,” said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near Policy in an interview with The Tablet in May.

The unambiguous Mofaz threats of 2006 and 2008 did not signal an actual readiness to strike at Iranian nuclear facilities, because at that point, the Israeli Air Force did not have the capability to carry out an effective attack.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, who visited Israel in November 2006 and met with Israeli Air Force officials, concluded that they did not have the capability to destroy Iranian nuclear sites. In an interview with this writer in 2007, Francona said the Israeli officers “recognised they have a shortfall in aerial refueling”.

But Olmert and Mofaz may been emboldened to issue explicit threats by the knowledge that Iran would not be close to a breakout capability for a few more years.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism in 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and two-time failed presidential candidate, is a foreign policy hawk with neoconservative leanings who appears set to become the next senator from Utah.


Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and longtime “superlobbyist” who has supported numerous neoconservative advocacy campaigns, has become embroiled in the special prosecutor’s investigation into the Donald Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.


Jon Lerner is a conservative political strategist and top adviser to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. He was a key figure in the “Never Trump” Campaign, which appears to have led to his being ousted as Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser.


Pamela Geller is a controversial anti-Islam activist who has founded several “hate groups” and likes to repeat debunked myths, including about the alleged existence of “no-go” Muslim zones in Europe.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Although overlooked by President Trump for cabinet post, Gingrich has tried to shape affairs in the administration, including by conspiring with government officials to “purge the State Department of staffers they viewed as insufficiently loyal” to the president.


Former Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) is an advisor for United Against Nuclear Iran. He is an outspoken advocate for aggressive action against Iran and a fierce defender of right-wing Israeli policies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Other than the cynical political interests in Moscow and Tehran, there is no conceivable rationale for wanting Bashar al-Assad to stay in power. But the simple fact is, he has won the war. And while Donald Trump has reveled in positive press coverage of the recent attacks on the country, it is clear that they were little more than a symbolic act.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The reality is that the Assad regime is winning the Syrian civil war, and this matters far less to U.S. interests than it does to that regime or its allies in Russia and Iran, who see Syria as their strongest and most consistent entrée into the Arab world. Those incontrovertible facts undermine any notion of using U.S. military force as leverage to gain a better deal for the Syrian people.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An effective rhetorical tool to normalize military build-ups is to characterize spending increases “modernization.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Pentagon has officially announced that that “long war” against terrorism is drawing to a close — even as many counterinsurgency conflicts  rage across the Greater Middle East — and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As the United States enters the second spring of the Trump era, it’s creeping ever closer to more war. McMaster and Mattis may have written the National Defense Strategy that over-hyped the threats on this planet, but Bolton and Pompeo will have the opportunity to address these inflated threats in the worst way possible: by force of arms.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

We meet Donald Trump in the media every hour of every day, which blots out much of the rest of the world and much of what’s meaningful in it.  Such largely unexamined, never-ending coverage of his doings represents a triumph of the first order both for him and for an American cult of personality.


RightWeb
share