Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Monday night to put a stop to Iran’s nuclear program by whatever means necessary – even in outright defiance of American objections – if neither sanctions, nor other international action, achieves that goal.
“There is no doubt about Iran’s intention – to destroy us,” Netanyahu said. “I won’t be reconciled to that.”
Asked in an interview whether, if reelected in January, he would “pledge that Iran won’t have a nuclear program by the end of your next term,” Netanyahu said simply, “Yes.”
When it was put to him that the US has opposed a unilateral Israeli resort to force, Netanyahu said President Barack Obama had stated that Israel has the right to defend itself as it sees fit, and that Israel dare not entrust its future to others, even to the United States. Israel’s prime ministers had ignored US disapproval in establishing the country in 1948 and preempting Arab attack in the 1967 war, he noted.
Netanyahu was interviewed as part of an investigative TV report that traced Israel’s efforts over the past decade to thwart Iran’s march toward the bomb. The documentary, which included interviews with several serving and former top politicians and security chiefs, detailed sabotage, assassinations of scientists and other measures used by Israel – as reported in foreign publications – to slow the Iranian program. It described the 2007 air strike that destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor as “a general rehearsal for an attack” on Iran.
Asked whether he believed Netanyahu had the guts to order a strike on Iran, the prime minister’s former national security adviser, Uzi Arad, said he had “no doubt.”
When it was put to Netanyahu himself that others believed he lacked the guts to order a strike, he replied, “I hope I won’t have to.”
A central theme of the program was the assertion that Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak had ordered the defense establishment in 2010 to elevate its state of readiness so that it would be capable of attacking Iran within hours if so required – “the closest Israel has come to attacking Iran,” according to the program – but that two top security chiefs flatly refused to do as they were told.
The order to raise the IDF state of readiness to what was codenamed “P Plus” was given by Netanyahu and Barak to then-chief of the General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Mossad chief Meir Dagan at a meeting in Jerusalem two years ago, the program said.
But Dagan, the program claimed, rejected it as “illegal,” noting that a full cabinet decision was required for such an order. And Ashkenazi, the program said, vehemently opposed the step because he considered it “a strategic mistake” and feared that implementing the order might lead to an unintended war.
Asked about these dramatic exchanges, Netanyahu did not respond directly, but he indicated that they were inaccurate. And he stressed that “ultimately, the responsibility (for such decisions) is the prime minister’s.” The chief of staff “has the right to make recommendations,” he said. But as prime minister, he would overrule such recommendations if necessary, he indicated.
Barak did not deny seeking to order the raised state of readiness, but he said it had proved impossible because Ashkenazi had not prepared a viable military option. Sources close to Ashkenazi told the program this was untrue.
Vowing that Israel “is ready to act” against Iran, Netanyahu said he was watching the Islamist regime “advancing step by step… toward producing nuclear bombs.” When the Jews were being murdered by the Nazis, they were unable to save themselves, he said. But he, as Israel’s prime minister, did have the capacity to protect the Jewish nation. “When we didn’t have a state, we begged others” to defend the Jews, he said. “Today, we’re not begging, we are preparing.”
A second major theme of the hour-long program featured withering criticism by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is considering making a political comeback ahead of January’s general elections, of the handling of the Iranian threat by Netanyahu and Barak. Olmert also blasted Netanyahu for damaging Israeli ties with the Obama administration.
Lambasting Netanyahu’s evident readiness to strike at Iran if all else fails, even in defiance of the United States, Olmert asked mockingly which planes, bombs and special technologies Israel would use – underlining the centrality of American military hardware to Israel’s military capacity. Without naming names, he wondered who Netanyahu would turn to “if something is missing” from the range of equipment needed for an attack. “Would it be to the people in whose faces we’re spitting,” he wondered, “those who we’re trying to prevent being president of the United States?”
Olmert was reviving allegations that Netanyahu has sought to undermine the Obama presidency and encourage the challenge of Republican candidate Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s presidential elections.
Responding directly to Olmert’s comments, Netanyahu said such an approach could require Israel, unacceptably, to subcontract its destiny to others. “We’re supposed to say there’s nothing we can do?” he asked rhetorically, rejecting the notion. “If our backs are to the wall, we’ll do what’s necessary,” he said.
Earlier in the program, with relating to any specific incidents, Olmert had related to the dilemmas he had faced as prime minister when ordering operations designed to slow Iran’s march to the bomb. Implying but not stating that he had ordered assassinations of people involved in the Iranian nuclear program, he said “I asked myself questions” about such operations, but reminded himself of the imperative “to prevent Iran from developing the fuse that could end my children’s lives.”
The program, part of a documentary series called “Uvda” (Fact) on Israel’s Channel 2, traced Israel’s efforts to stop the Iranian bomb throughout the past decade.
In 2002, it said, then prime minister Ariel Sharon had ordered Mossad chief Dagan to focus on the Iranian threat. A special Mossad unit was established and, via “dozens of intelligence operations,” information gathered first on Iran’s reactor at Natanz and then on the clandestine facility at Qom.
Shown the proof, president George W. Bush assured Israel, “Don’t worry, they won’t have a nuclear weapon,” an aide to Sharon told the program.
But Israel, by 2007, had decided it needed to have its own “program for action,” Barak told the program. An Israeli document briefly shown on screen related to plans “to set the Iranians back by at least a few years” and noted, “Israel may have to strike…”
When the American National Intelligence Estimate in late 2007 asserted that Iran had frozen its nuclear weapons program, Israel was stunned, the program said. Its intelligence information conclusively proved that the NIE was wrong, former IDF military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told the program. “There then followed” a series of assassinations, explosions and other setbacks in the Iranian program.
“A lot of things went wrong,” Olmert noted.
“Things blew up,” added Barak.
In 2008, when Bush visited Israel, Olmert said he showed the US president incontrovertible proof that Iran was seeking the bomb. From then on, Olmert said, the US and Israel agreed on open sharing of all relevant intelligence information, and to work together to thwart Iran.
There was one caveat, however, the program noted: Bush made clear that he was “with you all the way,” so long as Israel did not resort to unilateral military action.
The program featured much sniping by Olmert at Barak, and vice-versa, with each accusing the other of requiring more responsible supervision. Olmert said he would not want “the overall responsibility” for thwarting Iran to be in Barak’s hands. Barak said that “when it comes to using force” Olmert “requires supervision.” Barak served as defense minister in the Olmert government until four years ago, continuing to hold the post in the current Netanyahu government.
The rebuffed call by Netanyahu and Barak for Ashkenazi and Dagan to get the military establishment ready for a possible strike within hours, the program said, brought Israel “closer than ever” to a strike. This section of the Uvda report was partially broadcast on Sunday night, prompting headlines in the Hebrew dailies on Monday.
Relating indirectly to the reported differences of opinion with his former security chiefs, Netanyahu said in his interview that he was “not eager for war” and hoped sanctions or other international action would thwart Iran.