The Iranian nuclear issue was — unsurprisingly — first on the agenda at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday [May 30]. All the high-ranking security officials, past and present, focused almost completely on this issue and again exposed the deep differences of opinion between them regarding the million-dollar question: whether Israel should conduct a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Meanwhile, Tehran has also adopted a belligerent tone and announced that if Syria is attacked, Israel will go up in flames.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bugi) Ya’alon revealed, “While Iranian officials negotiate with the superpowers, they have managed [in the last three months] to enrich 750kg of uranium to 3.5%, and another 36kg to 20% purity. Despite all the pressures, Iran is laughing all the way to the bomb and shows no signs of feeling threatened, despite the country’s economic difficulties.” Ya’alon added that the Iranians think that nothing will happen in 2012 due to the US presidential elections, and that Israel has not been given a green light for a strike.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted that the world’s silence in light of the violence in Syria should worry Israel with regard to Iran. “Nothing about this issue is self-evident,” he said. “Israel, as opposed to other countries and superpowers in the world, does not have the option of ignoring the [Iranian nuclear] challenge. From the place where we stand, the Iranian threat is more critical. We are convinced that the Iranians are attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of the world.”
“The last minute”
Barak explained that the Iranians will operate so as not to leave time for a military assault against them. “From a diplomatic perspective, the relevant moment is the last moment when we can do something. After that moment, it will become the realm of commentators and historians. Thus, we must pinpoint that moment with all due responsibility. We cannot sleep peacefully at night when the Iranians consistently continue to move forward to the point where Israel will not be able to do anything about it.”
In contrast to the assault coalition presented by Ya’alon and Barak, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi were less enthusiastic. “It is not true that Israel will live under an Iranian nuclear umbrella,” said Ashkenazi. “The correct, preferred strategy that serves Israeli interests must be everything that we hear: covert operations, supported by economic and political sanctions, and above all these floats the option of the use of credible and ready military force.”
“Regarding the relations between Washington and Jerusalem,” added Ashkenazi, “It seems that there is not enough personal chemistry between the leaders in order to formulate mutual commitments. It is important to exploit all methods before choosing the military option. There is still time for diplomacy.” Dagan warned that an Israeli attack is likely to cause the Iranian population — now fragmented due to the country’s internal problems — to unite behind the regime. “And it will not necessarily stop the [nuclear] project” said Dagan regarding the technological difficulty.
Amos Yadlin, present head of the National Security Research Institute and former military intelligence head, joined their position. “Israel must operate under the mantle of legitimacy of the international community and the United States, and [consider using force] only after all other efforts have been exhausted. But it is very important to prepare a credible military option. Paradoxically, without the credible threat of a military operation, the chances for an attack rise.”
American Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro clarified that the United States’ position regarding Iran is just as iron-clad as Israel’s. “The United States, exactly like Israel, believes that Iran must meet all its international obligations, including suspending uranium enrichment as required by the United Nations Security Council resolutions. Very soon, the Iranian regime will be required to take concrete steps in order to allay international concerns.”
Former United States Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy said at the conference, “Israel and the United States view the objective in a similar fashion: preventing Iran from reaching nuclear ability. We have real military capability that has been exercised many times.”
In the meantime, Chairman of the Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani threatened, ”The effect of creating another Benghazi in Syria will spread to Palestine, where fire and brimstone will most certainly rain down on the Zionist regime.”