Amid talk of Iran nuclear attack, Israeli leaders must heed what the IDF has to say
Senior Haaretz analyst Amos Harel says that Netanyahu and Barak's commitment to Israel's security cannot be denied. But, when the call comes in to decide on the military option, the government must also consider its consequences.
If I were a religious man, I'd be praying tirelessly, every day, for the continued good health of Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz. An unplanned series of circumstances has placed a man who owes nothing to his superiors atop the Israeli army, on the eve of the crucial decision concerning the Iran issue. Gantz was, after all, named chief by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak as not much more than a default choice. The two wanted Yoav Galant, whose nomination was shelved in the last second over concerns of wrongdoings in real-estate dealings around his home in moshav Amikam. Gantz was already in his post-service vacation when he was called back to man the IDF chief's position in Galant's stead.
Last week, Haaretz analyst Amir Oren formulated a hypothetical letter of resignation in Gantz's name, in protest of the decision, on which could be made in the next few months, to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. Gantz won't submit such a missive. If a directive from the political leadership arrives, the IDF chief, who is well aware of a military's place in a democracy, will salute and follow orders. It's reasonable to assume that Gantz, like his predecessor Gabi Ashkenazi worked to great lengths to prepare the military option against Iran. But, before that decision is made, Gantz will be asked for his opinion by the Forum of Eight, the security cabinet, and probably in the government.
At least some of the top ministers have already been exposed to his views. Gantz, like the vast majority of security professionals in the defense establishment, believes an Israeli attack against the Iranian nuclear sites before the U.S. elections in November will be a severe mistake. Last fall, Barak inserted a new concept into the international discourse concerning the Iranian nuclear project, the "zone of immunity." It was probably one of the defense minister's typical strokes of brilliance: setting a narrow, rigid timetable, "three or four quarters," as he put it, in which Israel is committed to act. After that, it is said, it will be too late – the Iranians will have succeeded in placing enough uranium enrichment centrifuges deep in the Fordo underground facility to put the vital parts of Iran's nuclear program beyond the reach of an Israeli attack.
Iran has probably nestled safely into the zone of immunity – and maybe it was just a metaphor. Though the concept was introduced by the IDF, no officer has been using it publicly for many months. Netanyahu and Barak, on any account, have been able to convince U.S. President Barack Obama in the seriousness of their military intentions, sparking a wave of severe international sanctions against Tehran. In Iran, a relatively advanced nation, citizens are fighting each other in lines at the supermarket in hopes of buying a chicken, while the currency reaches close to half its value.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who is due to arrive at his second visit to Israel in ten months, a trip likely meant to ensure Israel won't launch an uncoordinated attack, will probably hear from both Netanyahu and Barak that Israel has a right to defend itself from the threat of a nuclear Iran. That much cannot be denied, nor can the two's deep commitment to state security. But, when the moment comes, Netanyahu's ministers will have to rain questions not only on the prime minister and defense minister, but on the IDF and Mossad chiefs. Many of those queries will center on ties with the United States: What can an Israeli bomb do to the Iranian sites, when compared to an American attack? Can Israel stand alone in the lengthy "follow up" required to maintain the achievement after the first strike? And what will happen to Jerusalem-Washington ties if we choose to ignore Obama's warnings?
Netanyahu isn't just an ideologue, but a politician too, who frets, just like Obama, over his reelection. He has to take into account the possibility that an Israeli strike against Iran won't bring about the desired outcome – that it could be followed by an inquiry panel, in which the early hesitations sounded in closed forums will be exposed. This is a fateful time: it would be better if the media isn't caught sleeping too.