Barak - Reuters - April 27, 2012
Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem April 22, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday that Israel’s political echelon is the one that is responsible for deciding whether and how to act against Iran’s nuclear program and that it is the Israel Defense Forces’ job to build up relevant operational abilities to do so. Barak claimed that Iran’s leadership is “not rational in the Western sense of the word,” and warned that Egypt may also join the regional race for nuclear arms, should Tehran develop a nuclear weapon.

Barak spoke in unusual detail at a traditional reception that he hosted for the security forces’ elite in honor of Independence Day. The decisive speech could be read, at least partially, as a sort of correspondence with IDF Chief Benny Gantz’s interview published in Haaretz earlier this week. Gantz told Haaretz that sanctions on Iran have begun to bear fruit, and although Iran is making progress in its nuclear program, it has yet to make a decision regarding the creation of a nuclear bomb.  

In his speech, Barak said that “a nuclear Iran will awaken a race toward nuclear armament in the region. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even the new Egypt will be resigned to join the race, and the countdown to the leaking of information and technology to terror organizations will begin. Dealing with Iran does not lack complexity – dangers and outcomes are unknown to us. However, should the Ayatollah regime obtain a nuclear weapon, it will be a long-term challenge, more challenging and more costly in terms of life and financial resources.”

Barak added that “today’s sanctions are harsher than in the past, but the truth should be stated: the chances that such pressure will cause Iran to answer to international demands to halt its program permanently seems low. I am happy to be proven wrong, but according to my evaluations, and they are based on long-term surveillance of Iran’s crooked maneuvers, as well as the historical examples of North Korea and Pakistan.”

According to Barak, “the worry of the Iranian leadership is that the international allied supervision will lead to an American, Israeli or international military operation, which restrains them from taking such a step and causes them to focus on deepening their immunity as a response to the possibility of an attack. We have no reason to believe that immunity will change the mind of the leadership or prevent it from moving toward a nuclear weapon.”

Speaking about Iran’s rationality, Barak stated that “the fact that we are talking about clever and calculated people, who seek to stay in power, and are striving to reach their goals underhandedly and with an idea of the moves and intentions of their rivals, does not make them rational in the Western sense of the word, in other words, a status quo and peaceful solution to the issue. This is not descriptive of the Iranian regime.”

Regarding the disagreement with the United States over how to deal with Iran, Barak said that “there are certain differences between us in terms of attitude, whose origins lay in clocks that tick at different speeds. That of Israel, whose capabilities are far more limited, ticks faster than that of the United States. However, even the American government understands that Israel should be able to defend itself with its own strength and that on topics regarding the basis of the security and future of Israel, and in a certain sense the Jewish people as a whole, Israel and its government alone must come to a decision and take responsibility. The IDF, like the U.S. military, is responsible for building operational capabilities. The political echelon, both here and in Washington, is responsible for taking all things into consideration.”

Gantz’s complex position

Gantz, who spoke to Haaretz, made international headlines in the last few days. Several American media outlets, including The Washington Post, presented his views as opposed to those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reflecting serious disagreements among high-level decision-makers in Israel. From Israel, it seems that such an analysis is a bit exaggerated and is not sensitive enough to the Israeli discourse on the issue.

In the interview with Haaretz, Gantz expressed a complex stance. Although he described the Iranian leadership as “composed of very rational people,” he simultaneously added that Israel’s military capabilities are “not theoretical, but practical.” Gantz believes that Iran has yet to come to a decision on building a nuclear weapon, despite the fact that it continues to march toward one. This is the accepted diagnosis of all Western intelligence sources, although Netanyahu and Barak, due to their own considerations, tend not to emphasize it.

The assumption that Gantz, like his predecessor Gabi Ashkenazi, belongs to the moderate segment of the Israeli leadership on the question of how and when to act on Iran is to be seen. Whoever interprets his words in Haaretz as an affront to Netanyahu is missing two important aspects: one – Israel has yet to come to a decision of whether and when to act. Second – should the political decision-makers order the IDF to take action, despite the reservations, the IDF Chief and the military will have to heed the call and implement it.

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