When in June 1981 the Israel Air Force bombed the nuclear reactor under construction in Iraq, opinions about the operation were divided. This writer thought that Menachem Begin, the prime minister and defense minister at the time, was at his best. Others considered it a mistake because Iraq would neither forgive nor forget, and at the first opportunity would bomb Israel. This “opportunity” really did present itself 10 years later, when the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait led to Operation Desert Storm, led by the United States and its allies. Iraq launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel.
When then-Defense Minister Moshe Arens cleared the air force to prepare for an attack on Iraq, Shas leader Aryeh Deri traveled on Shabbat to convince him that this intervention would be disastrous for us. With all due respect to Shas, it was Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir who canceled the operation, when the U.S. administration warned him that Israeli intervention was liable to make Syria and Egypt bolt from the coalition against Iraq.
Why am I going back in history? Because over the years many heads of the Mossad, the Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence were the ones who restrained and warned us. Not that they themselves never made mistakes in performance and making assessments. Note the failed attempt to assassinate Khaled Meshal in Amman, when we “killed” him and had to bring him back to life. That turned him into Hamas’ leader. Not to mention that the strong desire to placate Jordan’s King Hussein forced us to return Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin to Gaza.
When Meir Dagan was appointed Mossad head, some people warned that he was liable to behave like a bull in a china shop. But over time he turned out to be a creative, restrained and wise Mossad chief. The gift Dagan left behind at the end of his tenure was revealed in a meeting with journalists; he said Iran would not achieve a nuclear capability before 2015. This date angered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Dagan is not a chatterbox and doesn’t rashly pull out statistics, says a former head of the Shin Bet. He believes that Dagan wanted to warn B. and B. (Bibi and Barak) not to carry out their dreams of attacking Iran’s bomb-making centers. Not only Dagan, but the chief of staff and the heads of MI and the Shin Bet are among those issuing this warning.
Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy said in a private meeting that although Dagan is not his cup of tea, he supports him when it comes to his statements about Iran. It’s important to warn the prime minister to beware of a dangerous move. A chief of staff who previously served as MI chief believes that Barak is feeding Bibi’s fears of an agreement with the Palestinians with the “need” to act first against the Iranian threat.
Bombing the Iraqi reactor, which was built with French and Italian assistance, is different in several senses: 1. In Iraq, Israel had a single target and very focused information. 2. The United States was told in advance and gave its tacit approval. 3. The promised Iraqi revenge came 10 years later with outdated Scud missiles that killed one Israeli.
Iran has learned the lesson and scattered its installations so that one attack cannot be decisive. It has also created a system of long-range missiles and a frontal attack system in Hezbollahland. If it took Iraq 10 years to “retaliate” against Israel, the Iranian retaliation is liable to be realized, simultaneously with our attack, with hundreds of heavy and precise warheads launched at the Israeli home front, and perhaps at pro-American countries such as Saudi Arabia, too.
With all due respect to our power, we don’t have enough strength at present to carry out a decisive, once-and-for-all action in Iran. When the targets are scattered, we need not one strike, but the continuous aerial activity of hundreds of planes and varied routes, and it’s not clear how open these routes will be. The verbal saber-rattling by Bibi and Barak is liable to be dangerous in every respect.
At issue here is a target that Israel has to confront in coordination with the United States, whether with sanctions or by force. Israel can contribute its part with worms, roaches and other sophisticated means. It’s more important for us to focus on accelerated negotiations with the Palestinians than to play the hero against Iran. What did Ariel Sharon always say? Restraint is also strength.
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