Israel's Defense Chiefs Failed in Deterring Iran

Ex-Mossad head, Meir Dagan, and ex-Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, appear to claim they helped rescue Israel from a destructive war with Iran, perhaps the truth is that defemse establishment failed to fulfill the instructions of political leaders.

Was Israel about to embark on a destructive war with Iran but was rescued from destruction only because of the resourcefulness and daring of senior officers in the IDF and the intelligence community, who blocked the irresponsible and unbridled adventurism of the prime minister and the defense minister?

This is the version that appears to be marketed by former Mossad head, Meir Dagan (publicly ), the former Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi (in "private conversations" and in briefings to trusted aides ). In their telling, they enlisted former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, ex-Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, and President Shimon Peres, in order to foil the intentions of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak to send the air force to bomb the nuclear installations in Iran. Such a strike would have resulted in a regional war, with thousands of missiles on Tel Aviv, economic paralysis, and a crisis in relations with the United States.

According to this version, Ashkenazi and his partners deserve the Israel Prize, maybe even the Nobel Peace Prize. But there is a different version, which is no less convincing: The defense establishment did not manage to fulfill the instructions of the political echelon and failed. Now it is presenting its failure as having been exhibiting responsible behavior on a national level.

When Netanyahu took office in the spring of 2009, he placed at the top of his priorities list the foiling of Iran's nuclear program. His predecessors, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, had dealt with the Iranian threat through a combination of diplomacy and clandestine activities. They did not sufficiently prepare for a military operation, even though during their tenure Iran had less means to strike at Israel. Also, in George W. Bush, Israel had a friendly president in the White House who may have supported an Israeli attack.

In case the diplomatic means, the technical problems and the international sanctions did not stop the Iranians, Netanyahu decided to back those up by presenting a military option. As he explained more than once in public, only a credible military option could validate sanctions and other "soft" measures.

In order to avoid the use of force, the enemy must be convinced that "all the options are on the table." Netanyahu and Barak, who shared his approach, had three goals:

They hoped that an increasingly strong Israel would encourage the U.S. to take action against Iran - this was and remains their preferred option;

They wanted to reinforce the strategic understandings with Washington, and ensure that President Barack Obama will preserve Israeli deterrence - this was achieved;

They sought to prepare for an independent Israeli action, in case the international community disappointed, and Israel was left alone before the dilemma of "the Iranian bomb or to bomb Iran."

This policy enjoyed the support of the cabinet, was backed by funding and planning instructions, but was not translated into any action.

Ashkenazi, Dagan and their friends were not enthusiastic. They were troubled by the superficiality of Netanyahu and of his talk about a "second Holocaust," and the ambiguous stance of Barak. They were, of course, worried about a failed war, at the end of which the officers would be blamed, not the politicians.

Therefore they embarked on a foiling action, not against Iran but against their superiors. They warned that building capabilities against Iran would harm other tasks that were no less essential, and they pulled out a winning argument: Attacking Iran would lead to a regional war which the IDF would have trouble winning. Whoever wants to bomb Iran must first prepare for the day after. Netanyahu and Barak avoided such discussion; they only wanted the option, not the war.

As far as the politicians are concerned, Ashkenazi failed in his task. He was asked to prepare a military option, and instead prepared excuses. If he was unable to win "the day after war," Israel had a limited military option and Netanyahu's policy was foiled. Hence the second Jerusalem putsch, which the primary figures pride themselves on, and say how they rallied Peres to the plot they prepared against Netanyahu and Barak.

This is the background to the power plays that took place at the top of the defense pyramid, the Galant Affair, and the retirement of Ashkenazi and Dagan (who wanted to stay on for another year ), and of Diskin (who wanted to be the head of Mossad ).

Now, Israel is twiddling its thumbs, the defeated U.S. is pulling out of Iraq, and Iran is expediting uranium enrichment and the economy is flourishing in spite of the sanctions.