What had been whispered up to a week or two ago is now publicly audible. The possibility of Israel attacking nuclear facilities in Iran in coming months, before the November presidential elections in the U.S., is a topic of detailed public debate. In the past 72 hours, three former top guns of Israeli intelligence discussed the subject with unnerving candor. Two of them expressed opposition to a unilateral Israeli attack under present circumstances.
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Firstly, Ephraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, was quoted in The New York Times as saying that the Iranians ought to be fearful of the next 12 weeks (the period leading up to the U.S. elections). And on Friday evening, two former Israel Defense Forces heads of intelligence, immediate predecessors of Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, spoke out on the Iran topic in television news interviews.
On Channel 2, Maj. Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze’evi Farkash related to an impending Israeli attack as though it were a fact, but also averred that it would be a mistake to launch such a strike right now. Ze’evi took exception to Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s assessment that Iran is close to passing the “immunity threshold,” after which its nuclear program would essentially be impervious to an attack. In contrast to this view, Ze’evi believes there will still be time for an effective attack after November 2012 (he reiterated this point in an interview on the Walla website).
Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, who succeeded Ze’evi as IDF intelligence chief, hinted in a Channel 1 interview that an attack is imminent. Speaking in a somewhat less vehement idiom, Yadlin sounded as though he had doubts about the urgency of launching a unilateral strike against Tehran’s program.
Do these former security chiefs know something which remains opaque to the public? Former IDF intelligence officers continue to have access to security system briefings, even though they are not brought into the actual planning process of a secret military operation. No less importantly, they know how to analyze disclosed, public data and developments of the past weeks teaches them that the likelihood of an Israeli decision in favor of an attack is now higher than it has been previously.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who apparently continues to want to attack Iran, is now operating against two layers of significant opposition at home and overseas. In the domestic arena, the IDF general staff and the Mossad are staffed with senior officers who harbor doubts about the wisdom of a unilateral attack in this period; retired security officials, such as the trio which spoke out in past days, reinforce this skepticism.
In terms of overseas pressure, Netanyahu has had to ward off a series of messages and signals casting doubt about the desirability of an attack. One was the visit of U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta last week.
Netanyahu has claimed that Israeli skeptics have “been bringing me PowerPoint presentations [to cover themselves] against future investigatory committees. I tell them they should put away these slides, stop speaking for the historical record, and instead speak straight to the point.”