ANALYSIS / Budget Will Decide Whether Israel Attacks Iran

Most important decision facing Israel will be how to distribute funds intended to counter Iranian nukes.

The most important decision the next government of Israel will have to make is how to distribute resources intended for use against the Iranian nuclear threat, senior defense officials involved in decision-making have told Haaretz. The new government will have to decide whether to invest in developing measures to attack Iran's nuclear facilities or developing means of defense and deterrance if Iran does attain nuclear power.

The budget will decide whether Israel will seriously consider a military option against Iran. A decision focusing on defense and deterrance will mean that Israel has given up on attacking Iran. The dilemma becomes more serious in the context of economic recession, which limits the government's ability to expand the defense budget.

Those who support deterrance believe there is no substitute for the military option, and costly resources should not be wasted on a plan that will never be implemented. They also say that, at most, Israel could bring about a delay of a few years in the Iranian nuclear project, which does not justify the risk of complications in the action or a wider regional conflict. They prefer investing in a number of long-term projects that will increase Israel's ability to defend itself against the nuclear threat.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert objected to this approach. His position was that if Israel can thwart the Iranian threat, its present deterrent capability and resources should not be wasted on redundant deterrent capabilities. As far as is known, Olmert has yet to approve the continued development of a number of projects.

Those who are for the "attack option" say there is great value in delaying the development of Iranian nuclear capabilities by two to four years by means of an Israeli attack. Optimally, they say such an action could also undermine the regime in Tehran, or at least lead to international support against Iranian nuclearization.

"In choosing a strategy vis a vis a non-conventional Iranian threat, we must consider the limited resources at our disposal, which requires sophisticated risk-management," the chairman of the National Economic Council, Professor Manuel Trachtenberg, told the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies last Thursday.

There is no consensus in the defense community about this approach. Experts say the price of the attack option is lower than its detractors say. They also say the IDF needs about NIS 1 billion a year to strengthen its "long arm," with funding going mainly for intelligence, refueling planes and the munitions-carrying capacity of Israel Air Force planes, and of course for training, and that the budget can bear the expense.

Military Intelligence says that over the past year Iran has crossed the "technological threshold" and now has the ability to enrich uranium. Attaining nuclear weapons is now a matter only of a decision by the Iranian leadership, time and circumstances. But intelligence experts say Iran prefers stockpiling a large amount of fissionable material before moving on to military nuclear technology, which presents a window of opportunity for a final diplomatic effort to stop development of an Iranian bomb.