Ami Ayalon, the former chief of Israel’s domestic security organization, Shin Bet, argued that threatening an attack on Iran is not in Israel’s best interest. Specifically, Ayalon took issue with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s militaristic rhetoric toward the Islamic Republic. Speaking in London, Ayalon said “Mr. Netanyahu has been playing the role of irresponsible player in the region. That raises the questions: Does he mean it? And what is the price?”
Later in his interview, Ayalon mentioned that Netanyahu’s tough talk could harm one important aspect of Israel’s interests: the idea of nuclear ambiguity, which refers to Israel’s likely but not acknowledged nuclear weapons program. Ayalon said Netanyahu’s Iran policy jeopardized it: “The world won’t let you have nuclear ambiguity if you act crazy.”
But Ayalon joins a long list of former Israeli defense officials issuing caution about a military approach to Iran. The list includes former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy, who have each given several rounds of interviews urging diplomacy on the Iran issue. Dagan said on 60 minutes earlier this year that an attack on Iran “would galvanize Iranian society behind the leadership and create unity around the nuclear issue.” Some of these officials have raised similar concerns about Mitt Romney’s Iran policy. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Halevy said, “What Romney is doing is mortally destroying any chance of a resolution without war. Therefore when [he recently] said, he doesn’t think there should be a war with Iran, this does not ring true. It is not consistent with other things he has said.”
Former Israeli defense officials have also praised the Obama administration’s approach, arguing that sanctions enforced by the administration and its European allies have been effective. Last week in Washington, D.C., Halevy said it’s not time for a strike on Iran, and urged diplomacy by adding: “Sanctions, more sanctions, more sanctions and many other things. … The fact of the matter is the sanctions have not brought the end to the program but sanctions are hurting very much.”
During Monday’s presidential foreign policy debate, Romney adopted a position that sanctions enforced by President Obama have “worked” and were “absolutely the right thing to do.” He said he would only consider a strike on Iran “if all of the other avenues had been — had been tried to their full extent.” But that statement stands in contrast to Romney’s usual rhetoric on Iran. Just months earlier, Romney said: “Nothing in my view is as serious a failure as [President Obama’s] failure to deal with Iran appropriately. This president — this president should have put in place crippling sanctions against Iran, he did not.” In September, Romney moved up his threshold for military action against Iran to a “nuclear weapons capability” — which some have said Iran already has — as compared to the president’s suggestion of making the decision, or “break out,” to build a bomb his so-called “red line.”
Believing that an Iran with a nuclear weapon is a threat, the Obama administration is set on finding a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. The sanctions have had a severe impact on Iran’s economy. U.S., Israeli and U.N. officials have repeatedly pointed out that Iran has not yet decided to pursue a nuclear weapon.