In 2010, two top Israeli security chiefs denied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s request to “have the military ready to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities within hours if necessary.” This new information comes from an Israeli TV documentary airing today that cites sources close to Israel’s former intelligence head Meir Dagan and the Israeli army chief Gabi Ashkenazi as shooting down the order.
The request, delivered to the top seven security officials but not to the full security cabinet, angered Dagan and Ashkenazi, leading Dagan to reportedly say that Netanyahu and Barak “tried to steal a war –- it was as simple as that.” To Dagan, the meeting betrayed standard protocol for launching a war. “You may end up going to war based on an illegal decision. Only the security cabinet is authorized to make such a decision,” he said.
Both Dagan and Askhenazi left their roles shortly after the reported meeting. Ashkenazi reportedly said of the order, “This isn’t the sort of thing that you do unless you’re certain that you’ll end up launching an operation. It’s like an accordion that makes music even if it is merely handled.”
The documentary also contains an interview with Barak who all but confirms the reporting. “A chief of staff must create the operational ability, he needs to tell us [the government] whether we have the operational ability to do something, and he even needs to give his recommendation, but [the government] is free to choose [a course of action] that contradicts his recommendation,” Barak told film’s director Ilana Dayan.
Dagan and Ashkenazi have both repeatedly warned about the consequences of rushing to war with Iran. Dagan said in May that “a strike could accelerate the procurement of the bomb. An attack isn’t enough to stop the project.” He added that, “we would provide them with the legitimacy to achieve nuclear capabilities for military purposes.” Ashkenazi said in August that “there is a sense that someone will pull out a suitcase from some shelf tomorrow morning and we’ll find ourselves with an Iranian atom bomb. I think we’re not at that point yet.”
Last week, Barak told the British newspaper, the Telegraph, that Iran stepped back from pursuing a nuclear weapon this summer, allowing Israel to contemplate “delaying the moment of truth by eight to 10 months.” Barak added that he was “skeptical” that the sanctions implemented by the Obama administration and its European allies would convince the Iranians to “sit together at any point in the foreseeable future and decide to give up their intention to go in the footsteps of Pakistan and North Korea and turn into a military nuclear power.” In the past, the Israeli Defense Minister has said that sanctions implemented by the Obama administration and its European allies were “quite effective.”
Several former high-level Israeli intelligence and military officials pushed back against a rush to war with Iran. Most recently, Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, praised the Obama administration for pushing a diplomatic approach, saying: “Obama does think there is still room for negotiations. It’s a very courageous thing to say in this atmosphere.”