Israel’s defense minister on Monday signaled that his country has abandoned any hope that the United States will solve the Iranian nuclear crisis diplomatically and that he – in a reported reversal – would now support Israel taking unilateral military action against the Islamic Republic.
“We had thought the ones who should lead the campaign against Iran is the United States,” said Moshe Ya’alon, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “But at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better.”
“People know that Iran cheats,” Ya’alon said. “But comfortable Westerners prefer to put off confrontation. If possible, to next year, or the next president. But in the end, it will blow up.”
He claimed that the U.S. is “showing weakness” throughout the world and criticized the nuclear deal the West reached with Iran late last year. “Therefore, on this matter, we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves.”
Ya’alon’s comments, according to Haaretz, “attest to a sea-change in his attitude regarding how Israel should contend with the Iranian nuclear program,” as under the previous government, Ya’alon led the opposition to a unilateral attack on Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also criticized the nuclear deal, saying that it was a victory for Iran, and says regularly that Israel retains the right to defend its interests. “[L]etting the worst terrorist regime on the planet get atomic bombs would endanger everyone, and it certainly would endanger Israel since Iran openly calls for our destruction,” Netanyahu said in a speech earlier this month. “As prime minister as Israel, I will do whatever I must do to defend the Jewish state of Israel.”
The AP reports “Ya’alon’s office confirmed his remarks but refused to comment whether he was advocating an Israeli strike on Iran. Netanyahu’s office also declined to comment.”
Israeli’s intelligence agencies, however, see the situation with Iran differently. Haaretz reported late last year that an Israeli military intelligence analysis concluded that there is a “deep strategic change” taking place in Iran with relative moderate Hassan Rouhani as president. While Netanyahu, Ya’alon and others Israeli government leaders have scoffed at Rouhani’s so-called “charm offensive” with the West, the analysis, according to Haaretz, “thinks otherwise.”
Moreover, the Israeli security establishment has been very wary of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program, warning about the negative consequences. “If Israel will attack, there is no doubt in my mind that this will also provide [Iran] with the justification to go ahead and move quickly to nuclear weapons,” said former Mossad chief Meir Dagan in 2012. The Jerusalem Post reported last year that “[Former Israeli Defense Forces intelligence head Shlomo Gazit] said he agreed with [former Shin Bet chief Yuval] Diskin that an Israeli attack would not destroy the program, and could even accelerate it, while enabling Iran to legitimize its efforts diplomatically.”
Iran and the six world powers – the U.S., U.K, France, China, Russia and Germany – are meeting in Vienna this week to resume talks on a final nuclear deal. Diplomats said, according to Reuters, that the crisis between the West and Russia over Ukraine would not have any effect on the negotiations.
“I haven’t seen any negative effect,” said an E.U. spokesman. “We continue our work in a unified fashion.”
Al-Monitor reports that Ya’alon has apologized for his remarks. “My statements had no criticism or intent to hurt the US or the relationship with it,” he said in a call to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “The strategic ties between Israel and the United States are of high importance, as are personal ties and mutual interests.”