Israeli Military Chief: Iran Still Undecided About Building Nuclear Weapons

Discussions surrounding Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions frequently cross the line into unsubstantiated assertions about Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities. But in an interview with Haaretz, Israel’s chief military officer offered a more nuanced view of Iran’s nuclear program.

Lieutenant General Benny Gantz told Haaretz that Iran has not yet made critical decisions:

[Iran] is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.

Gantz also emphasized that Iran is a rational actor, a departure from hawks who claim that Iran’s leadership is irrational:

[The acquisition of a nuclear bomb] will happen if [Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.

The Israeli military chief said that all options — including the military one — remain on the table for Israel and that “This is a critical year, but not necessarily ‘go, no-go.’” And he reported that diplomatic presure and economic sanctions are begining to bear fruit.

Gantz’s comments contrast with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish rhetoric on Iran. In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett last night, Netanyahu questioned Iran’s rationality:

I don’t think you want to bet the peace in the Middle East and the security of the world on Iran’s rational behavior.

A potential Iranian nuclear weapon is widely considered a threat to both the security of the U.S. and its allies in the region, and the nuclear non-proliferation regime. While hawkish rhetoric towards Iran is becoming a normal occurrence in the political discourses in both Israel and the U.S., neither IAEA, Israeli nor U.S. intelligence estimates conclude that Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration has vowed to keep “all options on the table” to deal with the possibility of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapon but the efficacy and consequences of such a military strike continue to raise serious questions.