Lia Tarachansky: Israel divided over plan to attack Iran

By Lia Tarachansky, The Real News Network – 30 Nov 2011

A split has developed between Israeli security establishment and Netanyahu

November saw endless speculation about a potential Israeli attack on Iran. At the end of October an Israeli journalist, Nahum Barnea, published an article in Yediot Ahronot, one of Israel’s biggest dailies, revealing that against the advice of all the heads of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak were deliberating attacking Iran. Perhaps as early as this winter. The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky spoke with +972 Magazine writer Larry Derfner and one of the top security journalists, also writing for Yediot Ahronot, Alex Fishman.


LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: November saw endless headlines speculating about a potential Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But long before the International Atomic Energy Agency released its contentious report, debate was raging in Israel over an article published in the daily Yedioth Ahronot. The journalist, Nahum Barnea, is one of the most widely read in the country. In his article entitled “Atomic Pressure”, he writes about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, “Did Netanyahu and Barak agree in secret, despite the opposition of all the top brass in the security establishment and without public debate, to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, perhaps even before the winter?” To understand the impact this article had in Israel, The Real News spoke with Larry Derfner, a blogger for +972 Magazine and a former columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

LARRY DERFNER, +972 MAGAZINE: What Barnea said is that Netanyahu and Barak want to do this, but everybody else in the defense establishment is against it, at least for now. Okay? That means the head of the Shin Bet, the head of the Mossad, the head of the Israeli army, the head of Israeli army intelligence, the heads of the four major defense agencies, were all against it, strenuously against it, and their four predecessors, immediate predecessors, were strenuously against it. But they can’t, you know, run to the media and say, listen, you know, this is–my name is Tamir Pardo, I’m the head of the Mossad, and you guys got to–and, you know, Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are crazy; they want to bomb Iran. They can’t say that. So, evidently, some of these people told Barnea, off the record, that this is what’s going on, and they told him this for the purpose of getting this out to the public.

CHANNEL 10 PRESENTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The latest report on the topic today, on CNN, is the peak of the media carnival that began in Israel last Friday on whether to attack Iran.


UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): If I am the average news consumer, what do I need to understand about this carnival over Iran in the news? Are we talking about a real discussion on whether to invade Iraq–I mean Iran? Or was it a well-orchestrated campaign by the leaders of the government, with completely different goals in mind?

AMNON LIPKIN-SHAHAK, FMR. CHEF OF STAFF, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): When I try to understand what happened, or why we’re confused, I think it has many reasons, but two main ones. The first is that we see a huge gap between what we’re led to believe about the conclusions of the security establishment, people who are focusing on the bottom line, what’s right to do. And it does appear that they don’t believe an attack is right. And there are two others–the prime minister and minister of defense–who think otherwise. And this week we also saw what the other ministers think.

UNIDENTIFIED: Why now? Isn’t this an old story?

LIPKIN-SHAHAK: I think this debate points at a concern in Israel about the decision-makers and not the decision.


DERFNER: Since then, you know, they’ve gotten one more recruit from the inner cabinet. Who? You know, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the craziest right-wing lunatic in the Israeli government. So now there’s three guys who want to do it. Okay? But that story caused such an uproar in Israel–. The title of it, by the way, was “Atomic Pressure”. It ran very big on the front page of the newspaper, and then on the inside supplement it set off waves of reactions in the media. The media woke up. The Israeli opposition woke up. They were talking about–you know, people were catcalling in the Knesset against Netanyahu strictly over this, because the idea–. Look, unfortunately, there’s a lot of support in Israel for hitting Iran. There was a poll taken about a week after that article came out. It was about 50-50. But what a lot of people objected to, what just about everybody who’s well informed objected to is that even if they’re in favor of one day bombing Iran, the idea that right now two guys are planning it against the recommendations of the entire defense establishment and nobody is talking about it and nobody is debating this, that’s ridiculous. This has to be debated. And that’s what’s happened since.

TARACHANSKY: Israel has three main daily newspapers: Yediot Ahronot, Haaretz, and Maariv. In the days following, their pages exploded with articles on the dangers and benefits of an Israeli attack on Iran. This article in Maariv, for example, entitled “How Israel Will Look the Day after an Attack on Iran”, quotes the former heads of the Israeli security bodies all expressing opposition to the military option. The article quotes the former head of Israel’s army intelligence, Shlomo Gazit: “An attack on Iran’s nuclear reactors will bring about the destruction of Israel. The result we were hoping to achieve with such an attack, sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program, would result in exactly the opposite.” Alex Fishman is one of the top security journalists in Israel, writing for Yediot Ahrohnot. He spoke to The Real News from a cafe in [incompr.] Ra’anana, north of Tel Aviv.


ALEX FISHMAN, JOURNALIST, YEDIOT AHRONOT (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Iran is a potential threat. It’s not a threat at the moment; it’s a potential threat. And as soon as it has a nuclear weapon, so will Turkey and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The whole region will be nuclear. .So what will this whole region balance on? On what happens between the ??????? [sic] On a balance of threats. Do you think we can survive in such a balance of threats? Let’s take for example a hypothetical situation: Hezbollah fires on Tel Aviv in response to clashes on the border. It’s possible. They have the capacity. A nuclear Iran would give Hezbollah protection, or Saudi Arabia, or some other Arab country. Will they let Israel retaliate?

TARACHANSKY: At the same time, we’re talking about the real situation, where the Israeli leaders are talking about bombing Iran.

FISHMAN: They’re not. They’re talking about the need to neutralize the Iranian nuclear program. How you do it–.

TARACHANSKY: What does that mean?

FISHMAN: Everything. Everything. Everything. They claim, as Mrs. Condoleezza Rice says, that the Americans are only applying 30 percent of the sanctions on Iran. How do you influence them?

TARACHANSKY: More severe sanctions?

FISHMAN: Of course. How else do you pressure the Americans to raise sanctions?


TARACHANSKY: The publication of the IAEA report in mid-November was used by the Israeli prime minister to argue that the agency confirms Israel’s warnings about Iran’s nuclear program. However, many concerns about the legitimacy of the report were raised, including in many interviews on The Real News. Whether the report proves that Iran is weaponizing its nuclear program or not, the former head of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, says there’s little Israel can do to stop it.

CHANNEL 10 (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): On the topic of a possible Israeli attack on Iran, [Dagan] says, we aren’t able to stop Iran’s nuclear program. An attack can only slow it down. If we’ll attack, we’ll only provide the Iranians an excuse to weaponize openly, weaponize their nuclear program. Of course, Hamas and Hezbollah may join as well. Syria may be dragged into it too. Israel will find itself in a war with many fronts. The Iranians will respond with fire.

TARACHANSKY: Joining Dagan in his opposition was Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Shabak, Israel’s internal intelligence agency. In the days after the prime minister called their conference leaks, saying they were illegitimate. He then ordered the current head of the Shabak to investigate. But Fishman says Israel’s aggressive tone towards Iran does not necessarily arise from its nuclear program, but from geopolitical power struggles.

FISHMAN: The whole issue has to do with how to get Iran out of the Middle East. Iran is not peace with the Palestinians. It’s the contrary. Iran opposed the Shalit deal, the Oslo Accords. Iran was opposed to any agreement with the Palestinians. It’s connected more to Iranian involvement in Egypt, in the Islamic groups of the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s connected to the Iranian involvement in Libya. It’s connected to the Iranian involvement in Syria, and they’re major supporters of the regime there. It’s connected to Iran’s attempt to enter Yemen, or Iran’s attempt to undermine the Iraqi leadership once the Americans leave, or their involvement in the attempted revolution in Bahrain. And it’s connected to Iran’s involvement here, too.

TARACHANSKY: The debate over whether to attack Iran opened the door to discussions on Israel’s geopolitical influence in the Middle East at large. Writing about the recent prisoner exchange deal in Haaretz, Sefi Rachlevsky says that “The Gilad Shalit deal can’t be viewed in isolation … it is meant to demonstrate that Netanyahu is a wise, fatherly leader with an aura of greatness. When it’s necessary, he will worry about a single soldier, and when it’s necessary to endanger tens of thousands of people, he will do so responsibly.”

DERFNER: As a rule, whether it’s because the other side attacks or whether Israel attacks, there’s, as far as I know, never any debate in Israel before Israel goes to war. Usually a war just sort of, like, comes upon you. Either you start it right away or somebody else starts it right away for you. I guess this is a unique situation, you know, sort of the slow-motion war.

TARACHANSKY: But the debate in Israel did not rage over whether Iran has a nuclear weapons program, whether it is Israel’s job to stop it, or whether a military attack on Iranian soil is justified. Instead, it focused on potential retaliation from Iran, warning [that] Hezbollah from Lebanon and Hamas from Gaza may fire rockets into Israel. In response, Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak spoke to national radio /bEt/, saying: “There will not be 100,000 dead, not 10,000 dead, and not 1,000 dead … [but] if everyone just goes into their homes, there will not be 500 dead, either. And I don’t belittle a single fatality.” Earlier this year, Dagan described Netanyahu and Barak as irresponsible and reckless individuals. For The Real News, I’m Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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