Goodspeed Analysis: Netanyahu under fire from within over Iran strike (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) Peter Goodspeed 05/01/12)
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There is a power struggle going on in Israel and the battle lines are
being drawn over whether there should be a pre-emptive military
strike against Iran’s nuclear program.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ponders both the
possibility of attacking Iran and calling early elections, his
coalition government is being rocked by a series of public criticisms
from current and former Israeli military and intelligence officials
who have contradicted his claims of a rapidly approaching crisis.
Over the weekend, Yuval Diskin, former head of Israel’s Shin Bet
domestic intelligence service, unleashed a searing criticism of Mr.
Netanyahu and his Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, accusing them
of “misleading the public” about the effectiveness of an Israeli
military strike on Iran.
They “present a false view to the public on the Iranian bomb, as
though acting against Iran would prevent a nuclear bomb,” he told a
public forum in Kfar Saba in central Israel. “But attacking Iran will
encourage them to develop a bomb all the faster,” he insisted.
“I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on
messianic feelings. I have observed them from up close. I fear very
much that these are not the people I’d want at the wheel.”
Aides to Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak were quick to dismiss the
criticism as sour grapes, saying Mr. Diskin “was acting in a petty,
irresponsible way, motivated by personal frustration” at being forced
to resign last year, when he wanted to become the head of Mossad,
Israel’s foreign intelligence service.
Still, Mr. Diskin’s criticism came just two days after the Chief of
Staff of the Israeli Defence Force, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz,
contradicted Mr. Netanyahu in interviews with Israeli newspapers,
saying he doesn’t believe Iran has decided yet to obtain nuclear
While insisting an Israeli attack on Iran is “practical and
possible,” Gen. Gantz suggested an Iranian nuclear threat isn’t quite
as imminent as Mr. Netanyahu has suggested and agreed with U.S.
intelligence assessments that Iran has not yet decided to build a
Iran “is going step by step to the place where it will be able to
decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb,” he said. “It hasn’t
yet decided whether to go the extra mile.”
Gen. Gantz described Iran’s leadership as “very rational” and
suggested the crisis might not come to a head this year as the
international community steps up sanctions against Tehran.
“Clearly, the more the Iranians progress, the worse the situation
is,” he said.
For months now Israel has throbbed with speculation on a possible pre-
emptive military strike against Iran as Mr. Netanyahu has insisted
that economic sanctions and diplomacy aren’t working and warned
Israel faces an existential threat and a possible second Holocaust.
But as Mr. Netanyahu has ramped up his rhetoric, he has faced
repeated contradictions from senior members of the Israeli military
and security establishment.
Last summer, Meir Dagan, the former chief of Israel’s spy agency,
Mossad, declared during a security conference at Jerusalem’s Hebrew
University that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities
was “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”
He caused a storm of controversy when he said a pre-emptive Israeli
strike would be “reckless and irresponsible” and warned it might
trigger a regional war.
“It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing
where we know how it starts, but not how it will end,” he said.
In late December, Israeli newspapers reported the current head of
Mossad, Tamir Pardo, had questioned whether an Iranian nuclear weapon
would pose an existential threat to Israel.
During a private talk with 100 Israeli ambassadors, the intelligence
chief was reported to have told the diplomats Israel is using a
variety of means to derail Iran’s nuclear program. But he also warned
if Iran actually obtained nuclear weapons, it would not mean the
destruction of Israel.
“The term existential threat is used too freely,” he reportedly told
In March, Mr. Dagan repeated his criticism when he told the CBS news
program 60 Minutes he doesn’t advocate a pre-emptive strike against
Iran and thinks the Iranian government is “a very rational one.” He
said Iranian officials are “considering all the implications of their
About the same time, Mr. Netanyahu compared Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler and argued Iran should be treated as Nazi
Germany should have been dealt with in 1938, just before the Second
“Those who dismiss Iran’s threats as exaggerated or as mere idle
posturing have learned nothing from the Holocaust,” he said.
Mr. Dagan squared off with Mr. Netanyahu again Sunday during a New
York conference sponsored by the Jerusalem Post newspaper, when he
praised Mr. Diskin as a friend who “spoke his own truth.”
The former Mossad chief said he agrees with Mr. Netanyahu’s
government that the Iran threat is a problem, but said he disagrees
with their policy on solving it.
It is wrong to describe the issue as a “quarrel between Israel and
Iran,” he said, insisting it “must be solved by the international
At the same conference former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert also
criticized Mr. Netanyahu, slamming him for confronting the U.S.
government and saying “this is not the time or the place to talk
about or to initiate” a military strike on Iran.
“There is no reason for us to look as if we are giving orders to the
U.S. government,” Mr. Olmert said.
“The criticism to which the Netanyahu Iran policy has been subjected
recently is unprecedented in Israel,” said Meir Javedanfar, an
Iranian-Israeli analyst who teaches politics at the Interdisciplinary
Center in Herzliya.
It is now obvious there has been a debate simmering in the background
for months between Israel’s political and military leaders over the
urgency of the Iranian threat, the wisdom of a pre-emptive attack and
Israel may also be preparing to go to the polls in early elections.
Elections aren’t scheduled until October next year, but Israeli
politicians have started to call for an earlier vote.
On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the
Yisrael Beiteinu party, said he no longer feels a commitment to Mr.
Netanyahu’s coalition government and would like to see elections in
In late March, after he won the leadership of the opposition Kadima
party, Shaul Mofaz, a retired lieutenant general and former chief of
the defence staff, immediately began to criticize Mr. Netanyahu’s
statements regarding Iran.
“[Mr. Netanyahu] wants to create an image that he is the protector of
Israel,” the Iranian-born Mr. Mofaz said in his first news conference
as party leader.
He warned against an early attack on Iran, which he said could
be “disastrous” and bring “limited results.” (© 2012 National Post, a
division of Postmedia Network Inc. 05/01/12)
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