Will the triumvirate attack? (ISRAEL HAYOM) Yoav Limor 05/11/12)
Israel Hayom Articles-Index-Top
From Washington to Tehran, officials wonder if the Mofaz-Netanyahu-
Barak union will expedite an Israeli attack on Iran or restrain it •
Does the new coalition mean that broad political and public support
is being prepared for a showdown with the mullahs?
It wasn´t only Israelis who were shocked this week at the political
maneuver that canceled general elections at the last minute and
produced a national unity government. Officials in Arab capitals,
America, and Europe were trying to figure out whether behind the
written coalition agreement stood a secret plan, one that would
culminate in an Israeli attack in Iran.
It is doubtful that anyone outside the triumvirate of Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Kadima Chairman
Shaul Mofaz has a clear answer to that question. EU foreign policy
chief Catherine Ashton arrived in Jerusalem two days ago for a
uncharacteristic, lightning-quick meeting, in efforts to gather any
piece of information on the political mood in Israel. The meeting was
scheduled before this week´s political earthquake, but it became far
more relevant once it happened. The West fears that Israel will point
its fighter jets eastward, so they sent Ashton to find out how much
of a chance Israel was willing to give international negotiations
with Iran, and whether the new coalition meant that broad political
and public support was being prepared for a complicated offensive in
Ashton, who will head the second round of talks between Iran and the
six world powers (also known as the P5 + 1: permanent U.N. Security
Council members the U.S., U.K., China, Russia and France, plus
Germany), in Baghdad this time, did not leave Jerusalem with clear
answers. The triumvirate, together with Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman, maintained a stern and unified stance: As long as Iran
doesn´t feel like it is facing a real threat of attack, it won´t back
down from its nuclear aspirations. The world must impose sanctions,
and then make them even tougher, rather than sinking into useless,
Sources reported that Ashton made it clear that this would not be the
case. Never, she insisted, would Iran be permitted to “play games.”
The sanctions already in place will not be reversed and the talks
with Tehran are being conducted in a “very tough” manner out of a
clear understanding of the severity of the situation and the urgency
of the issue.
Israel, the sources added, needn´t make threats: The bells are
ringing loudly enough all over the world. But Jerusalem remains
unconvinced. Israeli concerns are still confined to private quarters,
but they may soon leak out. The main concern is that the world is
longing for an agreement with Tehran, almost at any cost. Each player
has its own reasons. For Russia and China it is a principle; U.S.
President Barack Obama is afraid to make a move ahead of presidential
elections; in France there is a new president who was elected on the
votes of the Left and the immigrants; he certainly doesn´t want to
begin his term with a draconian hike in oil prices. We are left with
the U.K. and Germany, who, despite their determination, cannot
spearhead an international initiative alone. The (sad) conclusion is
this: Even if things are being presented otherwise, we are alone. Our
fate is in our own hands.
The real test will be in the Baghdad talks. The Israeli demands,
which were raised in the meeting with Ashton again this week, are
very clear: an absolute halt to all uranium enrichment activity, the
removal of all material already enriched to 20 percent from Iran, and
the decommissioning of the new nuclear facility in Fordo.
Iran has already declared that it will not comply with these demands.
Various media reports in recent weeks have suggested several
possibilities for compromise, all of which are far from satisfying
from Israel´s perspective.
What does all this mean? Just as in every other security issue in
Israel, there are three options: Iran will succumb to the pressure
and abandon its nuclear program entirely (the chances of this
happening are slim to none), or Iran will abandon the talks and sever
all ties with the West (the chances of this happening are low for
fear of an Israeli, Western or joint attack), or Iran will buy time
and drag its feet and try to arrive at a compromise that would allow
it to continue nuclear development without appearing to be doing so
(the chances of this happening are very high).
The third option is, of course, Israel´s worst nightmare: for the
world to congratulate itself on striking a deal with Iran, while
Israel must decide whether it will fall in line, or forge ahead with
an attack (and risk not only a war with Iran but also international
approbation). Several political commentators surmised this week that
Netanyahu, looking at his options, broadened his coalition to prepare
for precisely such a decision. But like other assessments that were
cast into the commentary trash, this assessment is also wrong. The
only reasons behind Netanyahu´s and Mofaz´s decision to establish a
unity government were political (Mofaz feared decimation at the
polls, Netanyahu feared being extorted by small parties). The time to
decide on Iran has not yet arrived.
Mofaz has so far openly opposed an attack on Iran. True, he suffixed
his disapproval with "at this time," but in interviews immediately
following his victory in the Kadima primary he insisted that he
believed that Israel still had approximately two years to address the
Iran issue by non-military means. It would be difficult to dismiss
his opinion as irrelevant, as was done to former Mossad chief Meir
Dagan and former Israel Security Agency director Yuval Diskin. All
the years Mofaz spent as the chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs
and Defense Committee have given him continuous, intimate access to
all the secrets, including the most pertinent information on Iran.
Mofaz is knowledgeable, up to date, proficient and curious. He is an
obsessive documenter (ever since his time in the military he tends to
write everything down in big yellow notebooks). In their meetings
with Mofaz at the Knesset, defense heads got the impression from him
that an attack in Iran at this time would not only be undesirable, it
could be dangerous.
When he joins the prime minister´s intimate circle -- the Forum of
Eight senior ministers, which will now become the Forum of Nine --
Mofaz will find ministers Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Moshe Ya´alon
with a stance similar to his own. On the opposing end he will find
Netanyahu and Barak, and, to a lesser degree, Lieberman and Interior
Minister Eli Yishai. It will be interesting to see the dynamics
between the three former IDF chiefs of general staff (Barak, Ya´alon
and Mofaz) on Iran, and on anything really, given their personal and
political rivalries. Even more interesting will be the dynamics
between this opinionated, experienced and at times aggressive trio
and defense heads, especially current IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.
Gen. Benny Gantz.
There will be those, most likely, who will see this as another sign
of a coming attack in Iran. Netanyahu and Barak, having failed to win
the defense establishment´s support for an attack, are placing
obstacles in their path in clever ways. Gantz will now face three of
his predecessors, one of which is his friend, Mofaz; the Knesset
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will probably now be headed by
Kadima MK Avi Dichter, a former head of the Israel Security Agency,
whose very presence in Netanyahu´s coalition gives the government a
seal of approval -- a counterweight to the harsh criticism Diskin
issued at Netanyahu. In such a constellation, the commentators would
say, Netanyahu will have the complete freedom to make a decision, any
An attack on Iran will probably not be on the table until spring 2013
at the earliest. There are the nuclear talks and the U.S. elections.
By then, if Iran pokes the world in the eye, the U.S. may very well
join in on an attack, or possibly even spearhead one.
That is the reason that Mofaz believes that there is plenty of time,
and that we should wait. On the other hand, Barak keeps warning that
Iran will have entered the "zone of immunity" by then, and will be
invulnerable to Israeli attack, free to push ahead toward a nuclear
weapon. Since currently it is Barak and Netanyahu who set the tone,
Israel is expected to kick and scream, as it did with Ashton, to
pressure the world to act now.
Will it happen? We need to hope for the best, and prepare for the
worst. So believes the newest recruit to the inner circle of
decisionmakers on Iran, who, with all due respect to Mofaz, is far
more pivotal -- Amir Eshel, who will assume the role of Israel Air
Force commander on Monday. He will have to prepare, and voice an
opinion on the one issue that didn´t factor into the establishment of
the unity government, but hangs heavily over it.
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