Israel’s Channel 2 News – the most widely watched television news show in Israel – is quoting sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who say he and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have “almost finally” made their decision to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
But the country’s widely-read newspaper Yediot Aharonot reports the two leaders – whom it says both favor an attack in the fall before U.S. elections — are facing stiff opposition from both cabinet colleagues and Israeli President Shimon Peres, who oppose a strike just yet. The paper says Israeli officials are worried military action during that time could embarrass President Barack Obama as he faces Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
The challenge facing Israeli decision-makers is great. Channel 2 News’ Diplomatic Correspondent Udi Segal reports that Netanyahu and Barak believe the price of a strike on Iran is smaller than the price Israel will have to pay in the future to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran.
On the other hand, military sources provide a sober assessment of the effectiveness of any strike, suggesting that it will most likely delay the Islamic Republic’s nuclear march by only one to two years, which will require at the very least intensive diplomatic work and in the worst case more military action to thwart the long-term prospects of the program.
Last week, Netanyahu said in the wake of the terrorist attack in the Sinai: “When it comes to the security of the citizens of Israel, the State of Israel must and can rely only on itself. Nobody can fulfill this role other than the IDF and the security services of the State of Israel and this is how we will continue to act.”
Though he was officially referring to Egypt’s slow response to terror threats in the Sinai, his words also reflect the growing belief in Jerusalem that it cannot count on the U.S. to defend it from Iran’s nuclear program. Reporter Segal said [Hebrew link]:
Israel is convinced the United States won’t act. President Obama doesn’t want to act before the elections and it’s doubtful if he will act afterwards. There are those around the prime minister who believe that Obama can be drawn in by and live with the Iranian threat.
Segal quotes a senior Israeli official who says, “America is willing to accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state. In Israel’s perspective, a ‘threshold state’ is a nuclear state.” There is deep concern in Jerusalem over strong signs from Washington that the U.S. is nowhere near committing to military action to root out the Iranian nuclear threat. Channel 2 reviewed the most recent signs by which Israeli officials are drawing their conclusions:
*The U.S. still hasn’t shown Israel any attack plan.
*Obama has not committed to attacking Iran and cannot commit.
*Defense Secretary Panetta defined the conditions for attack which include: Iran’s immediate transition to assembling a nuclear weapon, at attack on American targets, a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz, a massive attack on Israel.
Adding to the conviction that they are on their own, Israeli officials believe that in the past, Obama did not act without the approval of the UN Security Council and the Arab League both of which tend to vote solidly against Israel. The official also told Channel 2 that even if Romney is elected, his ability to take action during his first year in office will be limited.
Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit summed up the Israeli position, telling Channel 2: “I don’t believe even if speaking about friends and the greatest allies. When speaking about my fate, my existence, my survival, I don’t hand over this subject to a foreign actor to handle it. The U.S. can also live with a nuclear Iran.”
Netanyahu views Iran’s nuclear challenge as an historical imperative. He has compared the Iranian threat to the Nazi Holocaust and believes that stopping Iran means stopping Iran’s plans to destroy the Israeli state and the Jewish people.
Another anecdote which reflects Israel’s sense it might have to “go-it-alone.” It’s quite rare and most definitely undiplomatic to criticize a White House spokesman, which is why an Israeli official insisted on anonymity when he took a swipe at Obama spokesman Jay Carney who on Friday said the U.S. would know if Iran had made a major breakthrough toward becoming a nuclear power. Carney said:
I would also say that we have eyes — we have visibility into the program, and we would know if and when Iran made what’s called a breakout move towards acquiring a weapon.
Israel’s Channel 2 News obtained a response from “sources in Jerusalem” who responded to Carney, saying: the U.S. “didn’t see 9/11 coming.”
(H/T: Times of Israel)