Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak two years ago ordered the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Mossad to prepare for a military attack on Iran’s clandestine nuclear sites – and be ready with just hours’ notice if necessary - but they were rebuffed by the leaders of the country’s two main security arms. This is according to Israel Channel 2’s investigative show “Uvda” (Fact) in its season premiere airing Monday night.
The show is characterizing the tense exchange between the political leaders and the then-security chiefs as an “unprecedented rift at the top echelon of the state a moment before a possible strike on Iran.”
The Times of Israel translated the advance excerpts of the show and writes:
The order to step up military readiness was given by Netanyahu and Barak to the then-chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gabi Ashkenazi, and to the then-head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, at a meeting on an unspecified date, the report claimed. But Dagan reportedly retorted that the order, if followed, might lead to a war based on an illegal decision. And Ashkenazi, reportedly declaring that such an attack would be “a strategic mistake,” also warned that the very order to prepare for a strike might set in motion a deterioration into war even if Israel didn’t actually choose to launch one.
Netanyahu and Barak chose not to insist that the security chiefs follow their orders, the program indicated.
While Netanyahu and Barak wanted an increased level of readiness, the report gives no indication that an actual strike decision was imminent.
Still, Gil Ronen, a reporter for the right-wing Arutz 7, wrote his concern about the incident:
While Dagan and Ashkenazi did not refuse orders, the report paints a worrisome picture in which some may see insubordination by the heads of the IDF and Mossad vis-à-vis the political echelon.
According to the Channel 2 report, the incident took place at the very end of a Jerusalem meeting of the “forum of seven” – the group of cabinet ministers and military leaders entrusted with the most classified state secrets. The Times of Israel further describes Uvda’s report:
Netanyahu and Barak reportedly instructed the heads of the defense establishment to initiate the highest level of military alert and prepare the military for a strike — within hours if necessary — on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But the move was stymied.
The report cited sources close to Ashkenazi and Dagan – who since stepping down from their respective posts have both been outspoken in their opposition to a strike on Iran – to the effect that as the two men were leaving the meeting, Netanyahu “matter-of-factly” instructed them to initiate the “P Plus” code, which is essentially a readying of the military to imminently launch an attack.
Ashkenazi and Dagan reportedly vehemently objected to the order.
“This isn’t the sort of thing that you do unless you’re certain that you’ll end up launching an operation,” Ashkenazi was quoted as saying. “It’s like an accordion that makes music even if it is merely handled.”
Ashkenazi was concerned this high level of alert would trigger other reactions and thus war would become a self-fulfilling prophesy even if his forces were only preparing for the worst.
Channel 2 spoke to several participants in the meeting who recalled that the Mossad’s Dagan responded even more stridently than did Ashkenazi, accusing Netanyahu and Barak of overstepping their authority, saying (Blaze translation):
“You might make an illegal decision to go to war […] Only the security cabinet is authorized to make a decision on that.” Later, Dagan explained: “The Prime Minister and Defense Minister simply tried to steal a war.”
In response to the report, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Uvda that IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazi objected not for legal reasons but because the army hadn’t prepared a plan for attack, didn’t have the operational capacity and thus couldn’t carry out a successful strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Barak accused the chief of staff of failing to sufficiently prepare the army. Barak insisted that a “P Plus” state of alert does not mean war is imminent.
The show then quoted Ashkenazi who insists the military was ready, but added: "I also said that that attacking now would be a strategic mistake."
Since stepping down from the Mossad, Meir Dagan has used the megaphone of his prominent position to slam the Netanyahu government’s consideration of a unilateral strike on Iran. He’s warned such a move could lead to a wider Mideast war and told 60 Minutes in March that bombing Iran at this point in time is “the stupidest idea” he’d ever heard. Dagan has been out of the news recently as he is recovering from a liver transplant.