Israel’s former defense minister was criticized Sunday by current and former Israeli politicians for revealing that his government planned to strike Iran during a 2012 joint U.S.-Israeli military drill but aborted the plans in order to prevent the U.S. from being dragged into war.
That plan reportedly followed two other occasions, in 2010 and in 2011, when top Israeli leaders seriously considered striking Iranian nuclear facilities but reversed course due to a lack of consensus among military and political leadership.
The revelations were made by Israel’s Channel 2, which on Friday night broadcast the recording of interviews two book authors conducted with Ehud Barak — who until 2013 served as the defense minister under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Then U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) greeted then Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak during an honor cordon arrival ceremony at the Pentagon March 5, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia. (Win McNamee/Getty Images, file)
Israeli ministers suggested that Barak’s version of recent history was not accurate.
According to the tapes broadcast by the Israeli news program, the Israeli attack was planned for January 2012, but that was also when the joint Israeli-U.S. military exercise Austere Challenge 12 was originally set to take place.
Parallel to the secret Israeli strike plan, the joint drill with the U.S. ended up being delayed for many months and scaled back due to tensions with Iran, according to reports at the time.
“We intended to carry it out, so I went to (then U.S. Defense Secretary Leon) Panetta and asked him if we could change the date of the exercise,” Barak said in the recording, as translated by the Times of Israel. “So they delayed it as much as they could … to a few days before the election (in the U.S. that November).”
In the recording, Barak explained how Israel wanted to make sure the U.S. would not be dragged into its conflict, especially given the Obama administration’s opposition to a military confrontation with Iran.
“You demand that America respect your sovereignty and decide you want to do it (strike Iran), even if America is opposed and it is contrary to their interests,” Barak said. “You can’t find yourself then going back on that by trying to force America to be party to (the strike) just as it comes here for a pre-planned drill. That’s how it ran into difficulties in 2012.”
Barak told the authors of his upcoming biography that there were also plans in 2010 and 2011 to strike Iran, but in the first case the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff asserted there wasn’t an operational plan. The second plan was averted after no consensus was reached among top Israeli political and military leaders.
Over the weekend, there was widespread backlash against Barak from current and former top Israeli officials.
Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman Sunday accused the former defense minister of revealing state secrets.
“I think that when moves and discussions that should have been closely guarded state secrets are discussed by the press, it relays that you are a talker, that you aren’t serious, that you’re unreliable,” Liberman told Army Radio.
The current defense minister Moshe Ya’alon called the claims of his predecessor “skewed” and “biased.”
Government minister Yuval Steinitz, who participated in the high-level deliberations, released a statement asserting that he thought it's “extremely grave that cabinet meetings … are revealed and wonders how these type of things pass [the military] censor.”
Steinitz said he would not deny or confirm Barak’s claims, citing the confidentiality of government meetings.
The prime minister’s office did not comment on the claims.
Barak has also served as the country’s prime minister and chief of staff.