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Idea of an Israeli attack on Iran losing popularity?

Mossad head dismisses thoughts of a military strike on Tehran’s nuclear facility as “the most stupid idea I ever heard” and even Defense Minister Barak sounds less confrontational than ever

Last summer, American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg published a cover piece in the Atlantic which claimed that Israel all but made up its mind to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities if Tehran would not bring its nuclear program to an end. Goldberg also hinted that since such an attack is almost inevitable, it might be better if the US initiates it, due to its superior air power:

…What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran

(…)

I have interviewed roughly 40 current and past Israeli decision makers about a military strike, as well as many American and Arab officials. In most of these interviews, I have asked a simple question: what is the percentage chance that Israel will attack the Iranian nuclear program in the near future? Not everyone would answer this question, but a consensus emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July.

At the time, I had the feeling that Goldberg’s article reflected only one position in the Israeli political and military establishment. I got the sense that Goldberg, for his own reasons, chose to ignore a substantial camp of “Iran skeptics,” and I even wrote so.

In the last few months, several senior Israeli officials made their opposition to such an attack public. Most notable of them were the former Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the departing chief of Mossad, Meir Dagan, which held unofficial conversations with proxies and journalists on these issues.

On Friday Meir Dagan went much further. Answering a question in a public appearance, he called the thought of attacking Iran “the dumbest thing I ever heard.” Even more surprising was a quote from Defense Minister Ehud Barak—usually regarded as a supporter of a military strike on Iran—who said that Iran has no intentions of launching an attack on Israel, thus hinting that a preemptive attack is unnecessary.

————

Some people might think that the public comments against an IDF strike are actually an indication that the plan is very much alive, and maybe even being discussed right now. According to this reasoning, Dagan’s and Barak’s statements are either part of a deception plan, or a last attempt to influence the debate regarding the attack.

While we can’t rule out these options, I believe that these statements reflect an actual decline in the support for a military move against Iran among Israeli decision makers. The success of the Stuxnet virus attack and the public rift between the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Khamenei, which could have effects on Iran’s foreign policy, make the risks involved in the attack not worth taking. Furthermore, the failure of Barak and Netanyahu to appoint a chief of staff that would support the strike on Iran makes it harder for them to form a consensus in the Israeli leadership in favor of the attack. As if to prove this point, two other former heads of Mossad backed Meir Dagan for expressing his opinion publicly.

With such heavy weight against an attack on Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was always a very passive and careful politician—he is the only Israeli PM since 92′ who didn’t initiate or get involved in a major military operation—is not very likely to send the Air Force to an operation that might end in terrible failure.

UPDATE: Intelligence correspondent Ronen Bergman wrote in Yedioth today that Dagan said pretty much the same things in a press conference a few months ago, but then the censorship didn’t allow the papers to publish his comments regarding Iran. This time, the former head of the Mossad talked in a large enough forum to get his message out.

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    1. Danny

      I recall reading an interview with Dagan a few years ago (before he became Mossad head) where he said something to the effect that the best time to attack an enemy is when he least expects it (duh!). I think this is what he means when he says it is stupid to attack Iran now.

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    2. RichardNYC

      It seems incredible to me that Dagan would not express these views without being very deliberate. Its not at though the decision to attack or not is going be taken in view of public sentiment, so there doesn’t seem to be a reason for him to influence public opinion (if he sincerely wanted to prevent such an attack). Maybe I’m overestimating his self-control

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    3. Koshiro

      “What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran”

      Inform US leadership of an attack mission passing over Iraq and/or Saudi Arabia only after the fact? Not to mention the leaders of said countries (which admittedly in the case of Iraq is not much of a difference.)
      Get me a good dose of whatever Goldberg is smoking.

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    4. Piotr Berman

      Koshihiro: perhaps it is the fabled Ziocaine, and I am sure it is not for hoi polloi like you.

      Strangely enough, Goldberg duly made a list of disasters that can follow Israeli attack on Iran (and some good stuff that may happen), but somehow skipped what could interest his fellow American: interruption of 1/2 of world oil export and the real possibility of a new Great Depression. As in those times, driving would become a privilege of the very rich.

      A wee civil war in Libya raised prices of oil by 50%. Imagine Iran blocking the Stait of Hormuz until they get apologies and reparations. What should we do? Would honor be more important, or economic survival?

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