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The problem with Netanyahu’s judgment, when it comes to WMD

Why was a paragraph removed from a Haaretz op-ed concerning an attack on Iran?

Dr. Avner Cohen, the unofficial historian of the Israeli nuclear program, noticed today that a paragraph that appeared in the Hebrew print edition of a Haaretz op-ed by Sefi Rachlevski revealed for the first time a few details of a little-known incident from 1998.

While arguing against “the gamble” of going to war with Iran, Rachlevski writes:

In 1998, Saddam Hussein, weakened by the American no-flight zone, made one hollow threat. In response, [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu ordered to consider the arming of Jericho missiles. An order that wasn’t issued even during the [1973] Yom Kippur War, under a fear of destruction. Three people went to Netanyahu: Ariel Sharon, [former chief of staff and minister] Rafael Eitan, and [Chief of Staff] Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. They told him to relax, take a pill, and forget about it. Some things even a prime minister shouldn’t do. Will [Ehud] Barak be one of the three this time around? I don’t know.

In his highly recommended book, “The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb,” Dr. Cohen also refers to this incident. While Netanyahu’s alleged order couldn’t have been discussed in the Israeli media (due to censorship issues), Cohen notes that it did lead Ze’ev Schiff, Haaretz’s veteran military correspondent, to publish a very unusual op-ed, titled “the Red Button Law.” Cohen writes:

Schiff proposed legislating a law that would place checks on Israel’s nuclear decision-making system. Schiff revealed that in connection with the crisis two weeks earlier over Iraq’s program of weapons of mass destruction, some Israelis were more worried about Israel’s “extreme and unbalanced” possible action than about Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein’s possible first strike.

Schiff, who couldn’t describe the issue at hand directly, wrote his piece in coded language, intended for the security establishment and not to the average reader. Around the same time, another very well-connected Israeli journalist, Nahum Barnea, also published an article in which he expressed concern over the judgment of the Israeli prime minister when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.

As Dr. Cohen wrote on his Facebook page, the paragraph concerning Netanyau was later removed from the web version of Mr. Rachlevski’s text. No official reason was given, which led Dr. Cohen to believe that the military censor, known for its activism on the nuclear issue, intervened.

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    1. The pgh is in the newspaper.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Larry: in the printed edition only. it was posted on the internet edition, and then removed.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Prometheus

      Comparison with Yom Kippur war is a bit out of place – totally different circumstances.
      You are bashing Bibi just because it’s Bibi.
      15 years ago he supposedly ordered CONSIDERING arming missiles. So what?

      Reply to Comment
    4. eli

      noam: in the headline you argue that ther is some kind of problem with netanyahu descision making, yet you dont elaborate. what exactly is wrong with bibi decision?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Eli: the point Mr. Rachlavski made was that you cannot trust the judgment of a PM who wanted to arm the missiles for the first time in history, basically over nothing.

      Reply to Comment
    6. @PROMETHEUS the word “consider” hides the heart of the story, which cannot be discussed.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Carl

      Top piece of journalism Noam. Especially useful for those of who like our written language fully voweled. keep it up.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Gil Franco

      Noam, are you saying you personally can’t discuss whether or not Netanyahu ordered nuclear weapons to be armed? What would happen if you did?

      Reply to Comment
    9. ginger

      Bibi is a messianic narcissist that simply wants to create the biggest stink Israel has ever experienced and go down in Israeli history books as the Biggest Stink Ever.

      All hail King Bibi

      He has no judgment – all he has is the dictates of his own narcissism

      Reply to Comment
    10. Prometheus

      Ginger – you just have no idea.
      It takes a great deal of judgement to survive in that alligator pit.

      Reply to Comment