It has become something of a parlor game in Tel Aviv and Washington DC to speculate about when Israel will finally strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Most argued that, at some point, Israel’s leaders will decide that Tehran’s nuclear program is too dangerous to ignore and that military action is the only way to stop it.
They may have been more right than they imagined.
“Set the systems for P-plus”
A documentary by the investigate journalism Ilana Dayan that appeared on Monday claims that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, ordered the Israeli military to prepare for an airstrike in 2010.
“Set the systems for P-plus,” the prime minister was reported as saying — code for an attack to be launched soon.
There is a good chance that the operation would have gone ahead were it not for the strong objections of Israel’s two most powerful military leaders: Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the Israel Defense Force at the time, and Meir Dagan, the director of the country’s Mossad intelligence agency.
According to the documentary, the two men argued to Netanyahu that he didn’t have the right to order a military operation without approval from his full cabinet and that Israel’s army was simply not ready for the type of blowback that would have resulted from unilateral action.
Going it alone
Obviously the strike never occurred. What the episode shows is that Netanyahu and Barak were far more serious in their intention to delay Iran’s nuclear progress than even the most able-bodied reporter believed.
The documentary makes no mention of Netanyahu conferring with the United States about his decision, implying that, in the past, he was comfortable ordering military action without approval from Washington.
This goes against the view held by some of Israel’s military officials and the majority of the Israeli public — that a joint operations with the Americans would be preferential to the Jewish state going it alone.
It is also interesting to note that it were Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs who restrained the politicians from ordering an operation of which the success was far from preordained.
With the exception of his family and closest advisors, no one can say for certain if Netanyahu has become more pragmatic about using force to delay Iran’s uranium enrichment program as the years have gone by. His speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month implied that the premier still believes military action is ultimately necessary.
Whatever the case, the 2010 episode should be taken seriously. If the Israeli leader was serious about using airstrikes then, he may be content with using them in the future.