EXCLUSIVE: Netanyahu Seeks Religious Blessing For Possible Attack on Iran Soon

By Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv

In his efforts to mobilize a majority vote in his 14-member Security Cabinet — if and when Benjamin Netanyahu decides that he wants to send Israel’s air force to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities — he has turned to the religious figure who holds more political power than any other rabbi in the Land of Israel.
Netanyahu, we have learned, sent his influential National Security Advisor — Yaakov Amidror — to brief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef [see photo]. At age 91, Yosef is the spiritual leader of a powerful political party that is part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition: the Shas Party. It represents Orthodox Jews whose families had their roots in Arab countries, in Iran (where Yosef was born in 1920) and in Turkey. For decades, Shas was fighting to get recognition and respect for Sephardic (“Oriental”) Jews, when political and other power seemed monopolized by Ashkenazi — or European — Jews and their families.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has had a huge impact on many issues, notably education budgets and other controversies of concern to religious Jews. Though he generally steers away from matters of national security, he and his Shas Party followers are thought of as hard-liners: showing no interest in surrendering territories to Palestinian Arabs or neighboring Arab countries, and believing in the right of Jews to live in all parts of their Biblical homeland.

Among the 14 ministers in the Security Cabinet, who would be called upon to endorse or reject Netanyahu’s decision to attack Iran, are two Shas Party ministers. As of now, they are believed to be leaning against an attack on Iran.

Netanyahu’s emissary, Amidror, is a bearded, kippa- (yarmulke-) wearing retired major general who is also considered a hard-liner. He and the prime minister are clearly on the same wavelength, when it comes to matters of huge and long-lasting importance for Israel.

According to our sources, Amidror tried to persuade Rabbi Yosef that an attack on Iran is practically essential (“chiyuni” is the Hebrew word) for securing the future existence of Israel and its people. Amidror would have pointed out what he and Netanyahu posit as the real possibility that the Islamic Republic of Iran, if it builds a nuclear bomb, might use it to wipe out a significant portion of the Jewish state.

In the past, political leaders and even some foreign politicians have visited Rabbi Yosef to pay respects and court his support on domestic issues such as family law and education. It is very rare for Israeli politicians to try to draw him into debates on security and strategic issues. Ovadia Yosef traditionally has expressed caution in matters of war and peace, citing Jewish texts – including the Old Testament – and their appeals for wisdom to overcome bloodshed.

If Amidror managed to persuade the rabbi to instruct the two Shas ministers to vote “yes” — if and when Netanyahu brings a vote, in effect for war — then the prime minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak may be securing the majority they say they need: eight out of the 14 ministers in the Security Cabinet.

Others reliably reported to be in favor — agreeing with Netanyahu, apparently even if he opts for action before America’s Election Day in November — are: Gideon Saar, Yuval Steinitz, Yaakov Ne’eman, and Uzi Landau. As of now, that would give the prime minister six votes, including himself and Barak.

Reliably reported to be against attacking Iran at this time are: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (although his vote might easily be swayed to Netanyahu’s side), Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, Silvan Shalom, strategic affairs minister Moshe (“Boogie”) Ya’alon, and Yitzhak Aharonovitz (minister of public security).

The two Shas Party ministers are Eli Yishai and Ariel Atias.

August 20, 2012

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