Hot Israel Debate Over Covert Action In Iran To Stop Nuclear Program

People who are interested in news from Israel might be aware of a fairly new English-language website, IsraelHayom.com.  It’s associated with the daily newspaper, Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”), which is owned by an important campaign contributor to Republican candidates and causes in the U.S., the Las Vegas Sands casino owner Sheldon Adelson.  He is known to be very close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so some of the comments on the site reflect the Israeli leader’s point of view.  This excerpt, however, reports what a former Mossad chief — Efraim Halevy  said on Israeli TV on Saturday night.  Halevy (“ha-LAY’-vee”) predicted that Israel would not act alone, without fully consulting the United States, should Israel deem it necessary to attack Iran to stop or slow its nuclear program

Halevy added that, other than attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities directly, there were various options available that could harm Tehran’s nuclear program. “It is incorrect to use the ‘bomb or bombing’ formula [referring to either Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb or Israel bombing its nuclear facilities to prevent it from doing so]. The minute people say this, they are in fact saying that if there’s a bombing, Iran will not have a bomb. And if this is true? If we decide to bomb, then what will we bomb? A nuclear reactor? Iran’s nuclear manpower? [The Iranians’] other methods for a counterattack?”

According to Halevy, “U.S. sanctions are effective, but negotiations with the Iranians have stopped. This is a situation in which an accumulation of negative things are happening to Iran. Either because of the international pressure or because of instability in Syria, Iran’s situation is deteriorating rapidly. In this situation, the Iranian regime could make wrong, unsound decisions which could affect us as well.”

Last week, Halevy told The New York Times, “If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks,” in line with the belief of some that a strike could come in September or early October.

Halevy’s statements join a series of remarks made by former Israeli security officials, including former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Yuval Diskin, who in the last year have come out against a possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites.

An Israeli official said last week, after Halevy’s interview with The New York Times, that the statements reflect “irresponsibility of the first order.” In addition, he said they were largely directed at American ears, and were designed to interfere with the Israeli political leadership’s ability to decide for itself what to do regarding Iran.

Halevy said on Saturday that he was “sorry the statements were not to the liking of some” and noted that he himself did not like certain remarks made by the others, hinting at Netanyahu’s previous comment that the situation with Iran was similar to the eve of the start of World War II.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, who served as head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate from 2001 to 2006, was also interviewed over the weekend on Channel 2 news. Ze’evi-Farkash assessed that if an Israeli attack were to take place, it would occur in the near future: “I do not know if Israel will attack. The prime minister said he has not decided yet, but from my understanding of the big picture, I can say that it could be soon, within weeks or months.”

He added that Israel must take into account the possible risks arising from an attack on Iran, the consequences on the home front in Israel, and the implications this would have for Iranian unity.

“There are several options and only the last one should be to bomb Iran,” Ze’evi-Farkash said. “The Iranians have to understand if they do not stop this [nuclear] process, they will eventually have to absorb a blow to most of their military bases — from a possible coalition of countries, from the Americans or from Israel.”

“It’s not right to break this hard-won legitimacy now,” suggesting what could happen to Israel in the eyes of the international community if it decided to attack Iran soon.

Another ex-security chief, Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom, who served as head of Mossad, told Army Radio on Sunday that he believed the recent statements by former security heads were harming Israel’s national security.

He said he was “very concerned” over their statements and that he hopes “reports saying former defense officials are intentionally presenting positions that are not entirely correct in order to give themselves cover in the face of future inquiry committees, are not true.”

He added, “The officials should not be presenting their views to the prime minister or defense minister through statements made in the media. This discussion, in my opinion, harms our security.”

Yatom emphasized that U.S. support for an Israeli attack, if there is one, is very important. “I urge Israel to make every effort to coordinate an attack on Iran with the U.S. Although Israel is a sovereign country and it will eventually be its decision whether to attack Iran, U.S. support is still important,” he said.

August 6, 2012

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