So if Iran Crossed Netanyahu’s Red Line, Israel Would Have to Attack Iran? Ex-Intel Chief: No

Don’t assume Israel will feel compelled to attack Iran this year, if Iran continues to enrich uranium even beyond the limits declared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his famous “red line” speech at the United Nations in New York last September.   So says the former head of the military intelligence agency, Aman — retired General Amos Yadlin.

Amos Yadlin, at an AIPAC policy conference

Yadlin, who was one of the pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981, is now the director of a think tank affiliaited with Tel Aviv University, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

He was quoted worldwide this week as saying that this summer, Iran will have surpassed the level indicated by Netanyahu as an intolerable line — perhaps even a casus belli for Israel.

Much has changed, of course, since September. Netanyahu has been reelected and has a different coalition of ministers who seem less willing than their predecessors to consider war against Iran.  Barack Obama has also been reelected, and then he made his first visit to Israel as President — pledging that the United States will not permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

A new American defense secretary has been installed — a former senator, Chuck Hagel, who seemed in the past a bit skeptical about putting Israel’s security near the top of U.S. military priorities. This week, however, he had a productive and busy working visit to Israel — and could not be accused of being anything but a militant and firm friend of Israel.

Out of all this — and more, including disagreements on whether Syria’s army definitely used chemical weapons against rebels in the long and tragic civil war — comes a clarified analysis by Amos Yadlin.

General Yadlin, who commanded the largest agency in Israel’s intelligence community, made a point of telling Kol Israel radio: “I am a person who calms things and doesn’t inflame them.”  Yet he confirmed that he criticized Netanyahu’s decision to set a public “red line,” because Iran can keep its quantity of uranium enriched to a 20% or higher level just below the line declared by the prime minister.  “But the Iranians can continue to enrich, in large quantities, at lower enrichment levels — in a very wide program with a very large number of centrifuges,” Yadlin added.  (Quotations are somewhat paraphrased from his statements in Hebrew on the radio.)

He said that this could open the way to “a bad deal to be negotiated by the major nations with Iran,” permitting lower-level uranium enrichment.  So far, he noted, Iran has been careful to stay “formally” below the line set by Netanyahu.

Yet Yadlin suggested that Israel does not have to feel compelled to attack Iran, even if that country does surpass the “red line” this summer.  “There are many things that can be done before an attack,” the retired general said — hinting at covert action inside Iran.  “Last year I said that we have to give diplomacy and sanctions more chance, and there are the various things that happen to the Iranian reactors and nobody takes credit for them.”

He said he continues to believe that in the second half of this year or at the start of 2014, “every one of the three leaders — of Iran, Israel, and the USA — will have to make a tough decision.”  Yadlin has suggested that Iran will have the capability, if decided by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to break out quickly toward building nuclear bombs.

“There are different timetables between the United States and Israel,” said Yadlin, “due to different capabilities.”  Israel is determined to prevent Iran from getting near the break-out to bomb construction, whereas the United States might not turn to military action until Iran is actually putting together a bomb — “and that could be years,” said Yadlin.

“I assume President Obama and the Prime Minister discussed this during the President’s visit, and just because a ‘red line’ is crossed doesn’t force an attack [by Israel or the U.S.].”

The radio host asked whether Hagel’s announcement that the U.S. will sell mid-air refueling planes, Osprey tilt-rotor helicopters, and advanced radar to Israel is intended as a message to “just sit quietly, because you have plenty of weapons.”

Yadlin replied: “The public doesn’t understand just what happened.  Hagel announced approval to sell weapons, but then that may or may not fit into the plans of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces].  And it’s not clear when the weapons would be received.  That’s typically 3 years.  So it’s not relevant to the discussion [over bombing Iran this year or next year].”

Noting that the IDF chief of staff, General Benny Gantz, said this week that Israel could attack Iran on its own and be effective, Yadlin commented: “He’s right.  Israel can do it.  And I believe there wouldn’t be a world war, and the Middle East wouldn’t burn.  But Iran would react.  It wouldn’t be like Iraq [which did not respond in 1981].  Yet Iran’s capabilities are not quite as publicly presented.  So an attack [by Israel] is not automatic, and the Iranian response would not necessarily be what other people think.”

If you’re assuming there will be a regional war, out of this nuclear issue,  Yadlin advises: “I say calm down.”

April 24, 2013

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