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Israeli PM's Critics Seen Lowering Potential for Strike Against Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, shown last October. Recent comments by current and former Israeli leaders could reduce the likelihood that Netanyahu and Barak will order an attack on Iranian nuclear sites, according to a news report (AP Photo/Israeli Defense Ministry). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, shown last October. Recent comments by current and former Israeli leaders could reduce the likelihood that Netanyahu and Barak will order an attack on Iranian nuclear sites, according to a news report (AP Photo/Israeli Defense Ministry).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be less likely to employ force against Iran's atomic assets in light of recent statements by a number of high-profile figures in his nation, including a former intelligence chief, Reuters reported on Monday (see GSN, April 30).

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in past months have referred repeatedly to their willingness to consider launching an armed campaign aimed at setting back Iranian nuclear activities that Tel Aviv, Washington and several European capitals believe to be geared toward establishment of an Iranian nuclear-weapon capability. Tehran has maintained its atomic ambitions are strictly peaceful.

Former Israeli General Security Service head Yuval Diskin, though, last week described the two Israeli leaders as "messianic" and unreliable decision-makers on matters of war and peace. Israeli armed forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz separately referred to Iranian leaders as "very rational," and voiced doubt over whether Tehran would ultimately commit to construction of such armaments.

Diskin and one-time Israeli intelligence chief Meir Dagan "genuinely disagree [with Netanyahu and Barak] and are trying to signal the Israeli public, knowing that they retain credibility," former Obama administration adviser Dennis Ross said. "They are raising the costs domestically to the Netanyahu government of acting."

One former U.S. government insider said "a very deep fissure" has emerged "between the security establishment and the political level (which is) quite unprecedented."

Still, a viable threat of Israeli force against Iran could prove critical to the success of diplomacy with the Persian Gulf regional power, according to staffers for Netanyahu. Diplomats from Tehran are expected on May 23 in Baghdad to meet for the second time this year with representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States in a bid to address concerns over Iranian atomic activities.

"If you are against Israel taking military action, the worst thing you can do is undermine the credibility of that option," one high-level government source said, contending Tel Aviv could be forced to pursue armed confrontation if high-level doubts water down Iran's rationale for potentially seeking a compromise.

The Israeli government fears comments such as those from Diskin might reduce global pressure for a comprehensive end to Iran's uranium enrichment program, which could generate nuclear-weapon material in addition to fuel for civilian applications, according to the source.

"We are already seeing signs of capitulation" to Tehran ahead of this month's multilateral meeting, the source added. Obama administration personnel have communicated openness to a potential deal permitting continued Iranian production of low-enriched uranium unsuitable for use in weapons, according to earlier reporting.

Netanyahu has not entered any large-scale conflicts in his six years as a Israeli leader, prompting a number of detractors to question his willingness to do so.

Still, Netanyahu and Barak could take the risk of attacking Iran if they obtain the Israeli Cabinet endorsement needed for the move, former Israeli air force head David Ivry said. "In the end, history is the judge," according to Ivry (Dan Williams, Reuters, April 30).

Speaking on Monday, the defense minister reaffirmed the argument for attacking Iran before it can move key nuclear operations to locations less vulnerable to a possible Israeli military offensive, the London Guardian reported.

"I believe it is well understood in Washington, as well as in Jerusalem, that as long as there is an existential threat to our people, all options to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons should remain on the table," Barak said.

"Parts of the world, including some politically motivated Israeli figures, prefer to bury their heads in the sand," he added. The remark was a reference to Diskin's statement, according to the Guardian (Harriet Sherwood, London Guardian, April 30).

Multilateral discussions with Iran do “not fill me with confidence,” the New York Times quoted him as saying. “They say in the Middle East a pessimist is simply an optimist with experience.”

Barak said any potential armed offensive is "not simple" and would be “complicated by certain risks.”

Still, the minister said, a “radical Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons would be far more dangerous both for the region and, indeed, the whole world.”

“Israel cannot afford to be duped,” he said. “The No. 1 responsibility is to ensure that our fate will remain firmly in our own hands" (Jodi Rudoren, New York Times, April 30).

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday said he would prefer Washington to take point in any assault on Iran.

"The last resort is a military action," Olmert told CNN in remarks made public on Monday. "And I prefer that it would be an American action -- supported by the international community -- if all the other efforts would fail."

The United States should have the final say on the targets and duration of a potential attack, the former Israeli leader said. "Israel certainly could be part of the effort, but Israel should not lead it," he said.

No necessity exists to carry out a strike in the very near future, Olmert added.

"I know one thing: that the Iranian leadership has not gone beyond a certain line for the time being of developing the nuclear program," he stated. "And that shows that they are at least thoughtful, which means that they are not rushing, but they are calculating their steps" (Christiane Amanpour, CNN, May 1).

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Tuesday assured Israeli President Shimon Peres of Washington's determination to prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Iran's atomic activities constitute "a strategic and not tactical threat," the U.S. lawmaker said. "I hope there is no doubt about President Obama's seriousness and commitment that Iran should not have and cannot have a nuclear weapon."

He said Obama "has made it clear that he is not talking about containment he is talking about prevention."

Peres said he is "convinced" that Obama would "stand by his commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon" (Xinhua News Agency, May 1).

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba on Tuesday voiced alarm over the potential repercussions of any attack against Iran's atomic holdings, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Japan is very concerned over the Iranian nuclear issue," Gemba told the newspaper Yediot Aharonot. "The international community, including Japan, is putting unprecedented pressure on Iran, and the renewal of talks between the world powers and Iran is a result of this pressure."

"The military option will not only give Iran an excuse to expedite its nuclear program, but could also increase the instability in the region, which would threaten Israel," the official said (Agence France-Presse I/Daily Star, May 1).

Meanwhile, U.S. government sources on Monday disclosed a transfer of advanced F-22 fighter aircraft to the United Arab Emirates, AFP reported. The insiders refused to specify the quantity of U.S. planes delivered to the nation's al-Dhafra Air Base.

Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Mary Danner-Jones verified the transfer, but she did not refer to the facility or to neighboring Iran.

"The United States Air Force has deployed F-22s to Southwest Asia. Such deployments strengthen military-to-military relationships, promote sovereign and regional security, improve combined tactical air operations, and enhance interoperability of forces, equipment and procedures," Danner-Jones said.

The move "was a very normal deployment" carried out in accordance with changes to U.S. military positions in the area after the drawdown of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, Defense Department spokesman Capt. John Kirby said (Agence France-Presse II/Google News, April 30).

Tehran, though, has taken issue with the U.S. move, AFP reported.

“We do not in any way approve the presence of foreign forces in the region," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Tuesday. "We advise the regional countries against providing a basis for their presence."

“Regional countries should resort to collective cooperation to ensure their security. Seeking foreign countries or their equipment not only will not provide security but will endanger the region’s security,” Mehmanparast said.

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Monday said “such deployments in the region are both harmful and useless."

"They are mostly done to create a psychological trend and a sense of insecurity in the region,” Vahidi told Iran's al-Alam television (Agence France-Presse III/Dawn, May 1).

Elsewhere, the head of the Iranian legislature's national security committee on Monday rejected international media claims that Tehran might be open to signing the Additional Protocol to its inspections arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The step would enable the U.N. nuclear watchdog to conduct more intrusive inspections of Iranian atomic facilities aimed at ensuring the nation's nuclear assets are not diverted for military use.

Committing to such scrutiny "is an issue which needs be discussed and decided in the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament), while the parliament has already ratified an approval which requires an end to discussions about its acceptance," lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi told Iran's Fars News Agency.

No new developments have taken place to justify international suggestions that Iran might become party to the Additional Protocol, Boroujerdi said (Fars News Agency I, April 30).

An independent expert on Friday described a probability of up to roughly 33 percent that multilateral diplomacy will yield a significant step toward resolving the nuclear standoff.

“Things are moving,” Dmitri Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Bloomberg. Iran's top envoy to Russia last week said Tehran might be willing to end upgrades to its uranium enrichment capacity as part of a potential agreement floated by Moscow. Other countries would refrain from using new economic penalties in exchange for the Iranian move.

“The Russian proposal is a good proposal from most points of view, it doesn’t constrain the Iranian scientific research,” Trenin said. “They realize that trying to move to weapons grade will cost them too much.”

Still, negotiators could have trouble finalizing such a deal prior to the planned July 1 implementation of a European Union prohibition on purchases of Iranian petroleum, according to the analyst. The 27-nation bloc could push back the embargo's entry into force to provide “a little bit more room for maneuver,” he suggested (Henry Meyer, Bloomberg, April 27).

Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror this week is conducting discussions with European officials ahead of the next round of talks, AFP cited the Haaretz newspaper as reporting on Tuesday. The issue at hand appears to be Tel Aviv's worries that a potential multilateral agreement could keep the door open for some form of Iranian uranium enrichment (Agence France-Presse IV/Yahoo!News, May 1).

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