Israel sees choice as ‘bombing or bomb’

July 2, 2012


— A popular new slogan making the rounds among government ministers here is that in dealing with Iran, Israel faces a decision between “bombing or the bomb.” In other words, if Israel doesn’t attack, Iran will eventually obtain nuclear weapons.

This stark choice sums up the mood among top officials of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: It’s clear that Israel’s military option is still very much on the table, despite the success of economic sanctions in forcing Iran into negotiations.

“It’s not a bluff, they’re serious about it,” says Efraim Halevy, a former head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. A half-dozen other experts and officials made the same point in interviews last week: The world shouldn’t relax and assume that a showdown with Iran has been postponed until next year. Here, the alarm light is still flashing red.

Israeli leaders have been warning the Obama administration that the heat isn’t off for 2012. When a senior Israeli politician visited Washington recently and was advised that the mood was calmer than in the spring, the Israeli cautioned that the Netanyahu government hadn’t changed its position “one iota.”

The negotiations with Iran by the group of leading nations known as the “P5+1,” rather than easing Israel’s anxieties, may actually have deepened them. That’s not just because Netanyahu thinks the Iranians are stalling. He fears that even if negotiators won their demand that Iran stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, and export its stockpile of fuel already enriched to that level, this would still leave more than 6,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium that, within a year or less, could be augmented to bomb-grade material.

Netanyahu wants to turn back the Iranian nuclear clock, by shipping out all the enriched uranium. And if negotiations can’t achieve this, he may be ready to try by military means.

The numbers game on enrichment reveals a deeper difference: For President Obama, the trigger for military action would be a “breakout” decision by Iran’s supreme leader to go for a bomb, something he hasn’t yet done. For Netanyahu, the red line is preventing Iran from ever reaching “threshold” capability where it could contemplate a breakout. He isn’t comfortable with letting Tehran have the enrichment capability that could be used to make a bomb, even under a nominally peaceful program.

Netanyahu sees his country’s very existence at stake, and he’s prepared for Israel to go it alone because he’s unwilling to entrust the survival of the Jewish state to others. But some Israeli experts, including several key supporters of his government, don’t like this “existential” rhetoric warning of another Holocaust, arguing that it nullifies Israel’s defense capabilities and deterrence.

Though most members of Netanyahu’s government would probably support him, there are some subtle nuances of opinion. U.S. officials say Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s focus is stopping Iran before it enters a “zone of immunity” when it begins full operation of centrifuges buried under a mountain near Qom. Iran probably will enter this zone sometime later this year. As Israeli officials have put it, the deadline for action “is not a matter of weeks, but it’s not a matter of years, either.”

American officials think Barak may also be more willing than Netanyahu to accept a deal in which Iran retains some modest enrichment capability — and can save face by saying it hasn’t compromised its rights as a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty — but can’t accumulate enough material to make a bomb.

While I understand Netanyahu’s concerns, I think an Israeli attack could be counterproductive. It would shatter the international coalition against Iran, collapse the sanctions program when it is starting to bite, and trigger consequences that cannot be predicted, especially during a time of sweeping change in the Middle East.

Before he rolls the dice, Netanyahu should recall the shattering experience of Menachem Begin, a prime minister no less devoted to Israel, who was haunted in his final days in office by the sense that his invasion of Lebanon in 1982, intended to protect Israel’s security, had been a mistake. The potential costs and benefits of an attack on Iran are unknowable, but for better or worse, it would be, as Halevy says, “an event that would affect the course of this century.”

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.    


jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

I don't believe that Germans who weren't born yet during the Holocaust bear any guilt for it.

And, yes, disallowing various sorts of political groups and affiliations is a limitation on several rights that we hold to be important in this country. It's being done in an attempt to prevent another Holocaust, I would imagine.

Unfortunately, stopping people from saying things doesn't stop them from believing them.

And, the same forces that operated during HItler's reign in Germany continue to operate around the world today, in a number of places, including this country. You can see it easily in our own political arena, where demonizing one's opponent has become the norm.

I mention the present when discussing responsibility and the possibility of solutions, since we can't go back and undo the past. That doesn't mean that the past should just be ignored, since it's often part of how the present situation developed, and solutions may need to include some sort of understanding of that.

For example, it's unlikely that we could improve relations between black and white folks in this country without understanding how slavery affected both of those communities, and continues to affect them today.


Crazy_Larry 1 year, 9 months ago

Why is Israel there in the first place? Oh yeah, because of a fairytale.


KansasLiberal 1 year, 9 months ago

Countries don't build nuclear weapons programs with the intention of using them. Countries build nukes so that they can have a seat at the bargaining table. Once Iran has nuclear weapons the Middle East will be a much more peaceful place.


oldbaldguy 1 year, 9 months ago

I have worked with Israeli military and intel types in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Very competent and first class a-holes as in arrogant. Iran is not going to bomb Israel. Attacking Iran will be the dumbest thing they or we can do. Continue the covert operation and let the Iranian pople take care of this, which they will do eventually.


Gotland 1 year, 9 months ago

An Israeli false flag operation is a bigger threat the US than Iran.


Abdu Omar 1 year, 9 months ago

If it felt some kind of threat they are projecting it themselves. They have the best military support in the world, they are armed by the USA. the are aggressive in protecting their borders, What threat do they have? This is only a means to gain more land and it is obvious to many that this is their primary goal.


Flap Doodle 1 year, 9 months ago

"What threats does Israel feel?..." For examples see the history of the Middle East for the past 70 years or so.


Abdu Omar 1 year, 9 months ago

What threats does Israel feel? A few off handed remarks made by an incompetent leader? This is a foolish article when you consider that if any country in the world uses atomic weapons, against another, it will be blown off the map. It isn't reasonable that Iran would attack Israel. What would be the purpose? To retaliate for the Palestinians? To get zionism gone? Don't you think that if Iran attacks Israel, their existence is in the balance. This notion of nuclear armed Iran deals with one issue and it is the foolishness of the Israelis that make it so:

Israel is not finished acquiring land. They want to make their empire what their flag represents, the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. This encompasses all of Lebanon, all of Syria, most of Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. First are there that many Jews to fill that much land. And what need do they have of that land? They took Palestine, let them be at peace and remain in what they have.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 9 months ago

"Netanyahu sees his country’s very existence at stake, and he’s prepared for Israel to go it alone because he’s unwilling to entrust the survival of the Jewish state to others."

Does that mean he'll be rejecting the $3 billion in aid that he gets from US taxpayers every year?

(and the true amount is almost certainly much greater than that.)


Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 9 months ago

Osirak, June 7, 1981.

"American and coalition forces may have faced a nuclear-armed Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and again during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, had Israel not destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981.

The attack, codenamed “Operation Opera,” surprised the Iraqis and the rest of the world, though for Israel it had long been in planning. It was only after the failures on the diplomatic front, and the consultation of military and intelligence experts with Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s cabinet, that Israel chose to go ahead with the attack on the Iraqi reactor."

Clipped from:

"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

  • Karl Marx

Commenting has been disabled for this item.