Wonders never cease. Ehud Barak, Israeli defense minister, gave a Rosh Hashana interview to Yediot Achronot in which he took a major detour off the government reservation. He said, according to the N.Y. Times report, even if Iran gained nuclear weapons it would not be an existential threat to Israel:
A nuclear-armed Iran would not be capable of destroying Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday in remarks that departed from long-running Israeli arguments about the threat posed by its foe.”Right now, Iran does not have a bomb. Even if it did, this would not make it a threat to Israel’s existence. Israel can lay waste to Iran,” Barak said in a transcript of a newspaper interview obtained by Reuters before publication Friday.
…”I don’t think we are on the brink of a new Holocaust.”
…”Now is the time for a diplomatic effort and toughened-up sanctions.”
It goes without saying that this negates Bibi “1938” Netanyahu’s repeated claims that a nuclear Iran means a future Holocaust, or Shimon Peres’s far-fetched claim that an Iranian bomb would be a “flying Holocaust.” But even more oddly, Barak’s interview directly contradicts his own past statements (and headlines) on the matter:
* Ehud Barak warns Iran of possible Israeli strike on nuclear
* “A nuclear Iran is without a doubt the main threat to world order and may lead to mass nuclear proliferation in the entire Middle East. Iran may become an existential threat to Israel.”
* “Should Iran obtain nuclear weapons, the sense of security among elements that are affiliated with (the Islamic Republic) will increase immensely, and this will lead to the collapse of the non-proliferation regime and the struggle against nuclear armament in the region.”
* “Firm and forceful sanctions need to be imposed on the Iranian regime, and there needs to be willingness to consider other options…
*Barak: Iran is a threat to entire world
Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this. Barak is deliberately sticking a finger in Bibi’s eye. Perhaps he’s currying favor with the Americans who certainly want to cool down the temperature in the Middle East and have just announced the start of diplomatic talks with Iran. Perhaps he merely wants to set himself and Labor apart from the Likud position on Iran (though this seems unlikely since the government has ginned up so much fear of Iran that most Israelis quake with fear and rage at the mere mention of the name Ahmadinejad. Perhaps (has v’halila) he’s saying something he actually believes or some combination of all of the above. But anyone who follows Barak knows that he almost never says what he really believes. Or if he does, he’s said so many contradictory things on every issue that no one can tell what he really believes. If it’s possible, he’s even more of a cynical opportunist than Bibi. With the two of them, the leopard CAN actually change his spots…repeatedly.
Yediot asked Bibi for his reply to Barak’s interview and it too was a stunner:
“I know that we see eye to eye on this challenge”…
Media analysts and my friend Sol Sable all believe that Barak’s statements are a portent of a sea change in Israeli policy. Sol quotes from Israel’s Inyan Merkazi:
“Barak’s admission represents a turning point in Israel’s official stance. For the first time, it is public admitting that it has accepted the new and irreversible reality that Iran will possess a nuclear capacity. The powers that be in Israel understand that without the assent and cooperation of the United States Israel does not have a military option. On one hand an aerial bombardment will not solve the problem, on the other hand it would place Israel in a double jeopardy.
“Unlike Iraq’s weak-kneed response in 1981 when its reactor was bombed, Iran will respond militarily and powerfully. In addition the world at large will not accept such an attack and will not go to the order of the day [battle stations]. Israel was warned during the Bush era not to launch unnecessary adventures and the situation is even more complicated in the Obama era.”
I’d like to believe this is the case. Israel’s government has been known at times, though rarely, to have the capacity to be pragmatic. Perhaps realists within the governing coalition have decided to give Obama a few months to pursue the negotiation route assuming that when it fails they can return to a military option.
But my gut tells me that an entire government doesn’t spend millions of man-hours and treasure over months and years, doggedly pursuing such a hardline position on Iran, only to give it up at the first mention of negotiations from Barack Obama. There has to be something more to it.