Friday, November 04, 2011

Israel Debates Whether to Bomb Iran

Latest update 01:48 04.11.11

International pressure on Iran rising, from media leaks to military exercises

Israel's government and the international community remain divided over whether or not to attack Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

By Amos Harel

It's hard to believe, but for 24 hours there hasn't been a single controversial statement by a single Israeli official regarding the possibility of attacking Iran. Nothing. Nada. Either our politicians finally came to their senses, or they've simply run out of things to say after a week of nonstop talk.

When Israel falls silent, attention turns to what the rest of the world is saying. The most important statement yesterday came from U.S. President Barack Obama. After a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama said the two "agreed on the need to maintain the unprecedented international pressure on Iran to meet its obligations."

To some extent, Obama's statement provides the missing piece of the puzzle of the past few days. His statement must be seen against the background of Wednesday's report by British newspaper The Guardian, which said that London was preparing for a possible military strike on Iran, and of the recent spate of leaks from Israel about a dispute among senior officials over whether the time for such a strike is near.

The picture that is emerging is, in all likelihood, as follows: Israel's government remains divided over whether to attack Iran, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak support the idea in principle. Israel apparently switched to intensive muscle-flexing. It seems that a recent spate of well-publicized activity such as media leaks, was aimed at upping the pressure on Tehran, and above all, on the international community, which will discuss the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran's nuclear program next week.

The threat of Israeli military action increases the chances of the world taking a firm stand on the Iranian issue. It is possible, for instance, that the Security Council will now discuss imposing new, harsher sanctions on Tehran. With this in mind, it's interesting to note that the crude Israeli hints about military action over the past week haven't elicited the slightest objection from either Washington or London.

Yesterday, Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported that Netanyahu had ordered the Shin Bet security service to investigate the recent leaks on the Iranian issue. Somehow, over the last two years, the Kuwaiti press has become the Israeli establishment's preferred channel for leaks on sensitive subjects (including investigations of such leaks ). Indeed, it seems the Prime Minister's Bureau has often been the source of these leaks itself.

So here's a safe bet: Chances are high that the Shin Bet investigation, if it takes place at all, will hit a dead end. The reason is simple. Over the past few weeks, there is virtually not a single senior Israeli official, current or former, who hasn't taken part, whether openly or off the record, in media discussions about Iran. So, if Netanyahu really wants to delve into the matter, he's liable to discover that he needs to fire half his cabinet - possibly even including himself.

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