Stout refutation of reported disagreements over the military option against Iran’s nuclear program between the US and Israel, and himself and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, took up most of a long radio interview given by Defense Minister Ehud Barak Thursday, Aug. 9. He explained that US and Israeli intelligence essentially see eye to eye on this matter and so do he and the prime minister.
Barak referred to the new US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran as confirming that both capitals understand that not much time is left for making decision on whether or not to go on the offensive against Iran’s nuclear facilities and when, because, he said, “a nuclear Iran is taking shape right before our eyes.”
Defense Minister Barak’s key remark was this: “I am aware of an American intelligence finding (not the new National Intelligence Estimate) that brings American intelligence assessments [of the current state of the Iranian nuclear program] very close to ours. This makes the Iranian question [i.e., the issue of the Iranian nuclear program and a possible military operation against it] extremely urgent,” he said without further explanation.
Barak disclosed that the US and Israel have been essentially of one mind for many months in their estimates of Iranian nuclear progress and the factors holding Tehran back from starting to build a nuclear bomb. All options therefore remain on the table, he stressed.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources add: American-Israeli talks about a military operation against Iran wound up months ago in early 2012. The administration was made aware that notwithstanding President Barack Obama’s objections, Israel would soon go into action against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
This presumption has been adopted as their working hypothesis by the top US command echelons, from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and down to the head of the US Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, who has both Israel and Iran in his jurisdiction.
Barak stressed that he and the prime minister are in total harmony on this issue. “What we (the prime minister and I, and the Americans) understand is that there is not much time left for deciding [about an attack on Iran]”
He referred in answer to a question to the comment by former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy made last week: “if I were an Iranian, I would be very worried in the next twelve weeks.”
To this, Barak said “There is some basis to what Halevy said.” He added: “We will soon have to make some difficult decisions.”
As to the public disputes over the media on the wisdom of attacking Iran, the defense minister said some of the debates and public disclosures not only harm Israel’s security but actually aid Tehran.
The price of allowing Iran to attain a nuclear weapon will be much greater than the cost of an attack. It is already happening, said the Israeli minister. “And we must take into account the dangers and the very steep price in human life and in resources, if Iran goes nuclear. First, we must consider the outcome of first Saudi Arabia, then Turkey, and then the New Egypt becoming nuclear powers in their turn.”
Asked about an unattributed report Thursday that Saudi Arabia had sent a message to the Obama administration threatening to intercept any Israeli bomber planes using its air space to strike Iran, Barak replied he was not familiar with any such message. But, he said, Saudi Arabia is a sovereign state and makes its own decisions like any other country.
He went on to warn that another consequence of Iran’s nuclearization would be the strengthening of terrorist elements in the region, such as Tehran’s proxy, the Lebanese Hizballah.
At the same time, Barak also said: It’s quite possible that we may have to deal with Hizballah anyway.”
This was taken by DEBKAfile’s sources as suggesting that Hizballah is a rising menace – both because of its support for Bashar Assad in the civil war and for performing Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks on Israelis in different parts of the world.
In discussing the situation in Egypt and Sinai-based jihadist terror, Defense Minister Barak asserted his confidence that Egypt is capable of dealing with it. “But I can’t say whether it has the will to do so,” he added.
For more than a year since Mubarak’s overthrow, “Israel has been readjusting its military and intelligence resources in the areas abutting Egypt and Sinai,” he said. “We have deployed an Iron Dome missile interceptor battery near Eilat in case it becomes necessary in that sector.”
Barak did not elaborate upon what he expects to happen in the Eilat sector, which is the southernmost point on the Israeli map, or against whom the missile defense system was deployed.
He did offer a prediction on Syria, estimating that quite soon “we would see Syrian President Bashar Assad hunkering down with his army in a fortified Alawite enclave” encompassing the Syrian coast and the Alawite Mountains.
“The longer the war in Syria drags on,” he said, “the greater the prospects of total chaos.”
The defense minister underlined the importance of attempts to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians as quickly as possible. He cited the growing strength of Hamas and its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in other Arab countries as lending urgency to the revival of the peace process.
“On this issue, time is not on our side,” he said. “But if progress proves evasive, both of us [Israel and the Palestinians] may be faced with having to perform certain mutually-agreed unilateral measures.”
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