“I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defense minister. I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” said Yuval Diskin, former Israeli intelligence chief in a meeting with residents of the city of Kfar Sava. He was talking about Israel’s policy towards Iran. And he added, “Believe me, I have observed them from up close…They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off.”
Predictably, his strong criticism provoked a strong rebuke from Israel’s leading officials. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, talking to Israel’s Chanel Two television, suggested that Diskin was probably angry at being passed over for the job as head of the Mossad, apparently a last minute decision by Benjamin Netanyahu. Officials in both Netanyahu’s and Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Bark group called Diskin’s comments “irresponsible and motivated from personal frustration.”
Shortly before Diskin’s comments, Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Haaretz that Israel should leave the door open for international negotiations with Iran and indicated that economic sanctions against that country were beginning to bear fruit. And he dismissed the idea that the Iranian leadership is irrational. “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people,” he said. And added, “But I agree that such capability, in the hands of the Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.”
Both Diskin and Gantz’s comments come shortly after Meir Dagan, a former chief of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, declared that attacking Iran was the stupidest thing he ever heard. In an interview with Lesley Stahl from “60 minutes” in March 2012, he indicated also that a military attack could only halt the Iranian nuclear project, not stop it, particularly considering that Iran has dozens of nuclear facilities dispersed across the country.
Dagan, as well as other Israeli leaders believes that there is still time for negotiation, a position clearly at odds with Netanyahu’s, who insists that Iran represents an “existential threat” to Israel. Netanyahu’s position disregards the obvious US support for Israel in case of conflict with Iran.
Criticism of Netanyahu is not limited to military officials. Speaking last Sunday at a Jerusalem Post conference in New York City, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged Netanyahu not to rush into unilateral action against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. When he was booed loudly by the audience he boldly stated, “As a concerned Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel with his family and all of his children and grandchildren, I love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from the State of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible mistake that will cost lives of Israelis.”
Last November, at a presentation to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Andrew J. Shapiro, Assistant Secretary at the State Department Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, stated the several ways in which the US will help Israel maintain its Qualitative Military Edge over all other regional states, “while sustaining minimal damages or casualties.”
“Israel is a vital ally and serves as a cornerstone of our regional security commitments. From confronting Iranian aggression, to working together to combat transnational terrorist networks, to stopping nuclear proliferation and supporting democratic change and economic development in the region – it is clear that both our strategic outlook, as well as our national interests are strongly in sync,” he said.
It is evident to many that negotiations with Iran should continue apace. That is Catherine Ashton’s position. As the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, she has considerable input on this issue. She invited Iran to continue previous talks and the first meeting of Iran with the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) which took place in Istanbul on April 14 gave reason for optimism. Ashton called the discussions with the Iranians “constructive and useful.” Both sides agreed to continue the Istanbul meeting with a meeting in Baghdad on 23 May.
Netanyahu has long been critical of any talks between Iran and the international community, a position on which he is becoming increasingly isolated. The stakes are too high to pursue a policy of confrontation. Not only the region but the whole world should be spared the consequences of his intolerance.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.