Will Israel Attack ? Iran
By RONEN BERGMAN
When I mentioned to Barak the opinion voiced by the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and the former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi — that the Iranian threat was not as imminent as he and Netanyahu have suggested and that a military strike would be catastrophic (and that they, Barak and Netanyahu, were cynically looking to score populist points at the expense of national security), Barak reacted with uncharacteristic anger. He and Netanyahu, he said, are responsible “in a very direct and concrete way for the existence of the State of Israel — indeed, for the future of the Jewish people.” As for the top-ranking military personnel with whom I’ve spoken who argued that an attack on
Netanyahu and Barak have both repeatedly stressed that a decision has not yet been made and that a deadline for making one has not been set. As we spoke, however, Barak laid out three categories of questions, which he characterized as “
3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of
For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of
At various points in our conversation, Barak underscored that if Israel or the rest of the world waits too long, the moment will arrive — sometime in the coming year, he says — beyond which it will no longer be possible to act. “It will not be possible to use any surgical means to bring about a significant delay,” he said. “Not for us, not for Europe and not for the
For years, Israeli and American intelligence agencies assumed that if
But the Russians weren’t
That secret path was
Despite the discovery of the Natanz site and the international sanctions that followed, Israeli intelligence reported in early 2004 that
At a number of secret meetings with
From 2005 onward, various intelligence arms and the U.S. Treasury, working together with the Mossad, began a worldwide campaign to locate and sabotage the financial underpinnings of the Iranian nuclear project. The Mossad provided the Americans with information on Iranian firms that served as fronts for the country’s nuclear acquisitions and financial institutions that assisted in the financing of terrorist organizations, as well as a banking front established by
In addition to these interventions, as well as to efforts to disrupt the supply of nuclear materials to
In January 2007, several insulation units in the connecting fixtures of the centrifuges, which were purchased from a middleman on the black market in
Of all the covert operations, the most controversial have been the assassinations of Iranian scientists working on the nuclear project. In January 2007, Dr. Ardeshir Husseinpour, a 44-year-old nuclear scientist working at the
Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a particle physicist, was killed in January 2010, when a booby-trapped motorcycle parked nearby exploded as he was getting into his car. (Some contend that Mohammadi was not killed by the Mossad, but by Iranian agents because of his supposed support for the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi.) Later that year, on Nov. 29, a manhunt took place in the streets of
This past July, a motorcyclist ambushed Darioush Rezaei Nejad, a nuclear physicist and a researcher for
Four months later, in November, a huge explosion occurred at a Revolutionary Guards base 30 miles west of
Just this month, on Jan. 11, two years after his colleague and friend Massoud Ali Mohammadi was killed, a deputy director at the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility named Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan left his home and headed for a laboratory in downtown
Israelis cannot enter
Meir Dagan, while not taking credit for the assassinations, has praised the hits against Iranian scientists attributed to the Mossad, saying that beyond “the removal of important brains” from the project, the killings have brought about what is referred to in the Mossad as white defection — in other words, the Iranian scientists are so frightened that many have requested to be transferred to civilian projects. “There is no doubt,” a former top Mossad official told me over breakfast on Jan. 11, just a few hours after news of Ahmadi-Roshan’s assassination came from Tehran, “that being a scientist in a prestigious nuclear project that is generously financed by the state carries with it advantages like status, advancement, research budgets and fat salaries. On the other hand, when a scientist — one who is not a trained soldier or used to facing life-threatening situations, who has a wife and children — watches his colleagues being bumped off one after the other, he definitely begins to fear that the day will come when a man on a motorbike knocks on his car window.”
As we spoke, a man approached and, having recognized me as a journalist who reports on these issues, apologized before asking: “When is the war going to break out? When will the Iranians bomb us?” The Mossad official smiled as I tried to reassure the man that we wouldn’t be nuked tomorrow. Similar scenes occur almost every day — Israelis watch the news, have heard that bomb shelters are being prepared, know that Israel test-fired a missile into the sea two months ago — and a kind of panic has begun to overtake Israeli society, anxiety that missiles will start raining down soon.
Dagan believes that his five-fronts strategy has succeeded in significantly delaying
Barak and Netanyahu are less convinced of the Mossad’s long-term success. From the beginning of their terms (Barak as defense minister in June 2007, Netanyahu as prime minister in March 2009), they have held the opinion that Israel must have a military option ready in case covert efforts fail. Barak ordered extensive military preparations for an attack on
The attack was successful, but a year later the damage was repaired and further sabotage efforts were thwarted. The project advanced until late in 1980, when it was discovered that a shipment of fuel rods containing enriched uranium had been sent from France to Baghdad, and they were about to be fed into the reactor’s core.
Similarly, Dagan’s critics say, the Iranians have managed to overcome most setbacks and to replace the slain scientists. According to latest intelligence,
Barak serves as the senior Israeli representative in the complex dialogue with the
“From our point of view,” Barak said, “a nuclear state offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. Imagine if we enter another military confrontation with Hezbollah, which has over 50,000 rockets that threaten the whole area of
At that point Barak leaned forward and said with the utmost solemnity: “And if a nuclear
He warned that no more than one year remains to stop
Many European analysts and some intelligence agencies have in the past responded to
For their part, the Israelis suspect that the Obama administration has abandoned any aggressive strategy that would ensure the prevention of a nuclear
“I fail to grasp the Americans’ logic,” a senior Israeli intelligence source told me. “If someone says we’ll stop them from getting there by praying for more glitches in the centrifuges, I understand. If someone says we must attack soon to stop them, I get it. But if someone says we’ll stop them after they are already there, that I do not understand.”
Over the past year, Western intelligence agencies, in particular the C.I.A., have moved closer to
Now that the facts have been largely agreed upon, the arguments Ya’alon anticipates are those that will stem from the question of how to act — and what will happen if
Matthew Kroenig is the Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and worked as a special adviser in the Pentagon from July 2010 to July 2011. One of his tasks was defense policy and strategy on
In June 2007, I met with a former director of the Mossad, Meir Amit, who handed me a document stamped, “Top secret, for your eyes only.” Amit wanted to demonstrate the complexity of the relations between the
Almost 45 years ago, on May 25, 1967, in the midst of the international crisis that precipitated the Six-Day War, Amit, then head of the Mossad, summoned John Hadden, the C.I.A. chief in Tel Aviv, to an urgent meeting at his home. The meeting took place against the background of the mounting tensions in the Middle East, the concentration of a massive Egyptian force in the
In what he later described as “the most difficult meeting I have ever had with a representative of a foreign intelligence service,” Amit laid out
Amit: “We are approaching a turning point that is more important for you than it is for us. After all, you people know everything. We are in a grave situation, and I believe we have reached it, because we have not acted yet. . . . Personally, I am sorry that we did not react immediately. It is possible that we may have broken some rules if we had, but the outcome would have been to your benefit. I was in favor of acting. We should have struck before the build-up.”
Hadden: “That would have brought
Amit: “You are wrong. . . . We have now reached a new stage, after the expulsion of the U.N. inspectors. You should know that it’s your problem, not ours.”
Hadden: “Help us by giving us a good reason to come in on your side. Get them to fire at something, a ship, for example.”
Amit: “That is not the point.”
Hadden: “If you attack, the
Amit: “I can’t believe what I am hearing.”
Hadden: “Do not surprise us.”
Amit: “Surprise is one of the secrets of success.”
Hadden: “I don’t know what the significance of American aid is for you.”
Amit: “It isn’t aid for us, it is for yourselves.”
That ill-tempered meeting, and Hadden’s threats, encouraged the Israeli security cabinet to ban the military from carrying out an immediate assault against the Egyptian troops in the Sinai, although they were perceived as a grave threat to the existence of
From this exchange, Amit concluded that the
Amit handed me the minutes of that conversation from the same armchair that he sat in during his meeting with Hadden. It is striking how that dialogue anticipated the one now under way between
During my lengthy conversation with Barak, I pulled out the transcript of the Amit-Hadden meeting. Amit was his commander when Barak was a young officer, in a unit that carried out commando raids deep inside enemy territory. Barak, a history buff, smiled at the comparison, and then he completely rejected it. “Relations with the
In our conversation on Jan. 18, Ya’alon, the deputy prime minister, was sharp in his criticism of the international community’s stance on
Ehud Barak dislikes this kind of criticism of the
Over the last four years, since Barak was appointed minister of defense, the Israeli military has prepared in unprecedented ways for a strike against
On the operational level, any attack would be extremely complex.
In the end, a successful attack would not eliminate the knowledge possessed by the project’s scientists, and it is possible that
The proponents of an attack argue that the problems delineated above, including missiles from Iran and Lebanon and terror attacks abroad, are ones Israel will have to deal with regardless of whether it attacks Iran now — and if Iran goes nuclear, dealing with these problems will become far more difficult.
The Israeli Air Force is where most of the preparations are taking place. It maintains planes with the long-range capacity required to deliver ordnance to targets in
In January 2010, the Mossad sent a hit team to
We were told to congregate in the parking lot of a movie-theater complex north of Tel Aviv, where we were warned by Mossad security personnel, “Do not bring computers, recording devices, cellphones. You will be carefully searched, and we want to avoid unpleasantness. Leave everything in your cars and enter our vehicles carrying only paper and pens.” We were then loaded into cars with opaque windows and escorted by black Jeeps to a site that we knew was not marked on any map. The cars went through a series of security checks, requiring our escorts to explain who we were and show paperwork at each roadblock.
This was the first time in the history of the Mossad that a group of journalists was invited to meet the director of the organization at one of the country’s most secret sites. After the search was performed and we were seated, the outgoing chief entered the room. Dagan, who was wounded twice in combat, once seriously, during the Six-Day War, started by saying: “There are advantages to being wounded in the back. You have a doctor’s certificate that you have a backbone.” He then went into a discourse about
“The use of state violence has intolerable costs,” he said. “The working assumption that it is possible to totally halt the Iranian nuclear project by means of a military attack is incorrect. There is no such military capability. It is possible to cause a delay, but even that would only be for a limited period of time.”
He warned that attacking
Asked if he had said these things to
In later conversations Dagan criticized Netanyahu and Barak, and in a lecture at
In the audience at that lecture was Rafi Eitan, 85, one of the Mossad’s most seasoned and well-known operatives. Eitan agreed with Dagan that
Asked if it was possible to stop a determined
Israeli law stipulates that only the 14 members of the security cabinet have the authority to make decisions on whether to go to war. The cabinet has not yet been asked to vote, but the ministers might, under pressure from Netanyahu and Barak, answer these crucial questions about Iran in the affirmative: that these coming months are indeed the last opportunity to attack before Iran enters the “immunity zone”; that the broad international agreement on Iran’s intentions and the failure of sanctions to stop the project have created sufficient legitimacy for an attack; and that Israel does indeed possess the capabilities to cause significant damage to the Iranian project.
In recent weeks, Israelis have obsessively questioned whether Netanyahu and Barak are really planning a strike or if they are just putting up a front to pressure Europe and the
After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that
Editor: Joel Lovell
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 29, 2012
An article on Page 22 this weekend about
January 28, 2012
150 Arrested in Daylong Occupy
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Oakland police say they arrested a total of about 150 people Saturday as protesters spent a portion of the day trying to get into a vacant convention center, and later broke into City Hall and tried to occupy a YMCA.
Police spokesman Jeff Thomason says most of the arrests came around 8 p.m. That's when police took about 100 protesters into custody as they marched through the city's downtown, with some entering a YMCA building.
About 20 demonstrators were arrested earlier in the afternoon, after police say they threw rocks, bottles and other objects at officers and tore down fencing.
Police say three officers were injured. Officers used tear gas and "flash" grenades on the protesters after they refused to leave.
Authorities were still tabulating the exact number of arrests late Saturday.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs