Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that he did not believe that Israel or the US had a viable military plan to strike Iran’s nuclear program and called the American decision to leave the nuclear deal without one “delusional.”
Writing in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily as nuclear talks in Vienna hit another snag, Barak said that the US pulling out of the original deal “was a delusional decision that allowed the Iranians to move forward quickly in the direction of becoming a nuclear threshold state.”
This mistake was then compounded by Israel failing to put together with the US a “Plan B in the form of a surgical military operation,” he wrote.
“I say with caution that it is not certain that Israel, nor the United States, currently has a viable practical plan, according to which, if you give the order you will wake up in the morning and Iran is three years away from nuclear weapons again,” he later told Channel 12 news.
Over the past decade, Iran has greatly complicated any military operation by scattering its nuclear sites and hiding some deep underground. Israeli officials insist military action is still feasible.
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The negotiations seek to revive the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers. That agreement, spearheaded by then-US president Barack Obama, granted Iran relief from crippling sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
But three years later, then-US president Donald Trump, with strong encouragement from then-Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, withdrew from the deal, causing it to unravel. Since then, Iran has stepped up its nuclear activities — amassing a stockpile of highly enriched uranium that goes well beyond the bounds of the accord.
US President Donald Trump (right) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to Trump’s departure to Rome at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2017. (Kobi Gideon / GPO via Flash90)
Barak, who reportedly favored a military strike when he served as Netanyahu’s defense minister early last decade, put the blame squarely on Netanyahu, who was prime minister for the last decade until being voted out in March.
“In 2015 they made a historic mistake. The agreement was terrible and that is not a secret. But from the moment it was signed it became a fact, we can’t live in a fantasy,” Barak said.
“Once it was signed then leaving it was worse than continuing and in any case, plans need to be prepared in case the Iranians decided to break out,” he said.
“Once again in 2018, the Israeli prime minister urged the US president to take the delusional step of withdrawing from the agreement; only the US withdraws from the agreement and everyone else remains,” he said.
Barak also urged the current Israeli government to keep its dealings with the Americans “behind closed doors and not in a direct conversation with the public.”
“These are things that create doubts about the seriousness of some of the things that are heard,” Barak said, noting that “the chances of getting the US to use force against Iran today are almost zero.”
An Israeli F-15 fighter jet escorts an American B-1b heavy bomber through Israeli airspace, on October 30, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
“If there is any chance to influence their stance things it is not with public statements,” he said.
Israel has been speaking publicly against efforts to reenter the nuclear deal.
“I call on every country negotiating with Iran in Vienna to take a strong line and make it clear to Iran that they cannot enrich uranium and negotiate at the same time,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting. “Iran must begin to pay a price for its violations.”
Bennett said Israel was using the time between rounds to persuade the Americans to “use a different toolkit” against Iran’s nuclear program, without elaborating.
Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, delivered an uncharacteristically blunt message Sunday as he welcomed the new American ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides.
“If the international community does not take a vigorous stance on this issue, Israel will do so. Israel will protect itself,” Herzog said.
Its plans have also leaked to the media.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Mossad chief David Barnea will push during their meetings this week in Washington with senior Biden administration officials for the United States to carry out a military strike on Iranian targets, Israel’s three main TV news broadcasts reported Sunday night.
According to the reports, which did not cite sources, Gantz and Barnea will urge their American interlocutors to develop a “Plan B” vis-a-vis Iran, seeing the stalled nuclear talks in Vienna as an opportunity to press the US to take a more aggressive stance toward the Islamic Republic.
Channel 12 news said the target of a US potential attack would be not a nuclear facility in Iran, but rather a site like an Iranian base in Yemen. The aim of such a strike would be to convince the Iranians to soften their positions at the negotiating table.
The network also said Barnea is expected to say that Israel must continue taking action against Iran’s nuclear program, noting alleged Israeli operations against Iranian targets. Recent reports have said America has warned Israel that these strikes are counterproductive, with Iran building back improved facilities after each setback.
Along with calling for tougher sanctions, the Israelis will reportedly ask the US to take military action against Iran.