Barak: Israel shouldn’t think sanctions will stop Iran

A guard discourages visitors from approaching Iran's atomic reactor at Bushehr. (Fars)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—Defense Minister Ehud Barak told an Independence Day reception that Israel has no reason to believe Western sanctions will stop Iran’s race to develop nuclear weapons. He warned that if Iran achieves nuclear armament, a regional race to acquire atomic weapons would follow—one that might be won by terrorists.

Barak told the traditional gathering of Israel’s security forces elite that the Islamic Republic’s leadership is “not rational in the Western sense of the word.” He added that one of the worst potential consequences of Tehran’s nuclear program, in addition to its immediate existential threat to Israel, would be spurring Egypt to join the race for nuclear arms.

The defense minister’s remarks came in contrast to a statement earlier in the week by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, who told Haaretz that sanctions on Iran have begun to bear fruit, and although Iran is making progress in its nuclear program, it has yet to make a decision regarding the creation of a nuclear bomb.

Barak told Israel’s top security personnel that “a nuclear Iran will awaken a race toward nuclear armament in the region. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and even the new Egypt will be resigned to join the race, and the countdown to the leaking of information and technology to terror organizations will begin. Dealing with Iran does not lack complexity – dangers and outcomes are unknown to us. However, should the Ayatollah regime obtain a nuclear weapon, it will be a long-term challenge, more challenging and more costly in terms of life and financial resources.”

Barak added that, “Today’s sanctions are harsher than in the past, but the truth should be stated: the chances that such pressure will cause Iran to answer to international demands to halt its program permanently seems low. I am happy to be proven wrong, but according to my evaluations, and they are based on long-term surveillance of Iran’s crooked maneuvers, as well as the historical examples of North Korea and Pakistan.

“The worry of the Iranian leadership is that the international allied supervision will lead to an American, Israeli, or international military operation, which restrains them from taking such a step and causes them to focus on deepening their immunity as a response to the possibility of an attack. We have no reason to believe that immunity will change the mind of the leadership or prevent it from moving toward a nuclear weapon.”

Barak was frank in his assessment of the Islamic Republic’s leadership. “The fact that we are talking about clever and calculated people, who seek to stay in power, and are striving to reach their goals underhandedly and with an idea of the moves and intentions of their rivals, does not make them rational in the Western sense of the word, in other words, a status quo and peaceful solution to the issue. This is not descriptive of the Iranian regime.”

He also explained Israel’s differences of opinion with the United States over how to deal with Iran. “There are certain differences between us in terms of attitude, whose origins lay in clocks that tick at different speeds. That of Israel, whose capabilities are far more limited, ticks faster than that of the United States.

“However, even the American government understands that Israel should be able to defend itself with its own strength and that on topics regarding the basis of the security and future of Israel, and in a certain sense the Jewish people as a whole, Israel and its government alone must come to a decision and take responsibility. The IDF, like the US military, is responsible for building operational capabilities. The political echelon, both here and in Washington, is responsible for taking all things into consideration.”

Gantz’s position received exaggerated international publicity as if he and Netanyahu were in serious disagreement. However, in an interview with Haaretz Gantz displayed a nuanced opinion. Although he described the Iranian leadership as “composed of very rational people,” he believes that Iran has not yet decided to cross the threshold from developing to producing a nuclear weapon and would ultimately bow to international pressure and decide against doing so.

Similarly, it should be remembered, Israel’s civilian leadership has not yet reached a decision whether to order the IDF to make a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Indeed, Gantz also made the observation that other countries are also preparing their armed forces for a potential strike to keep Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told CNN on Tuesday that international sanctions have not changed Iran’s behavior, and that the country continues to enrich uranium, a key step toward developing a weapon. The sanctions “haven’t rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota,” Netanyahu said.