“Have the prime minister and defense minister sealed a deal between them, one on one, to attack the nuclear reactors in Iran?” So asks Nahum Barnea, commonly described as Israel’s senior and most respected political journalist, in an article leading the top of the front page of today’s Yediot Ahronot. He writes that growing rumors to that effect have created a quiet but urgent buzz within Israel’s political and military elites. They’re also troubling foreign governments, which “have a hard time understanding what is going on here”: a fateful decision that could “seal the fate of the Jewish state” for good or ill, and yet near-total silence on the topic in the public arena.
Barnea writes that the question of whether or not to attack divides Israel’s leadership into four camps. One camp says the benefits would be slim and the risks “insane,” given Iran’s ability to bombard Israel with deadly missiles from Lebanon, Gaza and Iran itself and touch off a regional war “that could destroy the state of Israel.” This camp says it’s better to focus on international sanctions, bearing in mind that if they fail and Iran does acquire nuclear weapons, “it won’t be the end of the world” — while an Israeli attack just might be.
The second camp says there’s no rush. Iran is still at least two years away from a weapon, which leaves plenty of time to let other options play out, reserving a military attack as an absolute last resort. Barnea quotes a senior American diplomat who told him Israel should back renewed negotiations on international inspections. If and when Iran turns out to be lying, an Israeli attack will have a lot more international understanding and support, which could be crucial in determining how well Israel survives the ensuing onslaught. Some Israeli cabinet ministers subscribe to this view, and suspect that the growing pressure for an immediate attack stems from “outside motives, whether personal or political.” More on that later.