Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently made comments that have fueled speculation about the looming confrontation with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.
In an interview published by the Daily Beast on Friday, Barak was asked if there was any way that Israel could launch a military strike at Iran’s nuclear infrastructure without dragging the United States into a war. He replied:
I don’t see it as a binary kind of situation: either they [the Iranians] turn nuclear or we have a fully fledged war the size of the Iraqi war or even the war in Afghanistan. What we basically say is that if worse comes to worst, there should be a readiness and an ability to launch a surgical operation that will delay them by a significant time frame and probably convince them that it won’t work because the world is determined to block them.
Barak went on to say that the United States has prepared detailed contingency plans: “[T]he Pentagon prepared quite sophisticated, fine, extremely fine, scalpels. So it is not an issue of a major war or a failure to block Iran. You could under a certain situation, if worse comes to worst, end up with a surgical operation.”
This led to speculation, in The New York Times and elsewhere, that Israel might have shelved any plans for a unilateral strike in the immediate future. But a closer reading of Barak’s comments indicate that he is seeking to maintain pressure on Iran to reconsider its nuclear weapons efforts by stressing the feasibility of the U.S. military option.
This might have been prompted by a perceived need to offset the reduced leverage the Obama Administration is likely to wield over Tehran by virtue of public skepticism about the military option voiced by the Administration’s nominees for Secretaries of State and Defense: Senator John Kerry (D–MA) and former Senator Chuck Hagel (R–NE).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today underscored the importance of American leadership in dissuading Iran from continuing on its nuclear path, saying that while Israel could inflict “significant damage” on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, only the U.S. has the military capabilities to impose a halt of Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. Netanyahu also repeated his past warnings that 2013 would be a decisive year in the long-simmering confrontation.
Israel also took unilateral military action today, reportedly to prevent Syria from transferring sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shia Islamist terrorist group. Israeli warplanes attacked a military convoy inside Syria that was transporting SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles that were slated to be transferred to Hezbollah, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.
Israel had previously warned that the transfer of such advanced missiles or chemical weapons to Syria’s Lebanese ally would be a red line that would trigger an Israeli military response. The air strike also underscores that Israel remains poised to take unilateral action if Iran continues to push for a nuclear weapons capability.