(NEW YORK) MintPress — It was a stunning and very public attack on the Israeli leadership by the former head of the country’s domestic intelligence agency: Yuval Diskin, who stepped down as Shin Bet chief last year, asserted at a forum in Kfar Saba over the weekend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are “misleading” the public on the Iranian nuclear issue.
Referring to the leaders as “our two Messiahs,” Diskin said they present “a false view to the public on the Iranian bomb, as though acting against Iran would prevent a nuclear bomb.” But attacking Iran, he continued, “will encourage them to develop a bomb all the faster.”
Netanyahu, who is also Chairman of the center-right Likud Party, and Barak have often said Iran has to be stopped from building nuclear weapons and have not ruled out military action in order to do so. Iran for its part says its nuclear program is being used to produce electricity and is for peaceful purposes only.
Divisions within the government
Diskin’s condemnation of the Israeli leadership is not the only time officials in the military and intelligence communities have criticized Netanyahu’s threats to attack Iran.
In fact, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday at a conference hosted by The Jerusalem Post in New York that diplomacy is the best tactic. “There is enough time to try different avenues of pressure to change the balance of power with Iran without the need for a direct military confrontation with Iran and now is not the right time,” he asserted.
“I’m not certain that when we speak loudly it is more helpful than when we speak privately and quietly with the leadership of those countries,” Olmert continued.
Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz also said in an interview published on April 25 that he believed international sanctions against Iran were dissuading it from making the decision to build an atomic bomb. And in March, Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, said on U.S. television that an attack on Iran would have “devastating” consequences for the Jewish state and would not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Dagan’s remarks came after Netanyahu suggested he would not wait long before taking direct action against Iran’s nuclear program if other options failed. Although he said he hoped “we can peacefully convince them to tear down their nuclear program,” he also maintained that if not, “the result has to be that the threat of a nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands is removed.”
At the same time, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, Dan Meridor, acknowledged in a recent interview that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never actually said that Israel “must be wiped off the map,” as Israeli leaders asserted he did in a 2005 speech at a “World Without Zionism” conference.
In answering a question about the incident, Meridor revealed that Ahmadinejad and Iran’s ruling cleric Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that “Israel is an unnatural creature, it will not survive. They didn’t say, ‘We’ll wipe it out,’ you’re right, but, ‘It will not survive.’ ”
Iran’s intentions questioned
After the West in 2009 revealed the existence of Iran’s underground plant at Fordow, outside the holy city of Qom in northern Iran and 250 feet beneath mountain rock, Tehran said that it would be used for the production of low enriched uranium. Iran later said it was for research and development purposes.
All of which has observers concerned. “That Iran was caught building the Fordow plant in secret, and since Iran has subsequently changed the DIQ (Design Information Questionnaire) for this facility three times, raises concerns that the plant was built in order to provide Iran with the ability to quickly and securely make highly enriched uranium in the event of a breakout to make nuclear weapons,” wrote the Institute for Science and International Security in a February report.
The plant is under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, meaning that any attempt to enhance its existing supply of enriched uranium to weapons grade would immediately be noticed by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
Still, observers contend that having a well-fortified underground enrichment facility makes it easier for Iran to make a bomb should it decide to.
Iran, however, has little intention of shutting it down. “The …request for the suspension of activities at the Fordow site is unreasonable, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereidoun Abbasi, told the Iran Student News Agency.
Nuclear talks to resume
On Monday, Iran’s ambassador to the Vienna-based IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said that he hoped talks in mid-May would lead to a resolution but ruled out any halt to the uranium enrichment program.
The IAEA said on Saturday that it would continue discussions with Tehran on May 14-15, more than two months after the last meeting ended in failure.
“We hope this will be a very constructive and successful meeting,” said Soltanieh. “The main purpose is to negotiate on a modality and framework to resolve outstanding issues and remove ambiguities.”
He also suggested that only after agreement on such a “framework” for future cooperation would Tehran consider an IAEA request for access to a military site in Parchin, southeast of Tehran, where the U.N. agency believes nuclear-related weapons research may have been conducted.
Reaction to remarks
Meanwhile, in an op-ed piece published on Monday in Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, the writer said Israelis are stuck between a rock and a hard place. “What should we do with this?” he wrote in reference to Diskin’s comments.
“The sad truth is that there’s nothing we can do with it. We are helplessly caught between the fear that Netanyahu is drumming into us, of a holocaust perpetrated against us by Iran, and the fear that Diskin and Dagan are drumming into us, of a holocaust perpetrated against us by
It’s not clear just what Netanyahu can, and will, do either, given the political constraints posed by an increasingly divided society.