Hard to buy Barak’s claim that IDF, ministers tied his hands on Iran strike
When the Boaz Harpaz affair was being investigated by authorities, it became apparent that unlike the tapes recorded by then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, the audio recordings from the office of his superior, then-defense minister Ehud Barak, were destroyed. Experts, analysts, Barak adversaries, and conspiracy theorists claimed that the destruction of those tapes by a man like Barak – who is notoriously cautious and suspicious – was no coincidence.
The state comptroller, the attorney-general, and the police exonerated Barak. They came to the conclusion that the destroying of the tapes was simply a mistake made by Defense Ministry underlings. This time, however, it seems that Barak’s circumspection, cunning, and guile failed him. This past Friday evening, Channel 2 aired audio segments in which the former defense minister is heard explaining why he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not order the IDF to attack Iran.
Barak blames Ashkenazi, his successor, Benny Gantz, as well as ministers Moshe Ya’alon and Yuval Steinitz, all of whom opposed the attack. According to Barak associates, Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, the authors of an upcoming Hebrew-language biography about the former defense minister, violated their subject’s trust. They claim that Barak had agreed to have his interviews recorded in order to expedite the writing process and to make life easier for the authors.
The former defense minister, however, did not consent to having the tape’s content publicly disseminated. When contacted by The Jerusalem Post’s corporate sister Ma’ariv for comment on Barak’s claims, Dor did not respond. Just prior to the Channel 2 report, Barak tried to prevent the airing of the audio clips. He appealed to the military censor, which promptly – and with full justification – rejected his request to bar Channel 2 from airing the story. Once Barak revealed information about secret cabinet discussions to journalists, the question of whether he intended to have his position aired publicly is a secondary one – and it certainly is one that does not concern the censor.
Either way, even if he did not intend for the information to emerge in audio, Barak certainly had every intention to have his point of view known by the public. He is trying to shape the historical narrative by portraying himself as the one who pushed for a strike against Iran, only to have his wish denied by those who were opposed – cabinet ministers and military commanders. According to Barak, Ashkenazi told him in 2010 that the IDF simply did not have the operational capacity to execute an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In 2011, Ashkenazi was replaced by Gantz as chief of staff. Gantz told Barak that the military did indeed have the operational “maturity” for a strike.
While Gantz made it clear that the IDF would carry out any directive issued to it by the civilian leadership, he was convinced that an attack was unnecessary. Barak also said that he was surprised to see ministers Ya’alon and Steinitz “melt” at the last minute after he was led to believe by Netanyahu that the two men supported the plan. Ya’alon and Steinitz instead chose to side with the opposing ministers in the diplomatic cabinet – Dan Meridor and Benny Begin. As a result, Netanyahu and Barak were left without the necessary majority for approval of an attack. A year later, Barak and Netanyahu tried once again to convince the cabinet to approve an attack plan. This time, however, it was weather considerations that proved to be an obstacle. Israel had only two “windows of opportunity” to attack, but none of them were exploited due to external factors. There was a large-scale military drill with the US military from May to July and there was also the upcoming US presidential election in November 2012.
Barak’s comments should not be construed as absolute truth. They are just one version of events – one among others that have not been aired publicly, like that of former Mossad director Meir Dagan, and those of Gantz and Ashkenazi. Dagan and Ashkenazi have already hinted in the past that Netanyahu and Barak acted manipulatively on the Iran issue. There was one claim, which was first reported by Ma’ariv, according to which Barak told the cabinet that he was personally told by then-CIA chief Leon Panetta that the Obama administration had reversed its opposition to an Israeli strike against Iran.
When the Americans were informed of Barak’s claim, they were furious. They then sent a special emissary to Israel with the exact protocol of the Panetta-Barak conversation in question. Barak and Netanyahu tried to get the chief of staff to “get the system activated” – the significance of which is mobilization of the reserves and ordering the air force, intelligence services, and home front authorities to undertake a number of preemptive measures. “Activating the system” was liable to lead to a “miscalculation.”
During this time period, the Iranian enemy could expose these preparations and launch ts own preemptive actions that would’ve threatened to drag the entire Middle East, as well as the United States, into a regional war. Was that Barak’s and Netanyahu’s intention? Such a possibility should not be ruled out. These conflicting versions of events remind me of the Japanese film Rashomon, where a number of characters retroactively recall events each through their own lens. The narratives often contradict one another, even though they are aimed at describing the same event. The truth may only be fully known 70 years from now, if at all, when the protocols are made public.
That is not a sure thing. In the most sensitive, secret discussions, there are those who write down things for protocol simply with an eye toward the history books.In any event, even if we were to believe Barak, it’s difficult to be swayed. If the prime minister and the defense minister really wanted to win cabinet approval of a decision to attack Iran, they would’ve successfully overcome opposition from their ministers. Never in the history of the State of Israel has a determined, dominant prime minister been prevented from getting government approval for his decisions – especially those relating to existential issues – by opposition from other ministers.
Now one is left to wonder whether Netanyahu and Barak really wanted to make the decision to attack – or whether it’s all a bluff. It is worth acknowledging that if indeed it was a bluff, it was a successful one. In effect, they played a game of “hold me back” with the Israeli public and – more importantly – with the Americans.