Attack on Iran could come soon: ex-Mossad chief

Efraim Halevy

JERUSALEM — Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who told The Times of Israel in an interview in March that there would be “nothing else left” but a resort to force if the diplomatic track with Iran did not quickly produce a breakthrough, hinted Aug. 2 that the moment of truth on Iran’s nuclear drive is imminent.

“If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks,” Halevy, who is also a former national security adviser and ambassador, told the New York Times.

In a recording broadcast on Channel 2 news Aug. 2, he added that Israel’s threats of military action had a certain “credibility and seriousness.”

The New York Times report, focusing on talks here Aug. 1 by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, said there was “feverish speculation” in Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “will act in September or early October.”

Apart from Netanyahu’s concern that Israel’s military option would “soon” become redundant, the paper cited several other reasons “for the potential timing.”

Among them, it said, was the fact that “Israel does not like to fight wars in winter.” Also, Netanyahu “feels that he will have less leverage if [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama is re-elected,” while if Mitt Romney were to win the November election, “the new president would be unlikely to want to take on a big military action early in his term.”

Still, the Aug. 2 article continued, “a number of administration officials say they remain hopeful that Israel has no imminent plans to attack and may be willing to let the United States take the lead in any future military strike, which they say would not occur until next year at the earliest.”

The New York Times further reported that administration officials say “Israeli officials are less confrontational in private” and that Netanyahu “understands the consequences of military action for Israel, the United States and the region. They say they know he has to maintain the credibility of his threat to keep up pressure on the United States to continue with sanctions and the development of military plans.”

In his interview with The Times of Israel in late March, Halevy said that if the then-upcoming international talks with Iran on thwarting its nuclear program did not quickly produce a breakthrough, there would be “nothing else left” but a resort to force.

He also said he had “no doubt that for the past few years, Israel has been readying its capabilities to meet the Iranians if necessary by force.

It was “tragic,” Halevy added at the time, that “I don’t see any great effort being made” by the P5+1 group – the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany – to prepare urgently and effectively for those talks.

The lights “should be burning through the night” to get a strategy together, he said. “The number one thing the world should be doing [on Iran] is investing enormous preparation into the P5+1 confrontation, because this is really the ‘Last Train to San Fernando.’”

Iran, he predicted, would doubtless try to play for time in the talks. The international community, therefore, needed to be ready with its strategy and tactics, and to be represented by “a very high-level, experienced, wise and creative negotiator.”

For the international community, said Halevy, “there’s no time for, you know, ‘Let’s meet again in two or three months, let’s do our homework, let’s not rush things, let’s look at it, and so forth.’” Rather, he said, “there has to be a breakthrough… If there is no breakthrough, it means to say that the talks have failed.”

Asked if, by a breakthrough, he meant Iran announcing the suspension of its nuclear program, Halevy demurred.

“I don’t want to say ‘Iran suspending the program.’ I don’t believe that everything will become public overnight.” But it would need to be clear, he said, “that there is a serious negotiation… They don’t have to spell it all out, but it has to be clear.”

Halevy said he did see signs of greater potential international co-ordination over Iran. He was encouraged by the growing consensus on tackling the civil war in Syria, notably including Russia and China, which he said could also be reflected in a co-ordinated strategy on Iran. He also noted that the priority for the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran is “survival” at all costs.

Nonetheless, if talks fail, “there’s nothing else left” but a resort to force, he said.

Perhaps, it was put to Halevy, Israel could live with a nuclear weapons-capable Iran? He responded: “I don’t think that we should countenance that as long as we can do what we can to remove it. I don’t accept the notion that Israel is destructible. But I think that if Iran retains a nuclear capability, life here is going to be very tough for a very long period to come. Israel will not disappear, but Israel will go through a period which I would not like it to go through.”

Asked whether he believed the Israeli government wanted a diplomatic solution, he answered: “I’m not sure every Israeli wants a diplomatic solution… I’m not sure that the government is entirely behind this support for a diplomatic solution.”

In related news, a former head of the Israel Defence Forces military intelligence said that his country lacks the international “legitimacy” needed to succeed in an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations.

The timing for an Israeli strike “is not now since, even if is successful, it will ruin the legitimacy that is needed,” Aharon Ze’evi Frakash told the Jerusalem Post.

Farkash served as the IDF’s head of military intelligence from 2001-2006.

“If Israel attacks, we will find ourselves being asked why we attacked when the world was imposing tough economic sanctions and was paying for this and was hurting as a result,” Farkash said.

He reportedly added that an Israeli attack would turn into an “operation with more attacks within weeks, months and years after” the initial strike. “This means that Israel will need legitimacy to be able to maintain” the operation. This was “the key to success or failure.”

He also said Israel is unlikely to attack Iran before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 6. What is needed, he said, is to make the Islamic regime feel as if it is facing an “existential threat.”, with files from JTA