How Close Was Israel to Bombing Iran?

Israel’s former Defense Minister Ehud Barak claims Israel was poised to bomb Iran several times in recent years but kept encountering internal government resistance. But this new report may just be part of a continuing game of geopolitical chicken, says Gareth Porter for Middle East Eye.

By Gareth Porter

New evidence has now surfaced from former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak that Israel came close to attacking Iran three times over the past few years – if you believe what “major” news media reported about the story. But you shouldn’t believe it.

The latest story is only a continuation of the clever ploy that has been carried out by Israeli administrations from Ehud Olmert to Benjamin Netanyahu to convince the world that it was seriously contemplating war against Iran in order to pressure them toward crippling sanctions against Iran, if not military confrontation with it.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak meeting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2007

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak meeting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2007

And there is even very strong circumstantial evidence that the Obama administration was consciously playing its part in a “good cop/bad cop routine” with the Israelis over the ostensible Israeli war threat until early 2012 to influence other states’ Iran policies and gain political leverage on Iran.

The latest episode in the seemingly endless story of Israel’s threat of war followed the broadcast in Israel of interviews by Barak for a new biography. The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren reported that, in those interviews, Barak revealed new details to his biographers about how close Israel came to striking Iran.

Barak said that he and Netanyahu were ready to attack Iran each year, but claimed that something always went wrong. Barak referred to three distinct episodes from 2010 through 2012 in which the he and Netanyahu were supposedly maneuvering to bring about an air attack on Iran’s nuclear program. But a closer look at Barak’s claims shows that in reality neither Barak nor Netanyahu was really ready to go to war against Iran.

One of the episodes occurred in 2010 when Netanyahu ordered the Israeli army to put Israeli forces on the highest possible state of alert reserved for preparation for actual war, only to be frustrated by the refusal of Israeli army chief of staff Ashkenazi to the order. But an Israeli television program on the episode aired in a television special in 2012 “suggested” that the order was not intended as a prelude to war.

Although the television account was not allowed to give the date of the episode, it is consistent with what happened on May 17, 2010, when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Da Silva reached an agreement with Iran on a “fuel swap” deal. Netanyahu regarded the agreement as a maneuver to derail a new UN Security Council agreement on sanctions, but the government issued no public statement that day.

Barak denied on the Israeli program that he and Netanyahu had intended to go through with an actual attack, which implied that it was to be a short-term bluff to ensure that the sanctions agreement would go through. Ashkenazi’s opposition to the order was not that it was intended to take Israel into war, but that it could easily provoke a military response from Iran.

Both Barak and Ashkenazi agreed on the program, and moreover, that the Israeli army lacked the capability to carry out a successful strike against Iran without U.S. involvement. That agreement reflected a broad consensus within the Israeli security elite that Israel could not carry out a successful operation against Iran without the full involvement of the United States.

Nevertheless, that elite believed that the threat was necessary to pressure the rest of the world to act on Iran. As Yossi Alpher, a former aide to Barak, told me in 2012, most retired national security officials were totally opposed to an attack on Iran, but they remained silent because they did want to “spoil Bibi’s successful bluster.”

A second episode to which Barak refers to in his interviews involves his demanding that the United States postpone the joint military exercise planned for spring 2012, which he now says he did in order to be able to order an attack on Iran during that period without implicating the United States in the decision. But the postponement was announced in mid-January 2012, in plenty of time for Barak to plan the strike against Iran – if that is indeed what he and Netanyahu had intended. Instead, it didn’t happen, and Barak offers no real explanation, commenting that they were “still unable to find the right moment.”

The Obama administration pretended to be alarmed about Netanyahu’s readiness to attack. But Obama was actually playing along with the Israeli strategy in order to line up support for a more aggressive regime of sanctions and then to put pressure on Iran to enter into negotiations aimed at closing down its enrichment program.

Gary Samore, Obama’s adviser on WMD, had openly espoused the notion before taking that job that the United States should exploit an Israeli threat to attack Iran to put pressure on the Iranians over their nuclear program. At a Harvard University symposium in September 2008, Samore opined that the next administration would not want to “act in a way that precludes the [Israeli] threat, because we’re using the threat as a political instrument.”

The Obama administration’s policy toward Iran clearly applied that Samore strategy early and often. Within weeks of his arrival in the White House, on April 1, 2009, Obama’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Commander of CENTCOM David Petraeus both commented publicly that Israel was bound to attack Iran within a matter of a few years at most, unless Iran came to heel on its nuclear program.

And in mid-November 2009, Obama sent Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Bader of the White House staff to Beijing to warn the Chinese that the United States could not restrain Israel from an attack on Iran much longer unless the Security Council adopted a strong package of tough economic sanctions against Iran.

That diplomatic exploitation of the Israeli threat came seven months after Haaretz reported in May 2009 that CIA Director Leon Panetta had just obtained a commitment from Netanyahu and Barak that they would not take military action without consulting Washington first. That commitment reflected a reality that most senior national security officials accepted – that Israel could attack Iran without U.S. cooperation.

What happened in late 2011 and early 2012 was a “good cop/bad cop” routine by Panetta and Barak at a historical juncture when the United States and Israel were cooperating closely in a strategy to get crippling sanctions against Iran approved in the UN Security Council while pressuring Iran to begin negotiating on its enrichment program.

Panetta’s role in the routine was to wring his hands over alleged indications that Israel was intent on a strike in the spring. But Panetta’s interview with David Ignatius in early February 2012 in which he warned of the “strong likelihood” of an Israeli attack in “April, May or June” included a clear give-away that the real purpose of his warning was to gain diplomatic leverage on Iran. He suggested to the Iranians that there were two ways to “dissuade the Israelis from such an attack”: either Iran could begin serious negotiations on its nuclear program or the United States could step up its own cyber-attacks against Iran.

Later that year, of course, Obama would break dramatically with Netanyahu’s strategy. But despite that clear indication in early 2012 that Panetta was playing a game that suited the interests of both administrations, consumers of the world’s commercial news media were led to believe that Barak and Netanyahu were on the brink of war.

Barak himself is still peddling that same warmed-over, patently false tale of near war-war with Iran. And in one more indicator of the degree to which the media parrot the Israeli line on Iran, they are still reporting it as unquestioned fact today.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article first appeared at Middle East Eye,]


9 comments for “How Close Was Israel to Bombing Iran?

  1. John
    August 30, 2015 at 19:52

    Can consortium news do some research into the jewish (neocon) banking industry….The life blood of any “movement” must be financed…..To kill a cancer you cut off it’s blood supply….To kill a “movement” you kill the money supply….Has anyone noticed Obama’s heavy hand in financial sanctions. The answer is not where the sanctions are but where they are not……biting the hand that feeds you……don’t delete this post !!!

  2. mikeschwarzer
    August 30, 2015 at 16:30

    The republicans should be indited under the Logan Act for their treason and flagrant abuse of constitutional law. The congress is not entitled to rewrite the terms of treaties. It’s illegal and following the vote requires prosecution for their treason.

    Weve heard BS arguments just like Benny’s by G.Bush and WMD’s in Iraq. The goy are not going to fight this war for Israel.

    What more serious is Congress is challeging presidential autority and they have no consitutional authroity to do so or to challege the president. This is an illegal act. Never miind the fact Constitution Intregrety is at it’s absolute low point. With idiots like Hackabee campaigning for funding in Israel. The banklash needs to be swift and extreme. Do we have a false democracty, hiding a Zionist fascist state???

  3. Robert
    August 29, 2015 at 09:06

    There is no border. Logistically, an Israeli attack on Iran is an impossibility. Israel could bait and provoke Iran through aggression toward Syria and Lebanon and that is what they are doing. Iran may or may not take the bait.

  4. Dr,Joji Cherian
    August 29, 2015 at 08:03

    “How Close Was Israel to Bombing Iran?” There can not be more absurd a question.It should have been how far Israel IS Israel to bombing Iran.Israel never could or can bomb Iran on its own and that is why it is trying to strong arm its vassal,USA, to bomb Iran.If it could, Israel would have bombed much much earlier as it did in Iraq and Syria.Again take it for granted Israel can only threaten, can not carry out the threat.There is an adage here, a donkey will cry off its lust.Israel will go on threatening

  5. Zachary Smith
    August 29, 2015 at 00:26

    Of course I have no way of knowing whether or not Mr. Porter’s thesis is right or not, but it surely does sound plausible.

    Based on everything I know, Israel had no ability to do more than whack a hornet’s nest in Iran. Almost ever one of the possible outcomes ended with that crappy little nation being the eventual loser, or they’d have tried an attack, IMO. Constantly making threats must have been profitable though. No telling what coin the BHO Administration used in paying them off.

  6. John
    August 28, 2015 at 22:47

    There is no end to the influence the jews have in America…..Just do some research on Donald trump and his very close jewish friends in NY….Trump’s daughter married a wealthy jew……Clinton’s daughter married a wealthy jew…….GW Bush’s daughter married a wealthy jew……Are you kidding me !!! The money jews speak and the USA political slaves obey…This is why Israel gets away with anything including nuclear weapons……It’s like a sick joke or a terrible nightmare……

    • Gregory Kruse
      August 31, 2015 at 13:27

      God’s Chosen People since 6000 BC.

  7. Joe Tedesky
    August 28, 2015 at 16:24

    What other nation could divulge this type of information, and get away with it. Only our dear old Middle East ally Israel can do whatever it wants, at anytime it seems fit. Do you want to see peace in the Middle East? Well when the United States finally decides to quit defending Israel with the power of the U.S. veto, then and only then will the world see a peaceful Middle East. This craziness needs to end, and end soon. Israel is a disaster of a nation. Americans including Jewish Americans should put our foot down, and throw this Israel nation state to the wind. Giving the Jews a nation in theory sounded like a good idea, but then did anyone ask the Palestinians how they felt? No, because they didn’t have the money and influence that the Zionist have, so tough luck for them.

  8. Abe
    August 28, 2015 at 16:00

    In opposition to the deal, bad cop “Barak himself is still peddling that same warmed-over, patently false tale of near war-war with Iran.”

    In support of the deal, good cop Barack himself is still peddling that same warmed-over, patently false tale of near war-war with Iran.

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