Bibi’s Big Bluff

by GARETH PORTER

A new twist was added to the longrunning media theme of a threat by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to go to war with Iran when news stories seemed to suggest Monday that Netanyahu had ordered the Israeli military to prepare for an imminent attack on Iranian nuclear sites in 2010.

Netanyahu backed down after Israeli Defence Forces chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Mossad director Meir Dagan opposed the order, according to the reports.

But the details of the episode provided in a report by Israel’s Channel 2 investigative news programme “Truth”, which aired Monday night, show that the Netanyahu order was not meant to be a prelude to an imminent attack on Iran. The order to put Israeli forces on the highest alert status was rejected by Ashkenazi and Dagan primarily because Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak had not thought through the risk that raising the alert status to the highest level could provoke unintended war with Iran.

All the participants, moreover, understood that Israel had no realistic military option for an attack on Iran. . Most stories about the episode failed to highlight the distinction between an order for war and one for the highest state of readiness, thus creating the clear impression that Netanyahu was preparing for war with Iran. The stories had to be read very carefully to discern the real significance of the episode.

The Israeli Ynet News report on the story carried the headline, “Was Israel on verge of war in 2010?” and a teaser asking, “Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak try to drag Israel into a military operation in Iran without cabinet approval?”

AFP reported that Netanyahu and Barak “ordered the army to prepare an attack against Iranian nuclear installations.”

The Reuters story said Netanyahu and Barak “ordered Israeli defence chiefs in 2010 to prepare for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities but were rebuffed….”

And AP reported that the order from Netanyau was for a “high alert for a looming attack on Iran’s nuclear program” and that the episode “indicated that Israel was much closer to carrying out a strike at that time than was previously known.”

Washington Post blogger Max Fisher certainly got the impression from the press coverage that Netanyahu and Barak had “attempted to order the Israeli military to prepare for an imminent strike on Iran but were thwarted by other senior officials….” Fisher concluded that Netanyahu was “more resolved than thought to strike Iran….”

The coverage of the story thus appears to have pumped new life into the idea that Netanyahu is serious about attacking Iran, despite clear evidence in recent weeks that he has climbed down from that posture.

The details of the episode in the original Channel 2 programme as reported by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth suggest that none of the participants in the meeting believed that Netanyahu had decided on actual war with Iran.

The incident occurred, according to the programme, after a meeting of seven top cabinet ministers at an unspecified time in 2010. As Dagan and Ashkanazi were about to leave the meeting room, the programme recalls, Netanyahu ordered them to prepare the military for “the possibility of a strike” against Iran by putting the IDF on the highest level of readiness.

Netanyahu used the code word “F Plus” for the alert status, according to the Channel 2 programme.

Ashkenazi and Dagan reacted strongly to the order, and Netanyahu and Barak eventually backed down. But both Ashkenazi and Barak appear to agree that the issue was not whether Israel would actually attack Iran but the alert itself. Ashkenazi’s response indicated that he did not interpret it as a sign that Netanyahu intended to carry out an attack on Iran. “It’s not something you do if you’re not sure you want to follow through with it,” Ashkenazi was quoted as saying.

Barak sought to downplay the order for the high alert status, asserting that raising the alert level “did not necessarily mean war”.

“It is not true that creating a situation in which the IDF are on alert for a few hours or a few days to carry out certain operations forces Israel to go through with them,” the defence minister said.

Ashkenazi was not asserting, however, that Netanyahu would be forced to attack. Rather, he feared it would have the unintended consequence of convincing Iran that Israel did intend to attack and thus trigger a war.

The former IDF chief highlighted that danger in commenting, “This accordion produces music when you play with it,” according to “sources close to” Ashkenazi – the formula usually used when an official or ex-official does not wish to be quoted directly.

Barak also said Ashkenazi had responded that the IDF did not have the ability to carry out a strike against Iran. “Eventually, at the moment of truth, the answer that was given was that, in fact, the ability did not exist,” Barak is quoted as saying on the programme.

Significantly, Barak made no effort to deny the reality that the Israeli Air Force did not have the capability to carry out a successful attack against Iran. Instead he is blaming Ashkenazi for having failed to prepare Israeli forces for a possible attack.

Ashkenazi angrily denied that obviously political charge. “I prepared the option, the army was ready for a strike but I also said that a strike now would be a strategic mistake,” he is quoted as saying.

Israeli military leaders are still saying publicly that the IDF can carry out a strike. But while Ashkenazi is quoted as saying the army was “ready for a strike”, that is not the same as claiming that Israel had a military option that had any chance of success in derailing Iran’s enrichment programme. And in February 2011, he told then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen that references to such a military option were “empty words”, because “Israel has no military option,” according to an earlier report by Yedioth Ahronoth.

Despite the public political feud between them, both Barak and Ashkenazi implied that the purpose of the high alert was to achieve a political effect rather than to prepare for an actual attack.

Both Ashkenazi and former Mossad director Dagan were apparently shocked that Netanyahu and Barak would be so irresponsible as to run the obvious risks of feigning preparations for a war with Iran. Dagan concluded that Netanyahu is unfit for leadership of the country – a point that he had made repeatedly since leaving his Mossad post in 2011.

Netanyahu sought to manipulate the supposed threat of military force against Iran to put pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama to adopt harsh sanctions against Iran and even get him to pledge to use force if Iran did not yield on its nuclear programme. The firm rebuff to that ploy by Obama last summer brought that phase of the Netanyahu military option ploy to an end, as indicated by his failure to include any implicit threat in his U.N. address in late August.

Netanyahu continues to insist publicly, however, that he is considering the military option against Iran. In an interview for the Channel 2 programme, he said, “We are serious, this is not a show. If there is no other way to stop Iran, Israel is ready to act.”

Israeli political observers have suggested that Netanyahu’s belligerent posture has now become primarily a theme of his campaign for reelection as prime minister. But as the coverage of the 2010 episode indicates, the news media have not yet abandoned the story of Netanyahu’s readiness to go to war against Iran.

GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006. Porter received the UK-based Martha Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?