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No Softening on Iran: Israeli Defense Minister

  • Scott Bobb

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivers a speech to the Foreign Press Association members in Jerusalem, April 30, 2012.

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivers a speech to the Foreign Press Association members in Jerusalem, April 30, 2012.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is maintaining the government's hard line against Iran's nuclear program, saying Israel will not be duped by negotiations, and warning that an attack is not out of the question. But leaders of Israel's security services have expressed strong reservations about the effectiveness of a military strike against Iran, and its repercussions.

On Monday, Barak acknowledged that stiff new sanctions against Iran helped restart talks between Iran and the group of six world powers known as the P-5 +1 - Russia, China, Britain, France, Germany and the United States.

"Today sanctions are stronger than ever," said Barak. "They forced the Iranians to take note, to sit down and to talk. The P-5+1 engagement of Iran, however, does not fill me with confidence. I may sound pessimistic, but the State of Israel cannot afford to be duped."

Barak also accused the Iranian government of seeking to buy time to make its alleged nuclear weapons program immune from military attacks.

The defense minister has been one of the strongest supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hardline position against Iran's nuclear activities, which Israel believes are aimed at making nuclear weapons.

But leaders of Israel's security services have expressed strong reservations about whether military action would be effective in stopping Iran's suspect activities.

Western powers lately have suggested that Iran be allowed to retain enough uranium enrichment capabilities to support nuclear medicine and generation of electrical power. They see a military strike as the last option.

Barak told foreign journalists in Jerusalem that in his view, Iran is not to be trusted.

"Iranian deception and lies concerning their nuclear program have been on-going and well-documented," said Barak. "Yet parts of the world, including some politically motivated Israeli figures, prefer to bury their heads in sand."

Iran has pledged to retaliate for any attack. But Barak said as long as Tehran maintains what he called its goal of destroying the Israeli state and supports international terrorism, it must be prevented from becoming a nuclear power.

"A military option is not a simple one," Barak added. "It will be complicated with certain associated risks. But a radical Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons would be far more dangerous both to the region and, indeed, to the whole world."

He said his primary responsibility as defense minister is to ensure that Israel's fate remains in its own hands.

Still, some Israelis prefer to wait and see. Sanctions should be given a chance, said Eitan Livne, nn Iran analyst in Israel.

"Sanctions are meant to make the last resort, the military option, unnecessary. So before we admit that sanctions have failed we must give them a real try," he said.

If the sanctions fail, Livne said, the international community should then reassess its strategy.

But political analysts note that Israel appears to be entering an election campaign period. Many opposition leaders have begun calling for the dissolution of parliament and elections within the next six months.

Hebrew University Professor Abraham Diskin said as a result, the issue of whether to attack Iran is likely to be placed on a back burner as candidates and voters focus on domestic issues.

"I don't think any move of Israel is going to be decided according to domestic or electoral consideration. It's too heavy of an issue. It's too existential on the one hand and the risk is too heavy on the other hand," said Diskin.

And he said although a military attack might provide a temporary boost to political leaders, they are not likely to undertake such a risky foreign mission during an electoral campaign.

Finally, the U.S. presidential campaign is also affecting the possibility of a military strike on Iran.

Public opinion polls have shown that less than half of the Israeli public supports an independent strike against Iran, while nearly three-fourths support a strike with U.S. backing.

View the timeline of Key Dates in Israel-Iran Relations

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