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    Israel's Military Chief: Iran's Leaders 'Rational,' Sanctions 'Bearing Fruit'

    Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz attends an officers graduation ceremony at a military base near Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
    Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz attends an officers graduation ceremony at a military base near Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

    Israel's military chief says he believes Iranian leaders are "rational" people who will hold back from building a nuclear weapon, an assessment in contrast with the Israeli prime minister's more pessimistic view.

    In an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz published Wednesday, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz says Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "will be making a huge mistake" if he decides to build an atomic bomb. Gantz then says "I do not think he will want to go the extra mile" and describes the Iranian leadership as "very rational."

    IRAN'S LEADERS: RATIONAL OR NOT?

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he would not "bet the security of the world on Iran's rational behavior" because, in his view, that nation is led by a "militant Islamic regime" that can "put their ideology before their survival." He was speaking in an interview with U.S. television channel CNN.

    Iran says its nuclear activities are peaceful, denying Israeli and Western accusations that it is secretly developing a nuclear weapon capability under cover of a civilian energy program.

    Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence and refuses to rule out military action to prevent that threat from materializing. But, past and present Israeli officials have engaged in vigorous debate about whether Iran would move from developing to building a nuclear bomb and when Israel should take pre-emptive action.

    CONTRASTING VIEW ON SANCTIONS

    In another assessment contrasting with Israel's prime minister, General Gantz told Haaretz that international pressure on Iran to stop sensitive nuclear work is "beginning to bear fruit," both diplomatically and economically. Earlier, Mr. Netanyahu said sanctions are "certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy." But, he said Iran has not rolled back or stopped its nuclear program "one iota."

    The head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security told VOA that he does not see General Gantz' remarks as showing a disagreement in the Israeli leadership about Iran. ISIS President David Albright said the general's prediction that Iran "will not want to go the extra mile" is essentially a reiteration of Israel's warning to Tehran not to take the final step of building a nuclear bomb.

    In the Haaretz interview, Gantz said he "agrees" that a nuclear weapon "capability in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists ... is dangerous" and he is preparing for possible military action to deal with that danger "in a credible manner."

    'UNANIMITY' IN ISRAELI LEADERSHIP

    Albright said differences that appear in Israeli leaders' statements "probably do not mean very much because in the end there is unanimity in the Israeli government that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons." He said concerns expressed by some Israeli officials about serious consequences of striking Iran do not mean they will refuse to carry out such an attack if the order comes from the top.

    Albright also said he believes Israel will not launch a strike before assessing the impact of the latest international sanctions on Iran's behavior. He noted that an EU ban on Iranian oil imports does not fully take effect until July.

    Albright said he thinks Israel also will wait to see if that pressure "leads Iran to make meaningful concessions" in negotiations with world powers.

    Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, met in Turkey earlier this month for their first talks on the Iranian nuclear dispute in more than a year. The two sides agreed to conduct another round of talks in Baghdad next month.



    Michael Lipin

    Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin
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