Israel’s political leaders pushed to attack Iran at least three times in the past few years but had to back down on the advice of the military and due to concerns about its ally the United States, former defense minister Ehud Barak said.
Barak confirmed reports which had long circulated that he and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had wanted military operations against Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
In 2010, the Israeli leadership wanted an attack but the military said it did not have “operational capability,” said Barak, who served as defense minister between 2007 and 2013, and prime minister in 1999-2001, on Friday.
In 2011, two ministers in a top security forum convened to discuss an attack, then changed their minds and decided against it, Barak said.
Moshe Yaalon, Yuval Steinitz, Dan Meridor and Bennie Begin were named as security cabinet members who opposed the unilateral action.
In 2012 the timing coincided with a joint military exercise with the United States. “We intended to carry it out,” Barak said, but going ahead with an attack on Iran while U.S. forces were conducting the exercise would have been bad timing.
“You’re asking and demanding America to respect your sovereignty when making a decision to do it even if America objects and it’s against her interests; you can’t go in the opposite direction and force America in when they’re here on a drill that was known ahead of time,” Barak said.
Netanyahu’s office could not be reached for comment.
Included in the revelations was an audio tape of cabinet discussions about the possibility of a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
The disclosure has prompted a barrage of criticism, as senior Israeli officials asked how such sensitive material could be publicized.
Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who took part in the discussions, charged on Sunday that Barak was guilty of a serious breach of security.
“When discussions and actions that are supposed to be closely-guarded state secrets are debated in the media, you are broadcasting that you are a chatterbox, that you are not serious, that you are not trustworthy,” Lieberman told Army Radio.
“That may be one of the reasons why Iran is embraced by the world and we were pushed into a corner…Over the years we talked and chatted a lot about the most sensitive topics in the media.”
“How many times did we have to apologize to the U.S. that the most sensitive details leaked? Other countries see this and reconsider how much information they should share with Israel,” Lieberman said.
The material was gathered for a biography being prepared on Barak, who insisted that the secret conversations were to be off-the-record. He said he was surprised when he discovered they had been cleared for broadcast and tried to prevent it.
The Israeli news channel which aired it said it had acted within the law, since the Military Censor’s Office approved the recording.
Steinitz and Yaalon questioned the censors’ judgment, but otherwise declined to comment.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) said on Sunday that he will summon officials from the Military Censor to clarify the matter.
“Broadcasting [the recordings] does not serve Israel’s security, and they should not be discussed,” he told Israel Radio, refusing to discuss it any further.
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom pointed out that the censors’ approval could have a chilling effect on internal government deliberations. Officials who fear that supposedly secret discussions could later be made public might well hesitate to speak their minds on the most important matters.