Over the weekend Amos Yadlin, formerly Israel’s chief of Military Intelligence, had words of praise for the Iran policy of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He said the government’s discussions of the issue were “very serious” and called the nine members of its highest policymaking forum—which would ultimately take the decision for a strike on Iran—“very serious people.”
Yadlin—who now heads Israel’s leading defense think-tank, the Institute for National Security Studies—also said that while serving in his former post, “We expressed ourselves straightforwardly, with a great deal of integrity and professionalism.”
His words are significant because they contrast with those of two other ex-Israeli spy chiefs who served at the same time. Former Shin Bet (internal security) chief Yuval Diskin and, particularly, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan have made large international media waves by publicly trashing Netanyahu and Barak’s Iran policy and portraying the two as irresponsible extremists if not, in Diskin’s term, “messianic.”
Yadlin, indeed, slammed Dagan and Diskin in his weekend interview on Israeli TV, saying that “when we are regular citizens, we should impose on ourselves a cooling-off period, and not come out with explosive statements.” He could have added that it is Dagan and Diskin’s irresponsible behavior that threatens the viability of Israeli governance. Top-echelon security officials cannot function if they fear that in a few months their colleagues will be slandering them on CNN.
Nor was this the first time Yadlin has made important pronouncements on the Iranian issue. Speaking earlier this month at a conference of the Washington Institute in Virginia, he said Iran had a “sophisticated” strategy to pursue nuclear weapons that was “unfortunately” working. He added that, while he favored exhausting all other options before using military force, a
nuclear Iran is more dangerous than attacking Iran.
If they can’t be contained when they don’t have nuclear weapon[s], how can they be contained when they do?…
I am sure they won’t launch a nuclear bomb the moment they get it, but the possibility [that] as a result of miscalculations and lack of stability, they will launch [a] nuclear missile—it’s not a possibility you can ignore. The flying time of a missile from Tehran to Tel Aviv is seven minutes and the temptation for a first strike is huge.
If you really want all options on the table, you need to be very credible with the military option.
These, clearly, are dramatic words—but to say they didn’t get as much play as Dagan and Diskin’s claims that international diplomacy is indeed working, and Israel should take a back seat to it, is a great understatement. Which can be easily demonstrated by Googling: the result totals for “Meir Dagan,” “Yuval Diskin,” and “Amos Yadlin” came out at 608,000, 297,000, and 120,000 respectively.
Yadlin’s words—and the fact that Israel’s ranks are actually much more united than Dagan and Diskin have tried to suggest—are also of special significance as the P5+1 governments prepare for Wednesday’s second round of nuclear talks with the Iranians in Baghdad.
Over the weekend the New York Timesreported that U.S. negotiators now feel “hope” about the talks, and that
[a] successful meeting could prolong the diplomatic dance with Tehran, delaying any possible military confrontation…until after the presidential election. It could also keep a lid on oil prices…. Lower gasoline prices would aid the economic recovery in the United States, and Mr. Obama’s electoral prospects.
The unfortunate impression continues to be—just as it was after last month’s first round of talks in Istanbul—that for the P5+1 Iran’s nuclear program is a much less serious matter than it should be, or than it is for Israel—which sees much more at stake than oil prices or a particular leader’s political fortunes. As Israeli commentator Boaz Bismuth notes,
It’s safe to assume that, like the talks in Istanbul before it, this [week’s] encounter will end with positive declarations from all parties…. We must understand that the challenge for Western powers today is, essentially, how to prevent an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Those who think that can be achieved with positive declarations and an ongoing “diplomatic dance” would probably be well advised to stop listening to the likes of Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin.