Israel general says Iran bomb unlikely

2012-04-25 19:15

Jerusalem - Israel's military chief said he does not believe Iran will decide to build an atomic bomb and called its leaders "very rational" - comments that clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assessment.

Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz's remarks, in an interview published on Wednesday in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, drew little attention in Israel on its annual remembrance day for fallen soldiers, when political discourse is suspended.

But they will add fuel to an internal debate on the prospects of Iran weaponising its uranium enrichment programme and the wisdom and risks of any Israeli military strike to try to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.

"Iran is moving step-by-step towards a point where it will be able to decide if it wants to make a nuclear bomb. It has not decided yet whether to go the extra mile," Gantz said.

But, he said, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could opt to produce nuclear weapons should be believe that Iran would not face reprisal.

"In my opinion, he will be making a huge mistake if he does that and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile," Gantz said.

"I think the Iranian leadership is comprised of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, who at some moments may make different calculations, is a dangerous thing."

Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has not ruled out military action against Iran should economic sanctions fail to curb its nuclear programme, saying all options were on the table.

Only last week, in a speech during Israel's Holocaust remembrance day, Netanyahu said: "Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal."

Bet on behaviour

Tehran denies seeking the bomb, saying it is enriching uranium only for peaceful energy purposes and that its nuclear programme is a threat to no one.

Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would not want to bet "the security of the world on Iran's rational behaviour". A "militant Islamic regime", he said, "can put their ideology before their survival".

The portrayal of Iran as irrational - willing to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon even if it means the destruction of the Islamic Republic in retaliatory strikes - could bolster a case for pre-emptive bombing to take out its atomic facilities.

Netanyahu had already been stung at home by his former spymaster, Meir Dagan, who said that such an Israeli strike on Iran would be a "ridiculous" idea.

Shannon Kile, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said Gantz's description of Iranian leaders as rational was "quite an interesting turnabout".

"Hopefully, it is going to reduce the incentives for any sort of pre-emptive or preventive military action, at least for the time being," Kile said.

The United States has also not ruled out military action as a last resort. But many allies of Washington, and even some senior US officials, fear such an attack could ignite a broader war and only temporarily halt Iran's nuclear advances.

Gantz's assessment appeared to be in step with the view of the top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey. He said in a CNN interview in February he believed Iran was a "rational actor" and it would be premature to take military action against it.

Israeli political sources said at the time that the remarks by Dempsey - who also suggested Israel's armed forces could not deliver lasting damage to Iranian nuclear sites - had angered Netanyahu.

Out of time

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak raised international concern about a possible Israeli strike several months ago when he spoke about time running out for effective Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear sites buried deep underground.

And Netanyahu, while noting that Iran has made no apparent decision to begin constructing a bomb, has voiced impatience with the pace of nuclear talks that began this month between Tehran and six world powers, the first such negotiations in more than a year.

"Either Iran takes its nuclear programme to a civilian footing only, or the world, perhaps us too, will have to do something. We're closer to the end of the discussions than the middle," Gantz said.

However, he also said international pressure on Iran "is beginning to bear fruit, both on the diplomatic level and on the economic sanctions level".

Netanyahu said on CNN the sanctions were "certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy but so far they haven't rolled back the Iranian programme or even stopped it by one iota.

"Unfortunately, that's not achieved by talks in which Iran has one goal, to stall, delay, run out the clock; that's basically what they're doing."

Gantz, a lanky former paratrooper who has served as Israel's military attaché in Washington, was asked in the Haaretz interview what impact his view would have on government decision-making on Iran.

"Whatever weight the government decides to ascribe it," he said.

Professional ethics

"I say my opinion according to my own professional truth and my strategic analysis. I will say it sharply: I do not forget my professional ethics.

The government will decide after it hears the professional echelon and the army will carry out, in a faithful and determined manner, any decision that is made."

Kile said he was surprised Gantz had spoken out, "because normally the Israeli military leadership on the nuclear issue has been quite subdued", with former intelligence officials "coming out and trying to cool... the possible Israeli impetus towards military action".

Gantz took over as chief of staff a year ago but has been less outspoken on strategic issues than his predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi. He was not the first choice for the job; the preferred candidate, Yoav Gallant, had to bow out because of a property scandal.

In at least one turning point in Israeli history, the government chose to ignore a strong warning from the military's top general about the intentions of a long-time adversary.

In 1977, then-chief of staff Mordechai Gur famously cautioned the cabinet that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's offer to visit Jerusalem could be a smokescreen for war preparations. Sadat's trip led to a peace treaty in 1979.

  • Fidel - 2012-04-25 19:38

    No one in the intelligence community believes that the Iranian mullahs have a death wish, nor would common sense suggest they that do. "Iran is a "rational" player and should be treated as such." General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, in a statement that infuriated Netanyahoo with comments that it is "premature" to launch an attack and that an Israeli assault on Iran would be imprudent and destabilising, and not achieve Israel's objectives. If half the world can be convinced that the Soviet Union posed a threat when it was essentially acting in a defensive capacity then that proves that people can be convinced there is a threat where none exists. In reality, Israel is merely afraid of a local state getting deterrence against Israeli/US aggression.

      Fred - 2012-04-25 19:42

      The Soviet Union was essentially acting defensively! Hahaha! Tell that to your friends the Taliban and Jihadists, who the US helped to rid themselves of the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan.

      Fidel - 2012-04-25 19:58

      It's called buffer states Fred, and the Soviets were right because Nato is deploying missiles and surrounding Russia with bases on its door steps in countries like Poland and the STAN countries. The Russian are not stupid, it was Hitler who taught them about the dangers of sharing a border with your adversaries. The Russian generals had the military foresight to see this happening, unlike a couch potato like you. Both the Taliban and the Jihadists were your master's friends, not mine.

      Fanta - 2012-04-25 20:22

      Soviet Union acting in defensive capacity??? Seriously?

      AnthonyfromAfrica - 2012-04-25 20:25

      Fidel, You just don't get it .....Very few believe Iran would use an A bomb themselves, but many believe they would sell/give it to an terrorist organisation. They are experts in exporting terrorism !!!!

      Fred - 2012-04-25 21:24

      Fidel, maybe, just maybe the oppressive imperialist Soviet Union that annexed much of Europe was the aggressor when it invaded Afghanistan? And maybe, just maybe the US and NATO repelled that threat by assisting the Taliban. They did not train the Taliban and Al-Quaida to attack the US. If anything, the Taliban and more so Al-Quaida showed themselves to be ungrateful and unreliable allies, wouldn't you say.

      Fidel - 2012-04-26 01:52

      @Anthony I'm more concerned about the lunatic Israeli settler movement and their tame, racist politicians, y'know... the ones who actually have nuclear weapons and haven't bothered to sign the NPT, and who can't wait to start bombing their neighbours on any trumped up charge. They've done it countless times before and can't wait to do it again. I might not trust the Iranians but I trust the Israelis even less!

      Fidel - 2012-04-26 02:26

      @Blood Please do enlighten us Mr history professor. As part of the Nazi-Soviet Pact Hitler duped and encouraged the Russians to attack Poland from the East so as to share a border with Russia, this to facilitate Hitler's plan to invade Russia. Your hysterical gibbering seems a bit off. Daft comment, complete and utter rubbish.

      Fanta - 2012-04-26 04:08

      Fidel, Are you saying that the soviets were on the defensive while they executed many many people, including their own? And what about how they oppressed eastern europe during the cold war? Just look at state of E-Germany compared to that of W-Germany at the fall of the Berlin Wall. \r\n\r\nWere they defending themselves against the US in Vietnam? \r\n\r\nI know that NATO is/was by no means totally innocent. There are more than one side to all of this, just as in the case of Israel and the rest of ME. \r\n\r\nWallowing in the past will not solve the conflicts. Though I am losing respect for the israeli

      Fanta - 2012-04-26 04:15

      Sorry, got cut off: .... Though I am losing respect for the israeli

      Jaba - 2012-04-26 06:54

      In the words of Fred from another talkback the other day; "You're an immature racist Fidel." I agree full heartedly!

      Fidel - 2012-04-26 08:45

      @Fanta I spoke about buffer states, what the Soviets did in their homeland has nothing to do with that. You are right, there's no point arguing about the so called cold war now, even though Nato seems to be resuscitating it.

      Fidel - 2012-04-26 10:06

      @Jaba Well you're so quick to label anybody are'nt you? And of course you have one big sack in which you can put anybody who disagrees with you. A fancy diversion and totally irrelevant to this post. Back to your log, termite!

      Fred - 2012-04-26 12:38

      You are right, there's no point talking about the past, but I'll talk about it anyway. (Fidel) The usual duplicity.

      Gerhard - 2012-04-26 13:00

      Chrustchev: We will bury the USA. Fidel where do you get your information from poor child?

      Fidel - 2012-04-26 13:33

      It's called a political statement, nothing different from US presidents calling for the destruction of the Soviet Union. Ray Gun said "Wipe USSR off the map." Sweating under a tin foil hat is no good for you.

  • Gerhard - 2012-04-25 20:43

    Fidel for North Korean propaganda minister.

      Jerzy - 2012-04-25 22:02

      Gerard for mayor of oranje

      Fidel - 2012-04-26 02:00

      It's always good to argue from a position of misguided knobheadedness. Anyways, forget what I claim to know and just concentrate on what I show you I know and refute that if you can. Can you?

      Fred - 2012-04-26 02:42

      Yes, over and over again. :)

      Fidel - 2012-04-26 03:33

      Another Non sequitur!

      Fred - 2012-04-26 12:38

      Just a statement of fact.

      Fidel - 2012-04-26 13:04

      Fred, you never refute anything that I say other than going off on your usual tangents and diversion. So come on, make up your mind, is Iran planning to build nuclear bomb and wipe Israel off the map or not? Who should the international community believe now, the prime minister of Israel or it’s military Chief? You lot are so vocal regarding this issue and your silence is deafening. Can we try to stick to the point this time around, instead of you throwing your usual porkies. Or must you still consult with your head commissars.

      Fred - 2012-04-26 18:34

      I suggest you read what I wrote, Fidel. From what you say, you haven't been. We should understand that the Iranian regime, distinct from the Iranian people, adjusted the last elections to hold onto power. This is what Mugabe did in Zimbabwe too. Therefore, it is not trustworthy, worthy of our trust. It holds lying and cheating as an operative value. We must keep a very close watch on what they do, and not allow them any room to finegle their way to a nuclear weapon.

  • Rashida Patel - 2012-04-26 07:03

    Agree with Patrick.......netanyahu is a liar and war monger.

      Fidel - 2012-04-26 08:49

      Even the cheese eating Sarkozy has called netayahoo a liar! Obomber doesn't trust him either. The man is a cipher and a charlatan.

      Fred - 2012-04-26 12:42

      As has been pointed out to yu previously Rashida, you have to be smarter than you're being at present to see what is really going on in the Middle East. Right now you're allowing yourself to be manipulated by the extreme chauvinists who support the stoning to death of women (that means you), and the abuse of the Palestinians for their own self-serving aims.

  • Fred - 2012-04-27 05:51

    News24, I've just listened to the interview. Gantz actually said he does believe the Iranian regime wants nuclear weapons and is moving towards creating them. This report is faulty.

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