Tonight, Israel’s Channel 2 aired a report suggesting that, in 2010, the leaders of the Israeli government ordered final preparations for an attack on Iran, but Israel’s military brass demurred. The New York Times explains:
[Investigative journalist Ilana] Dayan said on the channel’s evening newscast on Sunday that Mr. Netanyahu, in a meeting with a small circle of top ministers, turned to Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the Israeli Defense Forces at the time, and told him to “set the systems for P-plus,” a term meaning that an operation would start soon.
Mr. Ashkenazi and Meir Dagan, who was the head of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, at the time, would later say that this was an attempt at “stealing a war,” Ms. Dayan reported, because in their view such an order required a decision of the full cabinet, not the smaller group in the meeting, who were then known as the forum of seven.
Both Mr. Ashkenazi, who is now retired, and Mr. Dagan, who stepped down after the meeting, have become vocal critics of plans for a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran, and of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak’s aggressive approach.
Ms. Dayan said in an interview Sunday night that she learned about the 2010 order from more than two people who attended the meeting, but she declined to name them. Mr. Barak essentially confirmed what she had learned in his interviews with Ms. Dayan, saying that such an order can always be reversed, something Mr. Ashkenazi and Mr. Dagan dispute.
The full report . . . could reopen the rift between Washington and Jerusalem over how best to stop Iran from obtaining an atomic bomb. The Obama administration spent much of the year pressing Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak to hold back on military action against Iran in favor of severe sanctions and intense diplomacy, though the issue receded somewhat after Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech to the United Nations on Sept. 27 that the moment of truth would come next spring or summer, not in 2012.
The episode, assuming it’s true, suggests that Israel was more concerned about the progress of the Iranian nuclear program in 2010 than was publicly apparent at the time. Instead of continuing to push for a strike, the Times goes on to explain, Netanyahu agreed to Obama’s requests to stand down and push forward with aggressive cyberwar tactics and tighter sanctions.
The Stuxnet virus, part of those covert efforts, managed to wreak serious damage on Iran’s known nuclear-enrichment facilities, setting their production back a ways, but the program has been slowed, not halted. There was also hope this past weekend that Iran had actually suspended enrichment to the 20 percent level (one step below the final refining necessary for a weapon; they have close to enough 20 percent material necessary to take the final step) — a “parliament member” told al-Arabiya on Saturday that they had halted the activity as a “‘good will’ gesture, hoping that Western countries will lift their sanctions on Tehran.” That report, however, was quickly denied by the Iranian government and appears to be completely untrue — it’s as yet unclear why it was misreported, but it could be some sort of strange feint on Iran’s part to suggest that they are close to the decision to halt their activities, whether that’s the case or not.