In the decade since reports surfaced that Iran was engaged in a program to enrich uranium and possibly to build a nuclear weapon, there have been periodic reports from intelligence agencies, US and Israeli officials, and outside analysts that Tehran would have a bomb in as little as a year or two. Ten years later: no bomb.
By the same token, over that period, there have been incessant reports by many observers—including Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker—that an attack by either Israel, the United States, or both on Iran’s nuclear facilities was imminent. Again, ten years later: no attack—although we know for a fact that in the waning years of the Bush administration Vice President Dick Cheney explicitly argued in favor of bombing Iran’s nuclear plants and research centers.
In the last weeks, once again, there are live rumors that Israel is readying an attack. Part of the reason why the talk is surfacing now may be that next week the International Atomic Energy Agency is set to release a new report which may report that Iran has made further progress in its nuclear program.
According to Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently convinced ultra-hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to support a military attack in the near future:
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are trying to muster a majority in the cabinet in favor of military action against Iran, a senior Israeli official has said. According to the official, there is a “small advantage” in the cabinet for the opponents of such an attack. Netanyahu and Barak recently persuaded Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who previously objected to attacking Iran, to support such a move.”
A later piece in Haaretz reported that the cabinet is divided, with Netanyahu and Barak strongly in favor of doing so and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon opposed. Reported Haaretz:
A disagreement within the government over whether to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities has sparked a political catfight between two members of the “octet” forum of eight senior ministers: Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.… Yaalon and Barak presented diametrically opposed views: Barak supported an Israeli military strike on Iran and said it should take place as soon as possible, while Yaalon argued that Israel should give international sanctions on Iran more time, and that if military action did become necessary, it would be better for America to do it.
The new talk about an Israeli attack on Iran started with a column at the end of October by Nahum Barnea in the daily Yediot Aharanot, in which he wrote:
Have the prime minister and defense minister settled on a decision, just between the two of them, to launch a military attack on the nuclear facilities in Iran? This question preoccupies many people in the defense establishment and high circles of government. It distresses foreign governments, which find it difficult to understand what is happening here: One the one hand, there are mounting rumors of an Israeli move that will change the face of the Middle East and possibly seal Israel’s fate for generations to come; on the other hand, there is a total absence of any public debate. The issue of whether to attack Iran is at the bottom of the Israeli discourse.