Israel, Iran, and the Nuclear Dilemma

On April 30, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told The Foreign Press Association that ”as long as there is an existential threat to our people, all options to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons should remain on the table.” This statement, while appearing unpromising for the region’s stability, came only five days after Israeli military chief Binyamin Gantz told Ha’aretz, “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people.” American officials and outside analysts recently stated that the chances of a future war had significantly decreased, due to the revival of direct negotiations and greater flexibility from an Iranian government under tighter economic sanctions. This progress, combined with internal disagreements from Israel, suggests the possibility of confronting Iran’s nuclear program without military force.  

On April 24, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with CNN that he would not bet the world’s security on Iran’s rationality, just one day before General Gantz affirmed his belief in the Iranian government’s rationality. Just one day later, Barak said that it appeared unlikely Iran would halt its nuclear program, while at the same time other Israeli officials insisted there was no disagreement in the nation’s leadership on how to approach Iran’s nuclear program. Nonetheless, Barak’s analysis that sanctions were unlikely to succeed contradicted Gantz’s prediction hours earlier that Iran would decide against building a weapon because of weapons and the threat of a military strike.

Other dissenting voices also came from Israel: on April 27, Yuval Diskin, the former head of Israel’s internal security service, criticized Netanyahu and Barak for their messianic leadership and accused the government of misleading the public on the effectiveness of a military strike; Meir Dagan, the former chief of Israel’s spy agency, has frequently criticized the idea of an Israeli strike on Iran. On April 29, former prime minister Ehud Olmert criticized Netanyahu’s foreign policy as disrespectful to the United States and dismissive of the international community and urged against unilateral action.

The divisions between officials in Israel show that there is no monolithic pressure for a military strike. Whatever course of action the US takes going forward, it will have the support of some from Israel and will face dissent from others. Given the flexibility the Iranian leadership displayed in April’s negotiations, perhaps because of the threat of increased sanctions, prospects look promising for a non-military approach to Iran.

-Regina Wang

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