“Many Israelis get the impression that Netanyahu itches for a fight,” Oren said. “The military does not. The military must weigh the consequences.”
Several former security officials have expressed opposition to the idea of an Israeli strike on Iran. Among the most prominent of them to break publicly with the government recently was Meir Dagan, the tough-talking former chief of Israel’s legendary Mossad spy agency.
Differences on sanctions
The opinions of top Israeli officials, too, are far from uniform. Many Israeli leaders are convinced that Iran has resumed warhead work in recent years, though on a much smaller scale than existed before 2004, when, the U.S. intelligence community believes, Iran was actively working on designing a nuclear warhead. Both the United States and Israel believe that Iran’s priority now is amassing enough enriched uranium to give its leaders the option to make nuclear weapons.
But in recent interviews, some Israeli officials have said they believe that sanctions could deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, particularly if more countries, including Russia, line up behind them;
the Israeli finance minister recently described the Iranian economy as being “on the brink of collapse.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, in a January interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said he believed Iran would halt its work just short of the finish line.
“Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No,” Panetta said. “But they are trying to develop a nuclear capability, and that is what concerns us.”
Some Israeli observers described Gantz’s analysis — that sanctions must be given time but that the military option is on the table — as less theatrical but not fundamentally different from Netanyahu’s. The big question is how much is bluff, said Or Heller, a military correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10 news.
Gantz indicated that is part of the strategy.
“The military option is the last chronologically but the first in terms of its credibility,” Gantz told Haaretz. “If it’s not credible it has no meaning. We are preparing for it in a credible manner. That’s my job, as a military man.”
Warrick reported from Washington.