JERUSALEM — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed skepticism Tuesday that a forthcoming International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s nuclear program would lead to effective international sanctions, but he stressed that Israel has “not yet” decided to take military action against Iran.
At the same time, Barak played down the cost of such a strike, saying it would not have devastating consequences for Israel.
Barak’s remarks, in an unusually lengthy interview on Israel Radio, seemed intended to calm jitters in Israel over the prospect of military action, countering suggestions that such a strike was imminent but not ruling it out in the future.
Speaking on the eve of the release of the IAEA report, which is expected to point to substantial progress by Iran in mastering the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon, Barak dismissed as “delusional” Israeli media speculation that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to strike Iran’s nuclear complexes.
Israel “has not yet decided to embark on any operation,” Barak said, adding that “the fear-mongering is in full swing.”
But he asserted that “in certain situations we will have to rely on ourselves, and even on ourselves alone. There’s nothing new in that.”
“No option should be removed from the table,” he said, avoiding direct comment on Israeli media reports that both he and Netanyahu support a military strike.
Barak dismissed concerns raised in Israel in recent days that military action against Iran could lead to heavy casualties in an Iranian counterstrike or in missile attacks by the Iranian-backed militant groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“Let’s assume we get to war against our will,” Barak said. “There will not be 100,000 dead, not 10,000 dead and not 1,000 dead. And Israel will not be destroyed. There’s no way today to prevent certain damage. It’s not pleasant on the home front . . . [but] if everyone just goes into their homes, there will not be 500 dead, either. And I don’t belittle a single fatality.”
He continued: “If there is no alternative, and in certain stages there will be no choice, and Israel will have to protect its vital interests, then there will also be missiles on the home front. But we are preparing for this, and there’s no real danger either to Israel’s existence or to its ability to withstand [attacks] . . . . There’s no existential threat to Israel from the types of rockets and missiles held by Iran and Hezbollah.”
Barak said the conclusion to be drawn from the IAEA report is that “we apparently have a last chance for globally coordinated, lethal sanctions that will force Iran to stop” a suspected drive for nuclear weapons. Those sanctions, he added, should include blocking international financial transactions by Iran’s central bank and steps to halt imports of Iranian oil and exports of refined petroleum to Iran.
But Barak added that he had “very great doubt” that such crippling sanctions would actually be put into practice.
“In my assessment, this is not about to happen,” he said. Such action would require “the cooperation of the United States, Europe, India, China and Russia, which I’m not sure can be achieved,” he said.