JERUSALEM — In an unusual move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly adjourned a meeting of his security cabinet Wednesday, citing leaks of its classified discussions on the Iranian nuclear program.
The move followed a report in Yedioth Ahronot, Israel’s most widely read newspaper, that in the first session of the meeting Tuesday, disagreement emerged among Israeli intelligence agencies over the point at which Iranian nuclear facilities would be beyond the reach of an Israeli military strike.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that the Iranian program is approaching a “zone of immunity,” wherein its facilities would be protected from bombardment in bunkers deep underground. However, the point at which such potential targets would become impervious to attack remains a subject of debate.
According to the Yedioth Ahronot report, representatives of Israel’s intelligence branches presented “opposing positions” on Iran, reflecting “lack of agreement in Israel regarding the stage at which Israel’s ability to strike the Iranian nuclear program loses its effectiveness.”
The meeting Tuesday lasted seven hours, according to news reports, and was attended by heads of the domestic and overseas intelligence agencies, the Shin Bet and Mossad, as well as the chief of military intelligence. The cabinet met as a “ministerial committee on security,” a status that cloaks its discussions in strict secrecy.
After the information leak, Netanyahu adjourned a follow-up meeting Wednesday, citing what he called a serious security breach.
“The security of the state and its citizens depends on the ability to hold confidential and in-depth discussions in the security cabinet,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office. “Yesterday, someone severely undermined the confidence that Israeli citizens have in that forum. He violated the most basic rules regarding the conduct of security cabinet discussions.”
The latest signs of internal disagreement over policy toward Iran come after public statements in the past year by some former Israeli security chiefs questioning the wisdom and efficacy of such a military strike.
In remarks that some analysts said suggested a readiness to scale back threats to attack Iran, Netanyahu has this week repeatedly called on world powers to spell out the point beyond which they could use force against the Islamic republic, a stance that he said could help avert a military confrontation.
“I think that the international community must set a clear red line for Iran that it knows that it cannot go beyond in its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” he said Wednesday.
In similar remarks Monday, Netanyahu said that “the stronger the resolve and the clearer the red line, the smaller the chance that we will have a conflict.”
Israeli officials have been pressing for a forceful statement by President Obama that would specify what steps, including military action, could be taken against Iran if it continues its nuclear program, suggesting that a tougher stance would reduce the need for Israel to act on its own.
Dore Gold, a Netanyahu confidant who is a former ambassador to the United Nations and who heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, said the failure of international efforts to halt the Iranian nuclear program meant that “there is a need to clarify what happens next.”
“What is needed now to help stop Iran are some clearly defined lines in the sand,” Gold said. “Otherwise, in the months ahead, they’re going to be rounding third base and heading toward nuclear home plate.”