Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei believes that his government is so deeply penetrated by U.S., Israeli and other intelligence agencies that when he eventually gives an order to build a nuclear weapon it will be quickly known.
As a result, Khamenei is creating redundancy in production sites, adding centrifuges and more low- and medium-level enriched uranium to Iran’s stockpile so when the time comes Israel will not have the capability to carry out a surgical strike against Tehran’s nuclear complex. Perhaps not even the United States could do it major harm.
This is no leak of a classified government report. It was Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak speaking on CNN’s “Situation Room” on Monday. But it was the first time I believe that any high official had described, if not directly, the current capabilities of U.S. and Israeli intelligence when it comes to Iran.
If you take Barak at his word, the United States and Israel not only know that Khamenei has not given the order, but also why he has not given it. In an April 20 CNN interview, Barak said, “It’s true that probably Khamenei has not given orders to start building a [nuclear] weapon,” but at that time the Israeli defense minister gave no hint about why or how he knew it.
On Monday, however, Barak told a expanded story.
“He did not tell his people to start and build it — a weapon. . . . We think that we understand why he does not give this order,” Barak said.
“He [Khamenei] believes that he is penetrated through our intelligence and he strongly feels that if he tries to order, we will know it — we and you [the United States] and some other intelligence services will know about it and it might end up with a physical action against it,” Barak said.
Barak maintained that Khamenei wants a nuclear weapon but he will wait until he reaches what the Israelis call the “zone of immunity” from an attack. “By then,” Barak said, “he will have to consider when and how to go into building it.”
While there seems to be agreement on intelligence about the Iran nuclear program, there is disagreement, according to Barak, on the aftermath of any attack on Iran.
“We agree on the rhetoric, but we do not agree on the consequences,” Barak said.
It is understood that the Israelis do not believe that the Iranians would respond as strongly as Washington fears. Nor do they see such an attack generating a broader anti-Israel, anti-U.S. reaction throughout the Middle East.
In short, Israel apparently believes the biblical “eye-for-an-eye” concept does not apply when it strikes the first blow. Israel, however, certainly supports an “eye for an eye” when its people are victimized.
Listen to Barak on CNN about the July 18 bombing of a tourist bus in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists, the bus driver, and wounded 34 other Israelis.
“We will find a way to settle the account with those who executed, ordered and sent those terrorists,” Barak said. He used as an example Israel’s response to the Munich bombing 40 years ago when 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics were killed by Palestinian terrorists.
He recalled that then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir ordered the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, and the Israeli army “to find a way to settle the accounts with every individual that was part of it. And we did it.”
As for the Bulgarian attack, Barak insisted that his government had “hard evidence,” which it has shared with the United States and others. “We are confident without any doubt about the responsibility of Hezbollah to the actual execution of the operation — preparation, planning and execution. And we know that. We know that Hezbollah is acting under Iranian inspiration.”
He referred to a story about plotters who allegedly attached a magnetic bomb to an Israeli Embassy car in New Delhi, wounding a diplomat. The Times of India had reported that a journalist working part time for an Iranian news service had been arrested and police were asking Tehran about several other Iranians who had come to India on tourist visas.
This is all part of the silent war that is going on between Iran and Israel.
Iranians talk about five of their nuclear scientists who have been killed over the past five years, often by someone using the same technique of a magnetized bomb used in New Delhi.
“In the Middle East,” Barak told CNN, “you should have a long memory in order to survive and be able to settle accounts with those who killed indiscriminately your people.”
Why would anyone not expect the Iranians to have a similar “eye-for-an-eye” view.
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtopost.com/fedpage.