An official said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to persuade his Cabinet to authorize a military strike against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program — a discussion that comes as Israel successfully tests a missile believed capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to Iran.
It remained unclear whether Israel was genuinely poised to strike or if it was saber-rattling to prod the international community into taking a tougher line on Iran. Israeli leaders have long hinted at a military option, but they always seemed mindful of the practical difficulties, the likelihood of a furious counterstrike and the risk of regional mayhem.
Wednesday’s developments unfolded as the International Atomic Energy Agency is scheduled to focus on the Iranian program at a meeting later this month. The West wants to set a deadline for Iran to start cooperating with an agency probe of suspicions that Tehran is secretly experimenting with components of a weapons program.
Israeli leaders have said they favor a diplomatic solution, but recent days have seen a spate of Israeli media reports on a possible strike, accompanied by veiled threats from top politicians.
In a speech to parliament this week, Netanyahu said a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a “dire threat” to the world and “a grave, direct threat on us, too.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was dismissive of the reports, but added: “We are keeping all options on the table.”
The government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive internal deliberations, said the option is now being debated at the highest levels.
The official confirmed a report on Wednesday in the Haaretz daily that Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak both favor an attack, but do not yet have the support of a majority of the Cabinet. The official also said Israel’s top security chiefs, including the heads of the military and Mossad spy agency, oppose military action.
It is generally understood that such a momentous decision would require a Cabinet decision. Israel’s 1981 destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor was preceded by a Cabinet vote.
Reflecting the mood in Israel, military expert Reuven Pedatzur wrote in Haaretz that “if anyone can save Israel from catastrophe, it is the Israeli air force commander,” who might simply tell Netanyahu that an attack on Iran “cannot achieve its goals.”
Several months ago, the newly retired head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, caused a stir by warning publicly against attacking Iran, saying a strike would be “stupid” and would risk unleashing a region-wide war.