What Did Israeli Chief of Staff Really Say about Iran?

“Iran’s leaders are ‘very rational people’ who are still mulling whether to ‘go the extra mile’ and produce nuclear weapons,” The Washington Post quoted Israeli military chief of staff Lt. Gen Benjamin Gantz as saying. Further, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, “‘would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile’” and order the assembly of nuclear warheads, Gantz said, according to The Post. 


“On Iran, key Israeli cools tone of debate; Military chief says Tehran won’t build nuclear bomb” (April 26) a page one Post article, seemed to highlight differences between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and an “Israeli security establishment … thought to be far less convinced about the urgency of military action” to stop or at least delay Iran’s nuclear program.


The Post noted that its article, by Jerusalem Bureau Chief Karin Brulliard and reporter Joby Warrick, was based on an interview Gantz had given to Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily. “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,” they added. “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 or the general Israeli views of a nuclear-armed Iran ‘as an existential threat ….’”


Detailed as it was, The Post article lacked sufficient nuance to let readers see the big picture, according to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. In “What Did The Israeli Army Chief Actually Say About Iran?” (April 26), Goldberg highlights a key portion of the Gantz’s Ha’aretz interview that The Post condensed too much:


“The particular statement that prompted The Washington Post headline seems to be this, from the interview that Ha’artz’s Amos Harel conducted with Gantz

“Iran, Gantz says, ‘is going step-by-step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.’


“As long as its facilities are not bomb-proof, ‘the program is too vulnerable, in Iran’s view. If … Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must be taken first. It will happen if Khamenei judges he is invulnerable to a response [Goldberg’s italics]. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and he will not want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.”
Complex news requires nuance


As Goldberg writes, “this is a much more nuanced statement than The Post headline, and story, suggest. First, Gantz seems to be endorsing Ehud Barak’s analysis that Iran is trying to enter a ‘zone of immunity,’ in which its key nuclear facilities would be hardened against attack before the Supreme Leader gave instructions to actually build a bomb.  Barak has often suggested that once Iran enters this ‘zone of immunity,’ it would be too late for Israel to attack, though it wouldn’t necessarily be too late for the U.S. to attack (and obviously, Gantz recognizes that the U.S. could do a more complete job of demolishing Iran’s nuclear sites than his air force could.)”


Also missing from The Post’s account, Goldberg notes, is Gantz’s estimate of the time left for decision-making:


“When asked if this year is the decisive year for dealing with Iran, he balked: ‘Clearly, the more the Iranians progress the worse the situation is. This is a critical year, but not necessarily “go, no-go.” The problem doesn’t necessarily stop on December 31, 2012. We’re in a period when something must happen: Either Iran takes its nuclear program to a civilian footing only or the world, perhaps we too, will have to do something. We’re closer to the end of the discussions than the middle.’”


Associated Press coverage of the Ha’aretz interview (“Top Israelis at odds on Iran sanctions; Netanyahu cites uranium moves as step to weapon,” Washington Times, April 26) noted part of Gantz’s timetable reference, quoting the general that “we’re in a period when something must happen: Either Iran takes its nuclear program to a civilian footi ng only or the world, perhaps we too, will have to do something. We’re closer to the end of discussions than the middle.”


Unlike The Post, Goldberg speculates on Gantz’s possible motives for speaking publicly in an apparently blunt manner. One might have been “throwing sand in the eyes of everyone, especially the Iranians, who might come away from coverage of the issue that they can breathe easy until the end of 2012.”


The Atlantic writer didn’t mention it, and neither did The Post or AP, but, as some commentators have observed, Israeli leaders did not speak publicly about attacking Iraq’s nuclear reactor before they did in 1981, or before striking Syria’s reactor construction in 2007. The Post still uses as an advertising slogan, “The Washington Post: If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” And even if you do get it, when it comes to Israel-related news, you often don’t get it all. 


The related New York Times’ dispatch, “Israeli Army Chief Says He Believes Iran Won’t Build Bomb” (April 26), by its Israel correspondent, Jodi Rudoren, was considerably shorter than The Post’s article and barely sketched the topic for readers.   




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