So, Israel Nearly Attacked Iran in 2010; Who'd a Thunk It?

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From Jodi Rudoren

An Israeli news channel reported Sunday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked the Israeli military in 2010 to prepare for an imminent attack on the Iranian nuclear program, but that their efforts were blocked by concerns over whether the military could do so and whether the men had the authority to give such an order.

The report, by the respected investigative journalist Ilana Dayan, came in the form of a promotional preview for an hourlong documentary about Israel's decision-making process regarding Iran, which is scheduled to be broadcast Monday night. Ms. Dayan said on the channel's evening newscast on Sunday that Mr. Netanyahu, in a meeting with a small circle of top ministers, turned to Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the Israeli Defense Forces at the time, and told him to "set the systems for P-plus," a term meaning that an operation would start soon.

(...)

Mr. Ashkenazi was quoted saying of the P-plus order: "This is not something you do unless you are certain you want to execute at the end. This accordion will make music if you keep playing it." But Mr. Barak told Ms. Dayan that "it is not true that creating a situation where the I.D.F. and the country's operational systems are, for a few hours or for a few days, on alert to carry out certain operations means the state of Israel is compelled to act."

"Eventually, at the moment of truth, the answer that was given was that, in fact, the ability did not exist," Mr. Barak said in the clip that was shown on Sunday.

I would point Goldblog readers to this story in The Atlantic, "The Point of No Return," from 2010, in which I suggested that Netanyahu and Barak were quite serious then about launching an attack. The new Ilana Dayan report makes the case that Netanyahu and Barak were ready to order the strike, but the now-deposed Gabi Ashkenazi and Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, fought back vociferously. The most interesting suggestion in the previews of this blockbuster report comes from Barak, who is quoted as sayng: "Eventually, at the moment of truth, the answer that was given was that, in fact, the ability did not exist."

A kind of generals' coup in reverse -- the ultimate argument the IDF high command has against an Iran strike is that it can't pull it off. This is not a position uniformly held in the IDF; some of the generals I spoke to in the spring and summer of 2010 believed the Israeli Air Force could successfully attack Iran's nuclear facilities. This issue will remain murky for some time, but it does raise the obvious question, to which people have only partial answers: Has the Israeli security establishment shifted from this position privately? Publicly -- or at least, outside their command posts -- the IDF leadership says today it can pull off a strike. But maybe this is a bluff.

What is not a bluff -- and what, apparently, was never a bluff -- was Netanyahu's determination to launch a strike. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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