In an interview this week, ex-Israeli spy chief, Tamir Pardo, said Israel had made preparations to attack Iran in 2011, leading to accusations that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to instigate an all out Israel vs Iran war.
Pardo served as the head of Mossad between 2011 and 2016. In an interview airing Thursday with Uvda, an Israeli current affairs program, Pardo described an instance when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his military command to prepare for a strike against Iran. According to Pardo, then-chief of staff Benny Gantz, told Netanyahu the armed forces would be prepared to engage Iran within 15 days.
Planned Israel vs Iran Crisis?
American news sources have jumped on the Pardo interview, claiming Netanyahu was prepared to instigate an Israel vs Iran military engagement, bringing crisis to the Middle East. Newsweek reported, “Israel planned to bomb Iran and initiate an all-out conflict in the Middle East, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former head of intelligence, who said he believed the move may have been illegal.”
According to the transcript of Pardo’s interview, that isn’t exactly the case. The former spy chief implies Netanyahu ordered the move to send a message to someone, possibly the US. Pardo said, “If someone does that then it has two [possible] purposes: One purpose is that he really means [to attack] and the other option is that he is sending a signal, that someone out there should know.” At the time, Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye.
Despite his suspicions that the move might have been to send a message, Pardo claims he was concerned about the legality of the measure. He said, “It’s not something that you’re permitted to do just for practice.” Pardo claimed the move would have been the equivalent of “launching a war.” He said that eventually he eventually protested the move, along with Gantz.
There were, however, other members of Netanyahu’s cabinet who were strongly in favor of the move to attack Iran and instigate a Israel vs Iran conflict. Last June, former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak claimed he had supported the measures taken to launch an attack on Iran. He even described himself as “more of a hawk than Netanyahu.”
Pardo’s predecessor, on the other hand, was against the measures. Meir Dagan, who preceded Pardo as Director of Mossad, strongly opposed the plans. According to a New York Times report, Dagan called the plans to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities a “a stupid idea.” Dagan allegedly told Netanyahu that he “could be making an illegal decision to go to war. Only the cabinet has that power.”
Iran’s Nuclear Program
Eventually, no outright Israel vs Iran war devolved, but Iran’s nuclear program did suffer a number of blows. A series of targeted assassinations carried out with bombs and guns left four nuclear scientists dead and another seriously injured. Although many news outlets linked the assassinations to Mossad, Israel has never confirmed or denied the allegations.
Tehran has long claimed to be pursuing a nuclear program for peaceful purposes only, but regional enemies Saudi Arabia and Israel have insisted that this isn’t the case. The US has likewise raised speculations about Iran’s nuclear program.
While developing a nuclear program, Iran was heavily sanctioned internationally, especially by the US. The effects of the sanctions were crippling, but were eventually lifted under President Obama in 2015 as part of the Iran nuclear agreement. The multilateral agreement between Iran and the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, and Germany, lifted sanctions on Iran. In exchange, Iran was required to limit its nuclear production.
While on the campaign trail, then-Candidate Trump frequently lambasted President Obama for the Iran nuclear deal. A key promise of the Trump campaign was that the US would exit the agreement. Since the beginning of his presidency, questions had been circulating over whether or not Trump would actually leave the deal. President Trump announced in early May that the US would be leaving the agreement.
Israeli Airstrikes in Syria
Not long after President Trump’s announcement, Israel launched airstrikes against Iranian military infrastructure in Syria, killing 23 military personnel. The airstrike came after an Iranian attack on Israeli held territory in the the Golan Heights. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman reported the rockets fired by Iran into the Golan Heights either were shot down or fell short of their targets.
Iran is embroiled in the civil war in Syria, supporting the government forces of Bashar al-Assad, along with Russia. Israel has technically remained neutral in the war, but has raised concerns about an Iranian presence so close to Israel’s northern border.
According to reports today out of Israel, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Lieberman met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu.
Through the conversations, the two countries agreed Iran should withdraw its forces from the Syria’s southern border, which it shares with Israel. They also agreed Israel should be allowed to target threats in Syria so long as the targets are not tied to Russia’s ally, Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in the UK, reported that Hezbollah militants and Iranian advisors will be withdrawing from Daraa and Quneitra, southern regions of Syria near the Golan Heights.
Reports from Russian news sources have claimed that Moscow aims to see Iranian forces removed from the area and replaced with Russian military police.
Lieberman wrote on Twitter, following his meeting with Shoygu, “The state of Israel appreciates Russia’s understanding of our security concerns, particularly regarding the situation at our northern border. We’ll continue our dialogue with Russia on every matter at hand.”