A private door opens from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in central Jerusalem directly into a long, modestly furnished, half-panelled room decorated with modern paintings by Israeli artists and a copy of Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence. It contains little more than a long wooden table, brown leather chairs and a single old-fashioned white projector screen.
This inner sanctum at the end of a corridor between Netanyahu’s private room and the office of his top military adviser, is where one of the decade’s most momentous military decisions could soon be taken: to launch an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear programme, reports Reuters.
Time for that decision is fast running out and the mood in Jerusalem is hardening.
Iran continues to enrich uranium in defiance of international pressure, saying it needs the fuel for its civilian nuclear programme. The West is convinced that Tehran’s real objective is to build an atomic bomb – something which the Jewish state will never accept because its leaders consider a nuclear armed-Iran a threat to its very existence.
Adding to the international pressure, U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said this week American military plans to strike Iran were “ready” and the option was “fully available”.
The central role Iran plays in Netanyahu’s deliberations is reflected in the huge map of the Middle East hanging by the door of his office. Israel lies on one edge, with Iran taking pride of place in the centre.
Experts say that within a few months, much of Iran’s nuclear programme will have been moved deep underground beneath the Fordow mountain, making a successful military strike much more difficult.
As the deadline for a decision draws nearer, the public pronouncements of Israel’s top officials and military have changed. After hawkish warnings about a possible strike earlier this year, their language of late has been more guarded and clues to their intentions more difficult to discern.
“The top of the government has gone into lockdown,” one official said. “Nobody is saying anything publicly. That in itself tells you a lot about where things stand.”
Last week Netanyahu pulled off a spectacular political surprise, creating a coalition of national unity and delaying elections which everyone believed were inevitable. The manoeuvre also led to speculation that the Israeli leader wanted a broad, strong government to lead a military campaign.
The inclusion of the Iranian-born former Israeli chief of staff and veteran soldier, Gen. Shaul Mofaz, in the coalition, fuelled that speculation – even though both Mofaz and Netanyahu deny that Iran was mentioned in the coalition negotiations.
“I think they have made a decision to attack,” said one senior Israeli figure with close ties to the leadership. “It is going to happen. The window of opportunity is before the U.S. presidential election in November. This way they will bounce the Americans into supporting them.”
Those close to Netanyahu are more cautious, saying no assumptions should be made about an attack on Iran – an attack with such potentially devastating consequences across the volatile Middle East that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas even went so far as to predict in an interview with Reuters last week that it would be “the end of the world”.
Source: Thisday Newspaper