The release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran’s nuclear programme this week has ended talk of an independent Israeli strike on Iran — for now.
Israel’s leadership is now waiting to see how the international community — and specifically the Obama administration — react to the report.
The IAEA report sparked doom-laden headlines across the Western media, although nothing in it surprised Israeli officials.
The fact that Iran did not ended its military nuclear research programme in 2003 as it has claimed, that it continues to carry out secret tests, and that it has simultaneously been developing long-range nuclear missiles has all been known for years to Israeli and other western intelligence agencies.
Much of that knowledge has now gone into the IAEA report. The main difference now is that the IAEA, under the new leadership of Yukiya Amano, has finally come out and said these things in the open, in a way that the international community can no longer ignore.
After weeks of unprecedented public statements in Jerusalem regarding a possible strike on Iran, the official response to the IAEA report has so far been muted.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed his cabinet ministers to refrain from any public responses. The official line that the government “is studying the report” should of course be interpreted as “we are studying how other countries are responding to the report”, since the Israelis have nothing new to learn from the report.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave a hint on Israel’s current position when his office leaked quotes of his from “closed discussions” in which he said that now “only crippling sanctions can have any effect on Iran”.
Mr Lieberman also sent a veiled warning to the Americans: “If, after the IAEA report, the US will not lead severe sanctions against Iran, the meaning is that the West is agreeing to a nuclear Iran.”
On Tuesday morning, Defence Minister Ehud Barak also made sure to keep Israel’s military option out in the open. In a radio interview, he railed against those “sowing fear” and said that Israel “is the strongest in the region and we will remain so in the foreseeable future. War is no picnic but there is no scenario of 50,000, 5,000 and or even 500 deaths.”
Mr Barak made it clear that no decision on an attack had been made and emphasised that “we are preparing for this thing” and that he and Mr Netanyahu “are not acting alone, in any case this needs the authorisation of the cabinet”.
Despite some of his cabinet colleagues criticising the fact that an open debate was being held over a possible Israeli strike, Mr Barak seemed satisfied.
Defence officials have stressed over the past two weeks that while Israel has indeed stepped up its preparations for a possible strike against Iran, this was a result of the intensifying intelligence assessments regarding Iran’s advance towards a nuclear capability, not a decision taken to carry out an attack.
“Much of the debate in the media over the last few weeks,” said one defence official, “was a delayed reaction to the deliberations and discussions that had already taken place in the summer and was only now beginning to come out.”