Iran unlikely to make bomb says Israel army chief
Jerusalem, April 26, 2012
Israel's military chief said he does not believe Iran will decide to build an atomic bomb and called its leaders "very rational" - comments that clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assessment.
Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz's remarks, in an interview published on Wednesday in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, drew little attention in Israel on its annual remembrance day for fallen soldiers, when political discourse is suspended.
But they will add fuel to an internal debate on the prospects of Iran weaponising its uranium enrichment programme and the wisdom and risks of any Israeli military strike to try to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.
"Iran is moving step-by-step towards a point where it will be able to decide if it wants to make a nuclear bomb. It has not decided yet whether to go the extra mile," Gantz said. But, he said, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could opt to produce nuclear weapons should he believe that Iran would not face reprisal.
"In my opinion, he will be making a huge mistake if he does that and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile," Gantz said. "I think the Iranian leadership is comprised of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, who at some moments may make different calculations, is a dangerous thing."
Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has not ruled out military action against Iran should economic sanctions fail to curb its nuclear programme, saying all options were on the table.
Last week, in a speech during Israel's Holocaust remembrance day, Netanyahu said: "Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal."
Tehran denies seeking the bomb, saying it is enriching uranium only for peaceful energy purposes and that its nuclear programme is a threat to no one.
Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would not want to bet "the security of the world on Iran's rational behaviour." A "militant Islamic regime", he said, "can put their ideology before their survival."
The portrayal of Iran as irrational - willing to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon even if it means the destruction of the Islamic Republic in retaliatory strikes - could bolster a case for pre-emptive bombing to take out its atomic facilities.
Netanyahu had already been stung at home by his former spymaster, Meir Dagan, who said that such an Israeli strike on Iran would be a "ridiculous" idea.
Shannon Kile, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said Gantz's description of Iranian leaders as rational was "quite an interesting turnabout."
"Hopefully, it is going to reduce the incentives for any sort of pre-emptive or preventive military action, at least for the time being," Kile said.
The United States has also not ruled out military action as a last resort. But many allies of Washington, and even some senior US officials, fear such an attack could ignite a broader war and only temporarily halt Iran's nuclear advances.
Gantz's assessment appeared to be in step with the view of the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey. He said in a CNN interview in February he believed Iran was a "rational actor" and it would be premature to take military action against it. - Reuters