As all regular readers of the Guardian and its ‘Comment is Free’ website are aware, that paper long since chose to take a ‘Stop the War Coalition’-style stance on the subject of pre-emptive intervention in Iran’s nuclear programme.
Dozens of articles have been published on the subject, the vast majority of which have argued in one form or another against a pro-active approach and promoted a benign view of both the Iranian regime and its nuclear aspirations.
On April 25th two articles were published – one by Julian Borger and the other by Saeed Kamali Dehghan – on exactly the same subject; interpretations of an interview given by the Israeli Chief of Staff to the Ha’aretz newspaper.
Julian Borger’s piece runs with the headline “Israel army chief contradicts Netanyahu on Iran” and he uses one quote out of a very long interview as a basis for the overall impression his article attempts to make: an implication that the Israeli Prime Minister is over-reacting to the Iranian threat. In other words, Borger uses Gantz’s words to try to lend legitimacy the Guardian view of the benign nature of the Iranian nuclear programme.
Saeed Kamali Dehghan’s headline goes even further: “Israeli military chief: Iran will not decide to make nuclear weapons” and he too stresses an alleged dissonance between the views of Gantz and those of Binyamin Netanyahu.
Obviously, it is necessary to take Lt. Gen. Gantz’s words in the context of the entire interview rather than cherry-picking quotes perceived as convenient back-up to a specific agenda. The original Hebrew version of the interview is here. The relevant sections of the English-language translation are as follows:
“If Iran goes nuclear it will have negative dimensions for the world, for the region, for the freedom of action Iran will permit itself,” Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Haaretz in an Independence Day interview.
That freedom of action might be expressed “against us, via the force Iran will project toward its clients: Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Gaza. And there’s also the potential for an existential threat. If they have a bomb, we are the only country in the world that someone calls for its destruction and also builds devices with which to bomb us. But despair not. We are a temperate state. The State of Israel is the strongest in the region and will remain so. Decisions can and must be made carefully, out of historic responsibility but without hysteria,” Gantz said.
Asked whether 2012 is also decisive for Iran, Gantz shies from the term. “Clearly, the more the Iranians progress the worse the situation is. This is a critical year, but not necessarily ‘go, no-go.’ The problem doesn’t necessarily stop on December 31, 2012. We’re in a period when something must happen: Either Iran takes its nuclear program to a civilian footing only or the world, perhaps we too, will have to do something. We’re closer to the end of the discussions than the middle.”
Gantz says the international pressure on Iran, in the form of diplomatic and economic sanctions, is beginning to bear fruit. “I also expect that someone is building operational tools of some sort, just in case. The military option is the last chronologically but the first in terms of its credibility. If it’s not credible it has no meaning. We are preparing for it in a credible manner. That’s my job, as a military man.”
Iran, Gantz says, “is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.”
As long as its facilities are not bomb-proof, “the program is too vulnerable, in Iran’s view. If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.”
About three months ago Gantz’s U.S. counterpart, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, visited Israel as his guest. “We speak a great deal with the Americans. It’s not on the level of a discussion, where I want something concrete and he forbids it. We are partners. We and the United States have a large common alignment of interests and relations, but America looks at America and Israel [looks at] Israel. We aren’t two oceans away from the problem – we live here with our civilians, our women and our children, so we interpret the extent of the urgency differently. America says its piece openly, and what it says in the media is also said behind closed doors. It cannot be translated into lights, red or green, because no one is asking them anything in that regard.”
Gantz knows that in the event of another war he will face time pressures as a result of enemy operations against the home front. The IDF will have to bring massive force to bear from the outset, employing most of the means at its disposal quickly and without hesitation or delay.
Ground operations, long-distance fire and in-depth operations as well?
“I don’t pretend to determine that now. I am preparing for full deployment of our capabilities. The political leadership will have to take courageous, painful decisions. There are a certain number of critical decisions in a war. The chief of staff makes about 10 of these in his sphere of responsibility in wartime, and the political leadership makes about half this number.”
These decisions, Gantz knows, will be made under a barrage of rockets and missiles against civilian areas.
In light of the Arab Spring, Israel’s military preparedness must now include a much greater and more varied range of arenas and possibilities.
“I don’t know what will happen in Syria, but presumably the Golan Heights won’t be as quiet as before. I cannot remove Syria from the military equation, nor Lebanon. I assume that if there are terror threats from the Golan or Lebanon I’ll have to take action. I cannot do everything by ‘stand-off’ [remote]. The enemy’s fire capabilities have developed at every distance, four or five times what they were in the Second Lebanon War and four or five times compared to the Gaza Strip before Operation Cast Lead, not to mention the new ground-to-air missile in Syria. I go to sleep with the understanding that what we did in the recent long and comprehensive exercises could happen in reality.”
So, as is apparent after reading a more extended version of the interview, the IDF Chief of Staff is in fact far from writing off the Iranian nuclear threat and/or dangers from Iran’s various proxies in the region and his appraisal of the situation is nowhere near as far removed from that of the Israeli Prime Minister as the Guardian’s writers would have us believe.
In addition, Borger’s claim that “Gantz all but calls on Netanyahu to calm down” is shown to be no more than a figment of his own imagination and wishful thinking. The Israeli Prime Minister’s name is not even mentioned by Lt. Gen. Gantz and as anyone familiar with Israel’s highest-ranking officer knows, if he did have anything to say to Mr Netanyahu, it is highly unlikely that would be done via the pages of Ha’aretz.
Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan once again illustrate Guardian propaganda – the systematic spreading of information and/or disinformation, usually to promote a specific political viewpoint – in its most transparent form.