Barak adds to Israel’s mixed messages on Iran

The New York Times reports: One day after Israeli newspapers reported that the nation’s top general had said economic and diplomatic pressures against Iran were beginning to succeed, his superior, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said Thursday that the chances “appear low” that the Iranian government would bow to international pressure and halt its nuclear program.

The remarks by Israel’s top defense officials added to uncertainty over the unity of the nation’s leadership in its approach to Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel fears is aimed at producing weapons. While Israeli officials insisted Thursday that there was no disagreement, the comments by Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz to Israeli journalists did not appear to line up completely either with the tone of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, or the assessment of Mr. Barak.

“The truth must be told: The chance that this level of pressures will make Iran respond to the international demand to halt the program in an irreversible manner — the chance of that appears low,” Mr. Barak said during an Independence Day celebration in Herzliya. “I will be happy to be proved wrong. But that is my best assessment, and it is based on years of tracking Iranian maneuvering and on historical precedents of North Korea and Pakistan.”

Mr. Barak’s remarks came even as top officials tried to erase the perception of disagreement over Iran. The day began with General Gantz’s telling reporters “there is really no distance” between his view and that of the prime minister, according to an aide who was with him. But it was unclear whether the general was being pressed to walk back from his comments, if he felt his message was misconstrued or if it was all part of a broader strategy of trying to offer dual messages for different audiences.

In any case, the discrepancies, however slight, were self-evident.

In an interview published Wednesday in the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz, General Gantz described the Iranian government as “very rational.” Mr. Netanyahu had told CNN on Tuesday that he would not count “on Iran’s rational behavior.”

General Gantz said Thursday morning that he thought Iran would ultimately decide against building a weapon because of sanctions and the threat of a military strike from multiple nations; hours later, Mr. Barak said he thought it unlikely that the sanctions would succeed and that he did not see Iran as “rational in the Western sense of the word, meaning people seeking a status quo and the outlines of a solution to problems in a peaceful manner.”

Mr. Barak’s extensive foreign policy comments were quite unusual, given that they were offered during what was billed as a holiday toast, but hewed closely to the positions he has long stated regarding Iran and its nuclear program. He also warned of “a nuclear arms race” with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and “even the new Egypt,” calling Iran “a challenge for all the world.”

General Gantz, meanwhile, hinted Thursday that Israel had international backing for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, saying: “The military force is ready. Not only our forces, but other forces as well.”

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