Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept up his hawkish, pro-war rhetoric on Thursday, but other top Israeli officials issued more careful statements regarding Iran’s nuclear program, indicating a rift in Israel’s senior leadership.
On a one-day trip to neighboring Cyprus, Netanyahu said the economic sanctions imposed on Iran have not yet been effective in deterring their quest for nuclear weapons. He pointed to Iranian news broadcasts featuring Ahmadinejad touring a Tehran research reactor as evidence of a defiant Iran.
“If anybody needed a reminder that sanctions so far haven’t stopped Iran’s nuclear program, it was the guided tour by Iran’s president of the centrifuge halls yesterday,” he said. “I hope that sanctions work but so far they haven’t worked. We are witnessing a regime that breaks all the rules and has absolutely no respect for international norms.”
In contrast, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, played down ceremonial Iranian broadcast of new nuclear progress, saying the Iranians are trying to portray their situation as “better than what it really is.” He dismissed the broadcast as “show.” And one of Netanyahu’s deputies, Moshe Yaalon, said the broadcast marked a sign of panic and weakness. “Inflation and unemployment are high. There is also disquiet that is threatening the regime.”
That sentiment was reiterated in the U.S. Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman, said Wednesday the announcement was “hyped” for a domestic audience. “Our view on this is that it’s not terribly new and it’s not terribly impressive,” she said.
Netanyahu also promoted recent attacks on Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia, and a botched bombing Thailand as evidence of Tehran’s support for terrorism. Of course, he left out his own government’s support for covert terrorist attacks on Iran.
While Netanyahu and others in his government have been the most hawkish and eager for a preemptive military strike on Iran, the overwhelming consensus in the U.S. military and intelligence community has been that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons and has no intention to do so.