But Shavit and other reporters were forbidden from quoting from those briefings or identifying the officials giving them.
The public reticence of Netanyahu and Barak may reflect the fact that the two leaders are not in a position to commit the Israeli government publicly to an attack on Iran. Press reports have portrayed Netanyahu and Barak as representing a distinct minority on the issue in Israel's nine-member "security cabinet".
Even Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who argued publicly last month in an interview with Haaretz that the only alternatives in regard to Iran are "bomb or bombing", was said by his interviewer, Ari Shavit, to express "deep concern" in private conversations about Netanyahu being dragged by Barak into a "wanton Iranian adventure".
In late October 2011 it was leaked to the Israeli Hebrew language newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that Netanyahu and Barak were seeking to convince the Israeli cabinet to support an attack on Iran. Barak then told Israel Radio that no decision had been made and that it would not be taken by two people.
Raviv Drucker, political commentator for Israel's channel 10, noted that such press speculation "works rather well for Netanyahu, as he can be portrayed as keen to deal with Iran but being "held back' by others in the Israeli establishment."
Netanyahu and Barak may also be constrained by the consensus of the Israeli national security establishment in opposition to an attack on Iran under present circumstances. IDF and Mossad officials have told Netanyahu that Israeli intelligence agrees with the U.S. intelligence community that Iran has not yet decided to take the critical steps that would be required to have nuclear weapons.
Barak even alluded to that fact himself in an interview with Israel Radio Mar. 22. He said Iran "wants to achieve a military nuclear capability" but was "not breaking out". One of the reasons, Barak said, was its "fear of what will happen, if, God forbid, the United States or maybe someone else acts against them."
That statement implied that Iran was already being deterred from advancing to nuclear weapons -- a position at odds with the Netanyahu government's posture.
Netanyahu's refusal to make a public threat to attack Iran is also consistent with his well-established reputation as an extremely "risk averse" political figure.
"Netanyahu is known for his caution," said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near Policy in an interview with The Tablet in May.
The unambiguous Mofaz threats of 2006 and 2008 did not signal an actual readiness to strike at Iranian nuclear facilities, because at that point, the Israeli Air Force did not have the capability to carry out an effective attack.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, who visited Israel in November 2006 and met with Israeli Air Force officials, concluded that they did not have the capability to destroy Iranian nuclear sites. In an interview with this writer in 2007, Francona said the Israeli officers "recognised they have a shortfall in aerial refueling".
But Olmert and Mofaz may been emboldened to issue explicit threats by the knowledge that Iran would not be close to a breakout capability for a few more years.
*Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
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