Regular readers of the U.S. mainstream news might have been surprised the past several days to learn that a number of prominent Israelis disagree with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assessment of the Iranian threat. That public shock is understandable since leading American news outlets and the U.S. Congress have done little besides parrot and praise Netanyahu's positions.
Much like the pattern before the Iraq War -- when the U.S. news media abetted President George W. Bush in misleading most Americans into believing that Iraq had WMDs and was implicated in the 9/11 attacks -- the mainstream press now has left large segments of the population thinking that Iran already has a nuclear bomb or is hard at work on one with plans to use it against Israel.
When writers at Consortiumnews.com and other independent news sites have challenged that conventional wisdom -- noting that the actual facts don't support this alarmist view of Iran -- we have encountered ugly attacks aimed at discrediting the information, including accusations of anti-Semitism. So, it was likely startling to many Americans over the past week when serious people who have worked inside the Israeli security establishment offered similar assessments.
For instance, last Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel's military chief, said he doubts that Iran will press ahead toward construction of a nuclear bomb, putting him more in line with the analysts of the U.S. intelligence community who have stated since 2007 that Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and hasn't resumed it.
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Gantz said Iran's leaders were "very rational people" who have not decided to build a bomb. Referring to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Gantz said, "I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile."
By contrast, Netanyahu continues to ramp up his war rhetoric, warning of another Holocaust if Iran's nuclear facilities are not forcibly disabled and disputing the value of Iran's participation in multilateral talks aimed at ensuring that its nuclear program, which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes only, stays that way.
"The centrifuges ... were spinning before the talks began recently with Iran, they were spinning during the talks, they're spinning as we speak," Netanyahu said on CNN.
But Gantz's comments were followed on Friday by more criticism of Netanyahu from Yuval Diskin, who recently retired as the chief of Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet. He accused the Prime Minister of "misleading the public" about the likely effectiveness of a preemptive Israeli bombardment of Iran's nuclear facilities.
Referring to Netanyahu as "messianic," Diskin said he had "no faith" in the ability of Israel's current leadership to handle the crisis. "I don't believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings," a criticism that Diskin also applied to Israel's handling of the Palestinian conflict in which the Shin Bet is deeply involved.
"I fear very much that these are not the people I'd want at the wheel," Diskin said of Netanyahu's team.
Then, on Sunday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert weighed in with his own critique at a conference in New York sponsored by the Jerusalem Post. He accused Netanyahu of disregarding President Barack Obama and the international community.
Heckled by a pro-Netanyahu crowd -- shouting "Naïve!" and "Neville Chamberlain!" -- Olmert defended Obama as "a friend of Israel" who deserved respect. Amid boos from the audience, Olmert joked, "I can see that this hall is full of Democrats."
More boos rained down on Olmert when he called on Israel and its backers to work with the United States and the world community to restrain Iran's nuclear program, the New York Times reported. A perturbed Olmert responded to the crowd's eagerness for a military strike by saying:
"As a concerned Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel with his family and all of his children and grandchildren, I love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from the state of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible mistake that will cost lives of Israelis."