Israel's foreign intelligence agency and military were ordered in 2010 by the country's top civilian leadership to prepare for a strike on Iran, a report out Monday says. The investigative report by Israeli television's Channel 2, which airs Monday night, says that when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered that Israel be put on a war footing, their intelligence chief accused them of "stealing a decision to go to war."
As a security briefing attended by Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Mossad chief Meir Dagan ended, Netanyahu is reported to have ordered them to raise the security forces to the pre-attack level of "P-Plus."
"This is not something you do if you are not sure you want to end up with a military operation," Ashkenazi is said to have responded, adding that the preparation would create "facts on the ground" that could lead to war. "This accordion produces music when you play with it."
Dagan was blunter with his bosses, according to the report. "You may be making an illegal decision to go to war," he said, since the full security cabinet has to declare war.
"The [Prime Minister] and Defense Minister simply tried to steal a decision to go to war," he said.
This is the first public account of the disagreement, though both Ashkenazi and Dagan have publicly criticized the prospect of a strike on Iran's nuclear program since they stepped down from their posts, Dagan in late 2010, Ashkenazi in 2011. Dagan has called it "a stupid thing."
In an interview with Channel 2, Barak confirmed that the order was made to raise the readiness to P-Plus but denied it meant war was inevitable. He accused Ashkenazi of saying the IDF didn't have the operational capability.
"A chief of staff needs to build the operational capacity, he should tell us professionally if we can operate or not and he can and should give his recommendation, but an operation can go through even if he opposes it," Barak said.
Ashkenazi responded: "I prepared for the option, the army was ready to attack, but I also said that an attack would be a strategic mistake."
It is unclear when exactly the episode took place and of course a strike never happened. In an interview last week with The Daily Telegraph, Barak said that Iran had avoided a "moment of truth" over this past summer by using a third of its enriched uranium for civilian research. Iran insists all of its enriched uranium is for civilian purposes.
Like Netanyahu at the United Nations General Assembly in September, Barak added that Iran would reach a "red line" of enriched uranium by next spring or summer.