Sharon Ignored Iran Threat

Ariel Sharon knew about the rise of Iran's nuclear threat, but did nothing about it. Is this happening again?

Dr. Moshe Dann,

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On December 18, 2009, Aluf Benn and Amos Harel, writing in Haaretz, offered one of the most important insights into Israeli policy regarding the Iranian nuclear threat.


"When Netanyahu was finance minister in Ariel Sharon's cabinet, he urged Sharon to focus on the struggle against Iran. When Netanyahu resigned over the disengagement plan, and Sharon left Likud and established
The decision not to bomb the Iranian facility was a gigantic mistake that changed the course of history.
Kadima, Netanyahu told Sharon that if he acted against Iran before the election, Netanyahu would support him. Sharon did not act.


"The uranium conversion-plant in Isfahan has an important function in the chain of Iran's nuclear program. It first went into operation in 2004 … [and] since 2004, hundreds of kilograms … were sent to the enrichment plant in Natanz [stored in] under ground tunnels.


"It is possible that years ago, the problem of Iran's nuclear project could have been solved by one tough blow and with relatively minimal risk. At the time, the project was dependent on one facility … Isfahan. If it had been bombed, Iran would have lost large quantities of raw material for uranium enrichment, and its nuclear program would have been set back years. But nothing happened."


Why not? Benn and Harel do not answer this crucial question, nor did the media pick up their observation. Was the IAF incapable? Did Israel lack essential information? Was America, bogged down in Iraq, reluctant to agree? Was Israel misled by faulty intelligence reports that the Iranians were not developing nuclear weapons? Why did Netanyahu push for attacking Iran, and was he alone?


Was a proposal brought to the government to bomb the Iranian facility and if it was, what happened? If the issue was not raised, why not?


In hindsight, the decision not to bomb the Iranian facility was a gigantic mistake that changed the course of history. There may have been, however, another reason for Sharon's inattention: his preoccupation with unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and Shomron. The "Gaza Disengagement," which took place in August, 2005, took a year to prepare, mobilized massive resources and cost billions of shekels. Focused on expelling Jews from their homes and destroying 25 communities, did Sharon ignore existential threats to Israel's existence?


Three other people are also directly responsibility for Israel's blunder: Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Vice PM Shimon Peres, and Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who was Commander of the IAF, and designated in February, 2005, to replace Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon as IDF Chief of Staff. An enthusiastic supporter of Sharon's plans, Halutz was forced to resign following the war in Lebanon. Was this part of a pattern of confused decision-making?


Similarly, in 2006, PM Ehud Olmert, in the midst of the war in Lebanon, announced his intention to evacuate more settlements. What was the connection? It doesn't make sense. Had the IDF been prepared for war with Hezbollah instead of attacking the tiny hilltop community of Amona, near Ofrah, earlier that year, to destroy a few Jewish homes, the outcome of that war would have been different.


The war in Lebanon was not a military defeat; it was a political defeat which allowed Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, direct access to the government. Because PM Ehud Olmert's primary agenda was political, not military, instead of defeating Hezbollah, he legitimized them. He failed to respond effectively to Hamas terror attacks, until, in an effort to gain position in the coming election, he authorized the Cast Lead operation into Gaza. 


Another catastrophic failure of leadership is upon us again. Midnight attacks on innocent Jews by the IDF and police in order to destroy a few Jewish homes might seem justified in order to fulfill obligations PM Netanyahu undertook to "freeze settlement building." But is this necessary? Are these homes more important than hundreds of thousands of illegal Arab buildings? What purpose does it serve? Distractions from the real issues?


PM Netanyahu speaks eloquently about Zionist heritage, but are not the Jews whom his government attacks part of that heritage? Does his definition of Zionist heritage depend on what the UN allows, President Obama dictates, or Peace Now's hysterics?


Sharon's failure to bomb Iran when it was possible is now re-enacted on the backs of Jews who live in Yehuda and Shomron. Netanyahu's silence about Iran in 2004 – which led to Hamas' catastrophic takeover of Gaza -- echoes in 2010 when he and his "inner cabinet" created an intolerable situation, not only to please Obama, but to satisfy the rabidly anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist policies of his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak.


Appealing to Zionist heritage, improving transportation and lauding Israeli technical achievements are safe positions; but that is hardly an agenda that will inspire a nation under attack, or offers a way out of Israel's growing demonization and threats to its legitimacy and very existence.


PM Binyamin Netanyahu was not elected in order to appeal to American, or European policies, nor to destroy Jewish homes. Been there; done that. He was elected to strengthen Israel's security, to stamp out corruption, to insure an impartial and fair judicial system, to enhance our educational system so that it includes
Another catastrophic failure of leadership is upon us again.
basic elements of Jewish and Zionist values and heritage.


As a national leader, Netanyahu failed in 2004; he could have opposed Sharon and exposed Sharon's obsessions. He could have made Iran the issue. He didn't, and now we all must pay for that. But what has he learned from 2004?


I would offer a simple principle: when you attack Jews, you will lose – always.


And one more: Zionist heritage did not begin, or end with Tel Hai and the site where the State of Israel was proclaimed. Zionism is an ongoing, evolving process that includes every Jew and those who support the right of the Jewish People to statehood in the Land of Israel. Heritage programs must not only be historical, but guides to the future. They can also provide parameters for meaningful leadership. 


Netanyahu's primary obligation is to protect Israel, spiritually and physically – by any means necessary. He fumbled in 2004; let's hope that he won't repeat that mistake.