IDF chief’s views on Iran misrepresented

IDF chief's views on Iran misrepresented

A number of major news outlets, including ABC news here in Australia, have been reporting on the Yom Ha-atzmaut interview with Israeli Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz that appeared in Ha’aretz this week.

Unfortunately, most of these reports have taken the IDF chief’s words out of context and in doing so, changed their meaning as well as their significance.

According to the misleading reports, the interview exposed fundamental differences between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Gantz over their assessment of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

Most damagingly, some of the wording of the headlines and lead paragraphs of the stories suggested that Gantz did not believe Iran’s nuclear program had a military component. Many of the stories also seized upon a comment by Gantz that Iran’s leaders were “rational”.

On the ABC news website, the report on Gantz’s interview ran under the headline “Iran won’t develop nukes: Israeli defence chief“, while the Sydney Morning Herald‘s headline read “Israel tips Iran will not build N-bombs“.

But was this really what Gantz said? By referring back to the original interview, the true implication of Gantz’s comments become more clear.
In fact, far from saying Iran does not intend to build a nuclear weapon, Gantz says it hasn’t yet made the final decision whether to weaponise, but continues to march closer to the cusp of that decision, and is certainly seeking military nuclear capabilities.

In his own words:

Iran, Gantz says, “is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.”

Moreover, Gantz remarks in Ha’aretz conveyed that he believed the credible threat of military action against Iran is what is likely to prevent Iran from making the decision to weaponise.

“If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.”

Gantz’s comment, that he doesn’t “think [Khameni] will want to go the extra mile,” immediately followed his analysis that the prospect of Iran’s nuclear development sites being attacked is what is, to this point, preventing it from making the final decision to build a nuclear bomb. and Gantz emphasised the importance of preperations for a credible military option, saying:

“The military option is the last chronologically but the first in terms of its credibility. If it’s not credible it has no meaning. We are preparing for it in a credible manner. That’s my job, as a military man.”

Gantz’s reference to Iran’s quest for “invulnerability” borrows from the comments of Gantz’s superior, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who has warned in the past of the danger of allowing Iran to fortify its nuclear development sites to the point where the largest bombs in Israel’s arsenal would not be strong enough to destroy them.

As for Gantz’s comment that Iran’s leadership are “rational”, this too has been misinterpreted in many news reports, for Gantz was not trying to say that Iran’s leaders are moderate or necessarily receptive to diplomacy (note that he also said a bomb was “dangerous” in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who might make “different calculations”.)

Rational does not mean reasonable. Gantz believes that Iran’s leaders are capable of rationalizing that if they attempt to build a bomb and the world forcibly stops them, then they have achieved nothing.

What Gantz opined to Ha’aretz is that he doubts Iran will try to weaponize so long as its nuclear development sites remain vulnerable to attack. For the IDF chief, this is the extent of the rationality of Iran’s leadership.

Encouragingly, not all Australian headline writers lost the plot on the Gantz interview.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun ran the somewhat more accurate headline “Iran ‘unlikely to go nuclear’“, while using the same AFP story the West Australian’s website gets credit for running the headline that actually captured the true intent of the IDF chief’s words when looked at in its full context: “Israel military chief says Iran undecided on bomb‎”.

At the website for the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg has offered his own take on Gantz’s interview, and how it was misinterpreted, while at Commentary, Jonathan Tobin does the same.

Ahron Shapiro