Marsha Cohen, Lobe Log’s resident Israel-Iran relations expert, tells me that while the 11th Commander in Chief of the Israeli Air Force, Avihu Ben-Nun, is not an important figure in current Israeli foreign policy debates, his viewpoints are reflective of those held by influential people in Israel’s security establishment. That’s why I’m highlighting comments he made in the Israeli daily Maariv’s Friday “Sofshavua” magazine on June 22nd that have been translated by Orly Halpern for Americans for Peace Now’s (APN) indispensable “News Nosh“.
In sum Ben-Nun argues that Iran will ultimately acquire a nuclear weapon with or without a military attack; an Israeli military attack on Iran will result in more harm to Israel’s interests than good; the Israelis should lobby the United States to “advance all possible sanctions and actions” against Iran; and that an Iranian nuclear bomb is threatening not because Iran would use it against Israel, but because it would grant Iran’s leaders regional deterrence.
Ben-Nun served in the Israeli air force for 35 years, the last 5 of which as its Commander in Chief, and according to this business information site, currently holds a number of advisory positions in Israel including the Vice President of the Tel-Aviv and Central Chamber of Commerce. Following are snippets from APN’s translation of his interview:
On public discussions about an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities:
I am completely against discussing this subject in the media or in the Israeli public. What’s happening here is just scandalous. Every public discussion about the Iranian nuclear project just gives the Iranians more ideas and information and teaches them about the decision-making process. We didn’t do anything yet, and already they want the State Comptroller to investigate. It’s unbelievable…
On alleged Iranian aspirations for a nuclear weapon (emphasis mine):
I don’t think for a moment that the political echelons will finish the Iranian story face-to-face. The prime minister and defense minister travel to Washington to update and be updates over every bleep on the subject. And still I think that the Americans need to do the act, not us. And also, that if something is done, it will postpone the bomb, but it won’t cancel the threat. In the end, with an attack or without one, Iran will have the nuclear bomb. We need to live with it. Today, it seems like we can’t, and so we need to advance all possible sanctions and actions, but only by the Americans. We need to keep a low profile and to take into account that we have an enemy which is not a child and not sterile, that will take advantage of the fact that it has a bomb to achieve a concensus with all the Arab oil-producing states. And since it will have a bomb, the Arab states will have to line up with it and in the future prepare their own bomb. If the Iranians get the bomb, the first to be harmed will be the gulf countries, which will follow Iran. 40% of the world’s energy is in the oil fields in those places, so it’s not just our problem.
On why Israel should be concerned about an Iranian nuclear bomb:
The Iranians wouldn’t dare send us a bomb because they know the response. The Iranian bomb was not meant for use, but to create the status of a country that has deterennce against its neighboring states. This status is no less dangerous than the use of a bomb, becuase it will make all the countries on Iran’s borders do as Iran demands of them. The opposition to the bomb is not becuase someone fears that they will drop it on us, but because of their ability to control with its help every possible area.
On what an Israeli attack will result in (emphasis mine):
An attack could cause a war of 10 years, like the one between Iran and Iraq. Israel cannot withstand continuous missiles, even conventional ones, for a long period. If a missile falls on Tel-Aviv every week, what would happen here without the nuclear bomb? We need deterrence, not attack. Much of the actions by the prime minister and defense minister and foreign minister is to make clear to all the countries that Iran is not only Israel’s problem, but of the whole West, which needs oil, and that if there will be an Iranian bomb, even if the Americans offer defense to the other Arab countries, it won’t help, because they will all break the sanctions.
On what the US should do to counter the threat it perceives from Iran (I write “the US” instead of Israel because Ben-Nun says above that Israel should get the US “to act” (emphasis mine):
Make them hurt badly with regular weapons. Attack all their targets, they have at least 10 targets that could significantly slow down the enrichment of uranium. More economic and commercial sanctions. Iran has very high unemployment and an intelligent public. I became aware of this when I was the head of the organization for Ron Arad (the missing helicopter navigator), ‘Born to be free.’ We operated advanced internet systems in the whole Arab world so that whoever has information can pass it to us in exchange for a prize of $10 million. That’s how we became aware also of the Iranians. People there sit on the internet and information sources very intensively. They know how to crash social network systems and advanced computers because the regime harms their rights. One needs to know how to move them to make a new revolution.
Interviewer: They tried and failed.
So what? They should try again.