JERUSALEM — Despite a lack of concrete developments since last week’s mysterious assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, Iran and its nuclear ambitions continue to dominate diplomatic discourse here.
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, came closer Wednesday than any other Israeli figure to an official denial of any plans to overtly attack Iranian nuclear installations, saying that Israel is “very far from” any such decision.
Barak was interviewed by Israel Army radio in anticipation of the visit this week by US Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Asked to clarify what he meant by “far off,” Barak said, "I wouldn't want to provide any estimates. It's certainly not urgent. I don't want to make it sound as if tomorrow it will happen."
When the host inquired whether Dempsey’s visit indicated that the United States was requesting that Israel warn it before any attack on Iran, Barak said, "We haven't made any decision to do this. This entire thing is very far off."
Barak attempted to underscore Israel’s close ties with the United States.
"I don't think our ties with the United States are such that they have no idea what we are talking about," he said.
The line of questioning was driven by the announcement, two days ago, that the United States and Israel were indefinitely postponing a joint anti-missile training exercise scheduled for the spring. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman explained the delay was due to “diplomatic and regional causes, the tensions and delicacy.”
In an article widely quoted in the Israeli media, the Sunday Times on Monday reported the “step-by-step” method whereby Mossad agents allegedly assassinated the Iranian scientist, Mosfata Ahmadi Roshan. Based on largely anonymous Israeli sources, the firewalled exposé reads like a James Bond thriller.
“There is zero tolerance for mistakes. By nature, every failure not only risks the neck of the agents but also risks turning into an international scandal,” says an Israeli source.
The Israeli daily Yedioth Acharonoth, cited another line allegedly from the same source: “What is seen in espionage films as a simple operation is a result of hard work, many months of intelligence gathering and a well trained team."
Israel did not respond to any of the story’s claims.
Saturday, in an article published only in Hebrew, Ha’aretz, another Israeli paper, claimed the Iranian foreign minister had announced his country “has proof” that Britain and the United States were behind the killing of Roshan.
Ha’aretz quoted an article published by the Iranian news agency IRNA, in which Ali Akbar Salehi, the foreign minister, allegedly sent a letter to the CIA accusing the agency of “supervising and supporting the assassins.”
Meanwhile, also ahead of Dempsey’s visit to Israel, a senior state department official rejected the claims of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the current sanctions against Iran are “insufficient and ineffective.” Israel considers Iran’s nuclear ambitions an existential threat.
According to Ha’aretz, whose correspondent attended a background briefing, the source said that “sanctions on Iran must be gradual, and clarified that the US administration has a clear plan and deadlines for the implementation of unprecedented sanctions, including on Iran's central bank.”