Netanyahu aimed to provoke confrontation amid 2010 US peace push

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not planning to launch an all-out attack on Iran in 2010, before he was blocked by his national security chiefs, as has recently been reported in Israel. Rather, Netanyahu, together with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, was intending to provoke an attack that would potentially trigger a chain of events that would draw the United States towards confrontation with Iran, Yossi Melman reports on the front page:

The truth is that Netanyahu and Barak did not order the military to plan a direct, all-out attack on Iran. Their true intention was to trigger a chain of events which would create tension and provoke Iran, and eventually could have led to a war that might drag in the United States.

Israeli censors, notably, have blocked Israeli media from reporting when in 2010 the episode occurred. But sources told Al Monitor this week that the events occurred in mid-2010. Specifically, in September, 2010. (Update:The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren, responding to a contact on Facebook, says she was reliably told the incident was in late 2010. But a source told Al-Monitor the incident occurred in September, adding “it would be out of the question late 2010 because Dagan”–Israel’s then Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who played a key role in thwarting the plan–“left office in December 2010.” Rudoren later told me ‘late 2010′ could include September in her understanding.)

The Netanyahu and Barak “push to put forces on alert was not confined to one meeting,” Melman writes. “They raised it repeatedly on numerous occasions.”

In the summer of 2010, President Obama was meeting separately with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, as he geared up for a major re-launch of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in September. Those peace talks–announced with great fanfare at the White House in early September–collapsed just a few weeks later, when Israel refused to extend a partial West Bank settlement freeze. They have never resumed.

Obama’s White House Middle East envoy tried frantically throughout the fall of 2010  to get Israel to extend the freeze, proposing a package of military hardware and other inducements, devised in close consultation with Barak, to try to get just a two or three-month extension–before the White House gave up.

One interpretation of events–that might explain why Israeli censors deemed in particular the timing of the thwarted effort a state secret–is that Netanyahu tried to engineer an incident with Iran in order to evade US pressure to pursue peace negotiations with the Palestinians, as they became imminent.

The revelation comes as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, contemplating whether he will challenge Netanyahu in January 2013 Israeli elections, accused Netanyahu Tuesday of having attempted to interfere in the U.S. elections, thus damaging the foundation of Israeli security: its relationship with the United States.

“Following what Netanyahu did in the last few months, raises the question whether or not our prime minister has a friend in the White House,” Olmert told Jewish leaders in New York Tuesday, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reported. “I’m not sure. This may be very significant for us at critical junctures.”

Sobering accusations, with potential implications for Israeli voters, as they consider which Israeli leader will best protect Israel’s interests and security, just as a newly reelected President Obama contemplates how to advance United States interests and priorities in his second term.

(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama walks down Cross Hall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make joint statements in the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed.)