Jewish World Review Yossi Klein Halevi & Michael B. Oren January 29, 2007
The Jewish State’s worst nightmare
The first reports from military intelligence about an Iranian nuclear program reached the desk of Yitzhak Rabin shortly after he became prime minister in May 1992. Rabin’s conclusion was unequivocal: Only a nuclear Iran, he told aides, could pose an existential threat to which Israel would have no credible response. But, when he tried to warn the Clinton administration, he met with incredulity. The CIA’s assessment — which wouldn’t change until 1998 — was that Iran’s nuclear program was civilian, not military. Israeli security officials felt that the CIA’s judgment was influenced by internal U.S. politics and privately referred to the agency as the “cpia” — “P” for “politicized.”
The indifference in Washington helped persuade Rabin that Israel needed to begin preparing for an eventual preemptive strike, so he ordered the purchase of long-range bombers capable of reaching Iran. And he made a fateful political decision: He reversed his ambivalence toward negotiating with the PLO and endorsed unofficial talks being conducted between Israeli left-wingers and PLO officials. Rabin’s justification for this about-face was that Israel needed to neutralize what he defined as its “inner circle of threat” — the enemies along its borders — in order to focus on the coming confrontation with Iran, the far more dangerous “outer circle of threat.” Rabin’s strategy, then, was the exact opposite of the approach recently recommended by the Iraq Study Group: Where James Baker and Lee Hamilton want to engage Iran — even at the cost of downplaying its nuclear ambitions — in order to solve crises in the Arab world, Rabin wanted to make peace with the Arab world in order to prevent, at all costs, a nuclear Iran.
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