“I am of course ready to press the button if necessary,” he told Israel‘s Channel 2 in an investigation aired on Monday evening.
“As long as I am prime minister, Iran will not have the atomic bomb. If there’s no other way, Israel is ready to act.”
The report revealed that the prime minister had in fact ordered his armed forces to prepare a unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2010, only to pull back from the brink of war.
Two years ago, Mr Netanyahu, supported by Ehud Barak, his defense minister, issued an order raising the military alert level to “P-Plus” – a rarely issued command signaling imminent war.
The trigger for the order to raise the alert level could have been a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency in Feb 2010 voicing concern over the “possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile”.
Israel was also deeply concerned by the development of the Fordow uranium enrichment plant in Iran, which is dug into a mountainside and could be immune to attack.
However, the alert order was rejected Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, the then-Chief of Staff, who feared dire consequences to a strike. “This is not something you do unless you’re certain you want to see it through,” Lt Gen Ashkenazi is said to have warned.
Meir Dagan, then head of the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, said the order was “illegal” and insisted that it be put to a vote in cabinet.
The documentary describes Mr Barak’s furious response to the reactions of military chiefs. He is reported to have said that “with such general staff we would not have won the Six Day War“, referring to Israel’s decisive victory in 1967.
Mr Barak, who is still defense minister, has disputed this version of events. In his interview for the documentary, he claimed the strike on Iran was called off not because of military opposition, but because Israel’s armed forces – and Lt Gen Ashkenazi in particular – had failed to prepare.
“A chief of staff must create the operational capacity. He must provide his professional recommendation on whether or not to enact a given order, and we must even take this opinion into account. But we can also proceed in opposition to his recommendation,” said Mr Barak.
Mr Barak’s criticism of the armed forces will inevitably call into question Israel’s current military readiness for a war with Iran and the IDF’s willingness to support another called.
It also exposed Iran as the fault line of the upcoming election. Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister of Israel considering running against Netanyahu in the January elections, launched an attack on the current leadership’s warlike posture during the program.
“Why do we need to pick fights with the entire world? What is this talk of us deciding our destiny by ourselves and not taking into consideration anyone else’s opinion?” he asked.
Adding, “and if we need something, who would we ask? The person who we’re doing everything to prevent from becoming the president of the United States?”