What Netanyahu Really Thinks About Military Action Against Iran

06/30/2015 11:24 am ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016

Israel's former ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, is on a crusade to discredit President Obama and derail a possible nuclear deal with Iran -- and his new memoir contains interesting information about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's real thoughts on how to stop the Iranians getting a nuclear weapon.

In TV interviews and Op-eds to publicize his book (Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide), Oren has argued that the main problem in U.S.-Israeli relations since President Obama took office has been a lack of trust -- and he puts the blame almost exclusively on Obama. In an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN on Sunday, he said:

The President is coming to the people of Israel and saying 'trust me.' So we have to address the question of whether that trust has been built up over the course of the last five plus years of the Obama administration. And having lived through that period, I have to say emphatically 'no'.

But trust is a two-way street and Oren's book has some disturbing information that should color how we should understand Netanyahu's real intentions

In his book, Oren indicates that both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was in office until 2012, wanted President Obama to launch a military strike against Iran.

Oren summarizes Netanyahu's view in these words:

Netanyahu held that the military action would discredit the ayatollahs, much as the Entebbe raid had helped bring down Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. The president (Obama) reasoned that air strikes could not destroy Iran's nuclear knowledge, while the prime minister countered that without centrifuges, that know-how was useless - 'a pilot without a plane can't fly,' he said.

(In 1976, Israeli commandos mounted a raid to free hostages from a hijacked Air France plane being held in Entebbe, Uganda. Netanyahu's brother Yonatan was killed in the raid. The Ugandan leader Idi Amin was overthrown by Tanzanian troops three years later after he launched an invasion of neighboring Tanzania.)

Oren says Barak advocated a military strike to US officials more than once with the argument that "one night of strategic bombing will restore your lost prestige in the Middle East. The Iranian nightmare is a full-blown American attack," he quotes Barak as saying and adds, "But the response Barak received was silence."

Netanyahu told the American people when he addressed a joint session of Congress in March that he did not favor military action against Iran -- but merely a better deal.

"We're being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That's just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal," Netanyahu said.

Now Oren tells us that Netanyahu and Barak actually wanted U.S. military action against Iran. That ought to have an important bearing on the political struggle that is about to unfold if the United States and its five international partners strike a deal with Iran by the newly-extended deadline of July 7.

Supporters of the deal will argue that congressional action to derail the agreement by preventing President Obama from implementing it will lead inevitably to collapse of the international sanctions regime against Iran. The United States, and not Iran, will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy and be put back in a position where the only way to delay Iran's progress toward a bomb -- not to destroy, but merely delay for a few years -- would be military action.

Opponents of the deal, led by Netanyahu and Republican lawmakers, say a better deal was there to be had and could still be achieved if the United States and its partners would only take a tougher stance with the Iranians. They deny that their intention is to create a situation where the United States is forced to take military action. That's where the Oren quotes of Netanyahu and Barak are so important because they give us insight into the actual thinking of these Israeli leaders.

We learned in Iraq that the consequences of military action in the Middle East are impossible to predict. The consequences of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion are still playing out in a region that has been totally destabilized, partly as a result of that war. One thing is certain: hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions have been uprooted by that invasion.

Let's not make that mistake again.