Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking cabinet support for a military strike on Iran, Haaretz newspaper reported on Wednesday, after days of speculation on plans for such an attack.
The report, citing a senior Israeli official, said Netanyahu was working with Defence Minister Ehud Barak to win support from sceptical members of the cabinet who oppose attacking Iranian nuclear facilities.
It came after days of renewed public discussion among Israeli commentators about the possibility that the Jewish state would take unilateral military action against Iran.
Haaretz said that Netanyahu and Barak had already scored a significant win by convincing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to throw his support behind a strike.
But the newspaper cited the senior Israeli official as saying there was still “a small advantage” in the cabinet for those opposed to an attack.
Among those still opposed, Haaretz said, are Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, Strategic Affairs Minister and Netanyahu confidant Moshe Yaalon, and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Media reports say any strike is also opposed by army chief Benny Gantz, the head of Israel’s intelligence agency Tamir Pardo, the chief of military intelligence Aviv Kochavi and the head of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency Yoram Cohen.
On Monday, Barak was forced to deny media reports that he and Netanyahu had already decided to launch an attack against Iran over the opposition of military and intelligence chiefs.
“It doesn’t take a great genius to understand that in 2011 in Israel, two people cannot decide to act by themselves,” he said.
“There are at the ministry of defence and the prime minister’s office thousands of pages of minutes of the discussions that have been had in the presence of dozens of officials and ministers,” he added.
On Tuesday, Barak appeared to suggest in remarks to parliament that Israel could be forced to act alone against Iran.
“A situation could be created in the Middle East in which Israel must defend its vital interests in an independent fashion, without necessarily having to reply on other forces, regional or otherwise,” he said.
Haaretz said no decision had yet been taken on any military strike, and that a November 8 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear watchdog would have a “decisive effect” on the decision-making process.
The newspaper also cited Western experts as saying any attack on Iran during the winter would be almost impossible because of thick cloud cover, raising questions about when any military action might be launched.
Israel has consistently warned all options remain on the table when it comes to Iran’s nuclear programme, which the Jewish state and much of the international community believe masks a drive for nuclear weapons.
Iran denies those charges and says its nuclear programme is for civilian energy purposes only.
The renewed speculation about a potential attack on Iran, including public debate about the wisdom of any strike, was strongly criticised by several Israeli ministers, who called the discussion irresponsible.
Justice minister Dan Meridor, speaking to Israeli daily Maariv, called the public debate “nothing less than a scandal.”
“Not every issue is a matter for public debate,” he warned. “The public elected a government to make decisions about things like this in secret. The public’s right to know does not include the debate about classified matters like this.”