Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Iran 'Rational,' Israeli General Says ; Defense Chief Believes Tehran Leadership Won't Build a Nuclear Bomb

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Iran 'Rational,' Israeli General Says ; Defense Chief Believes Tehran Leadership Won't Build a Nuclear Bomb

Article excerpt

Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, distanced himself from the harder line of the government with his comments on Iran's nuclear program.

The Israeli military chief has described the Iranian government as "rational" in newly published interviews and said he did not believe Tehran would build a nuclear bomb, appearing to put some distance between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don't think he will want to go the extra mile," the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told the newspaper Haaretz, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people," General Gantz added. "But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous."

In remarks made on Thursday, however, General Gantz appeared to send a message that Iran should not lower its guard. He told The Associated Press that other countries beside Israel -- he did not name them -- have readied their armed forces for a potential strike against Iranian nuclear sites.

"The military force is ready," General Gantz said. "Not only our forces, but other forces as well. We all hope that there will be no necessity to use this force, but we are absolutely sure of its existence."

U.S. and Israeli leaders seem to be walking a delicate line: keeping enough pressure on Iran to make clear the extreme risks of pursuing its nuclear program, without unduly scaring the relevant publics or provoking some dangerous miscalculation.

In recent weeks, talk of a pre-emptive attack seems to have faded somewhat.

Both Mr. Netanyahu, a political conservative, and Mr. Barak, a former Labor Party prime minister, have argued that if Israel has to choose between the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and the certain regional disruptions that would follow a pre-emptive attack on Iran, it must favor the latter.

The question of whether the Iranians are rational has been a critical focus of debate over how to handle Tehran's nuclear program, which the government insists is for peaceful purposes. …

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