The problem with Netanyahu’s judgment, when it comes to WMD

Why was a paragraph removed from a Haaretz op-ed concerning an attack on Iran?

Dr. Avner Cohen, the unofficial historian of the Israeli nuclear program, noticed today that a paragraph that appeared in the Hebrew print edition of a Haaretz op-ed by Sefi Rachlevski revealed for the first time a few details of a little-known incident from 1998.

While arguing against “the gamble” of going to war with Iran, Rachlevski writes:

In 1998, Saddam Hussein, weakened by the American no-flight zone, made one hollow threat. In response, [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu ordered to consider the arming of Jericho missiles. An order that wasn’t issued even during the [1973] Yom Kippur War, under a fear of destruction. Three people went to Netanyahu: Ariel Sharon, [former chief of staff and minister] Rafael Eitan, and [Chief of Staff] Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. They told him to relax, take a pill, and forget about it. Some things even a prime minister shouldn’t do. Will [Ehud] Barak be one of the three this time around? I don’t know.

In his highly recommended book, “The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb,” Dr. Cohen also refers to this incident. While Netanyahu’s alleged order couldn’t have been discussed in the Israeli media (due to censorship issues), Cohen notes that it did lead Ze’ev Schiff, Haaretz’s veteran military correspondent, to publish a very unusual op-ed, titled “the Red Button Law.” Cohen writes:

Schiff proposed legislating a law that would place checks on Israel’s nuclear decision-making system. Schiff revealed that in connection with the crisis two weeks earlier over Iraq’s program of weapons of mass destruction, some Israelis were more worried about Israel’s “extreme and unbalanced” possible action than about Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein’s possible first strike.

Schiff, who couldn’t describe the issue at hand directly, wrote his piece in coded language, intended for the security establishment and not to the average reader. Around the same time, another very well-connected Israeli journalist, Nahum Barnea, also published an article in which he expressed concern over the judgment of the Israeli prime minister when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.

As Dr. Cohen wrote on his Facebook page, the paragraph concerning Netanyau was later removed from the web version of Mr. Rachlevski’s text. No official reason was given, which led Dr. Cohen to believe that the military censor, known for its activism on the nuclear issue, intervened.