Leaked audio: Israeli leaders drew up plans to attack Iranian military

Reports: Israeli leaders planned to attack Iran
Reports: Israeli leaders planned to attack Iran

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Story highlights

  • Recording: Netanyahu and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak considered attacking in 2010, 2011, 2012
  • Each year, a political or military hindrance got in their way, according to audio leaked to Channel 2

Jerusalem (CNN)Israeli leaders planned to attack military targets in Iran in recent years, but they were held back due to the opinions of other government and military leaders, according to an audio recording leaked to an Israeli television broadcaster.

One planned strike was canned after scheduling conflicts with a joint military exercise with the United States got in the way, according to the audio.
The recording with former Defense Minister Ehud Barak was leaked to Israel's Channel 2. It detailed three strikes Barak had allegedly planned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively.
    CNN has translated the audio, which is in Hebrew. Barak, who also previously served as prime minister, acknowledged to CNN on Saturday that the recording is authentic, but declined to comment further.
    CNN has reached out to other officials mentioned in the recording for comment.

    2010: Capability question

    In 2010, an Israeli military assessment put an end to the plans, Barak apparently said in the recording.
    "At that crucial moment, essentially, the answer from the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) was that the accumulated capability does not meet the threshold of the IDF chief of staff that he can say this is operational," the recording attributed to Barak said.
    Without the chief of staff's sign-off, Netanyahu and Barak -- the defense minister at the time -- could not order the strike.
    "The prime minister, the defense minister, the foreign minister, the IDF chief of staff, the head of Mossad, the head of IDF intelligence, the head of Shin Bet" withdrew for a meeting, the recording said. "In this forum, essentially, we wanted to know what the situation is. The answer was not affirmative, we could not get this combination out of them."
    Shin Bet is Israel's internal security service, while Mossad is its foreign intelligence agency.

    2011: Ministers have doubts

    Then in 2011, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz changed the assessment. The capabilities were there, the recording said. Netanyahu, Barak and then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman supported the idea of striking targets in Iran.
    Eight other ministers got on board, though two needed some convincing, the recording said -- they were then Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who is now defense minister, and then-Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, now energy minister.
    "The IDF chief of staff presents all of the things, all of the difficulties, all of the complications, and all of the problems including the possibility that there will be losses, and you see in front of our eyes how Bugi (Ya'alon) and Steinitz are melting," the recording attributed to Barak said.
    The two changed their minds.
    A representative for Steinitz released this statement Saturday:
    "Minister Steinitz sees with extreme severity the exposure of inner Cabinet meetings, and wonders how things of that sort get censorship clearance," the statement reads. "In any case, Minister Steinitz keeps his words in closed-door meetings to himself, and does not intend to confirm, deny, or respond to the things that were said."

    2012: Scheduling conflicts

    Reportedly, the idea to attack surfaced again in 2012.
    "We planned to do it, but then I spoke with (then U.S. Defense Secretary Leon) Panetta and said that I request, I demand to postpone the drill," the recording attributed to Barak said.
    Panetta obliged, but the window of opportunity fell a few days before the next election. It got postponed again.
    "The Americans agreed to postpone (joint military exercises) to another date, but also the other date wasn't comfortable for the same reasons," the voice said.
    CNN is reaching out to the parties mentioned in the recording.

    Deep distrust of Iran

    Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya'alon have repeatedly said that all options are on the table with Iran, including a military strike.
    Israel has carried out a strike before over the possibility of an adversary gaining a nuclear weapon. In 1981, Israel unilaterally attacked an Iraqi nuclear facility in Operation Opera.
    But Israeli analysts say a strike is far less likely now that the world powers have reached a nuclear agreement with Iran.
    Like Netanyahu, Barak has had hardly a shred of trust in talks with Iran. In 2012, he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that he would like to hold out hope but that he didn't.
    "The Iranians have a long tradition of deceiting and defying the whole world," he said. "So we are a little bit skeptical."
    He did not trust the assurances of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that religious convictions forbid Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
    "It is the same Khamenei who scolded (Moammar) Gadhafi for giving up his nuclear program," Barak said. He believes that Khamenei never gave an order to build a nuclear device because of fear of Israeli or American military action.
    Barak was skeptical that sanctions on Iran were preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but he would not talk publicly about the possibility of Israel carrying out strikes.
    "I think that it should remain behind closed doors as a part of a vague understanding that there is a big stick in the bedroom," he said. It should suffice for Iran to know that when Israel, America and others say that all options are on the table they mean it, he said.
    Barak is a former military chief of staff who had a long and highly decorated military career. He later went into politics and also served as Israel's foreign affairs minister in the mid-1990s.
    Barak was prime minister from mid-1999 to early 2001, and defense minister from 2007 to early 2013.