Former Likud and Kadima member Tzachi Hanegbi said this week that he believed the fate of Israel's conflict with Iran will be decided within the next 50 days. Hanegbi, who is considered a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, later told Israel Hayom the assessment was his own and not based on specific information disclosed to him.
"We are entering the most fateful 50 days Israel has faced since, perhaps, the similarly fateful days prior to the Yom Kippur War," Hanegbi said at a Likud conference this week, as quoted by the Makor Rishon newspaper.
Hanegbi, who in the past served as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee as well as minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in 2004 and Internal Security Minister in 2003, recently left the Kadima party and rejoined the Likud.
At the same conference, Hanegbi explained that any decision that will be made on whether or not to attack Iran would have to be "taken by someone with foresight, with historical vision, who comes from an ideological home. Today, when we talk about how we understand the dangers of the Iranian threat and understand that confrontation comes at a cost, it is because we want to spare our sons and grandsons from having to pay an intolerable price."
In an interview with Israel Hayom on Thursday, the former minister said that "the remarks I made were my interpretation of statements and analyses made by others in the media. They were not based on a conversation I had with the prime minister. Netanyahu does not consult with me on these issues and I am not, by definition of my position, privy to such information."
"I do have my own interpretation though, and I have no doubt that these are fateful days. Even a decision not to do anything [about Iran] is a fateful decision. I have no doubt that there will be a price to pay for any decision or indecision," Hanegbi said.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said he had no comment on Hanegbi's assessment.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said differences remain with the United States over Iran's disputed nuclear program, despite efforts by Israel and the U.S. to come to an agreement on the issue.
Barak told a meeting of his Independence party that "the clocks are ticking at a different pace" for the U.S. and Israel, suggesting disagreements remain on the timeline for any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
"Israel reserves the right to make its own sovereign decisions. The U.S. respects that," he said. At the event, Barak also called a return to Israel's pre-1967 borders a "post-Zionist outlook."
Earlier this week, Israeli officials said the U.S. and Israel were working closely in hopes of getting the countries' positions in sync, holding close discussions with American officials over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program.
Barak, who spoke hours after meeting the U.S. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James A. Winnefeld, reiterated that Israel reserves the right to carry out a strike unilaterally. He added, however, that there was "no doubt" about Washington's "readiness to face the challenge on every level."
Israel believes time is running out to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, while the U.S. opposes any Israeli military action at the current time.
Israel and the U.S. both believe, however, that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the allegations, and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes like producing energy and medical isotopes.
Part of the dispute over timing is related to military capabilities. Israel's timeline for military action is shorter than that of the United States, which has far more powerful bunker-busting bombs at its disposal. Israel fears that the longer Iran is allowed to continue uninhibited with its nuclear program, the deeper underground the facilities will become, making them impenetrable to an Israeli attack.
Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat, citing Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, the country's development of missiles capable of striking the Jewish state, and Tehran's support for Islamic terror groups hostile to Israel, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Reiterating Russia's opposition to a military strike on Iran, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday "We want to warn those who are no strangers to military solutions that an attack will lead to great damage and will be catastrophic to the region's stability. It will also affect the security and economic welfare of the entire world. The act will have repercussions far beyond the Middle East."
Meanwhile, during a meeting with 12th grade students at a school in the northern city of Safed, opposition leader and Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz commented on Netanyahu's complaint of leaks from cabinet meetings and said "Leaks from cabinet meetings dealing with issues regarded as the 'holy of holies' and the deepest secrets of the country reflect reckless abandon."