In 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered then-Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi to ready the Israel Defense Forces to strike Iranian nuclear sites, but was told by Ashkenazi that the army was not ready, according to a new report by the Channel 2 news program "Uvda" ("Fact") set to air Monday night.
According to the report, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan told Netanyahu that the order was illegal, as it needed cabinet approval, and that the significance of such an order "could mean going to war."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in excerpts aired Sunday that "at the moment of truth, the answer given was that the ability didn't exist."
The Prime Minister's Office, the Defense Ministry and associates of Ashkenazi declined to comment on the matter on Sunday. Netanyahu is expected to respond in an interview recorded for the program.
Ilana Dayan, the host of "Uvda," reported that following a meeting of the "Forum of Seven" Cabinet ministers in 2010, Netanyahu gave Dagan and Ashkenazi, who were also present, an order that left them in shock: Bring the forces to a state of "P-Plus" — the code word for preparing the defense establishment for the possibility of an attack.
The "Forum of Seven" includes Netanyahu, Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin.
As far as Ashkenazi and Dagan were concerned, the order had not been processed through the proper channels and the two did not hesitate to offer their reservations: "This isn't something you do if you're not certain you will eventually want to carry it out," the former chief of staff told Netanyahu.
Those close to Ashkenazi said he was concerned that merely ordering the IDF to a state of P-Plus, even while refraining from an immediate attack, could lead to war: "It's like an accordion that makes music even if it is merely handled," he said at the time.
Dagan, according to those present at the time, was even harsher than Ashkenzai: "You [speaking to Barak and Netanyahu] are possibly making an unlawful decision to go to war. Only the cabinet is authorized to make such a decision."
Dagan later explained, "The prime minister and defense minister simply tried to steal a war."
According to Barak — who talks about the aforementioned Forum of Seven meeting for the first time during the program — Ashkenazi told him that P-Plus wasn't possible to implement because the army didn't have the proper operational capability.
It is important to emphasize that it is not clear whether the IDF was indeed incapable of carrying out an attack at the time, but as far as Barak was concerned Ashkenazi failed to prepare the option and therefore the command could not be executed.
In private discussions, Ashkenazi has vehemently objected to the defense minister's version: "Barak isn't telling the truth. I prepared the option, the army was ready for an attack, but I said that attacking now would be a strategic mistake."
During his interview with "Uvda," Barak pointed out that the significance of such an order was not going to war: "The supposition that you can't decide to do something if the chief of staff recommends not doing it, even if it can be done operationally, is completely unfounded. It can be carried out even if it's against his recommendation."