Could Israeli Prisoner Swap Be Prelude to Attack on Iran?

Daily News Article   —   Posted on October 31, 2011

(Special to The Washington Times) ANALYSIS :

(by Abraham Rabinovich, JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s decision to [exchange 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails for one Israeli solider held by Hamas] last week despite his frequently voiced opposition to such lopsided deals is seen by several Israeli military commentators as an effort to “clear the deck” before possibly undertaking an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Amir Oren, the veteran military analyst for Ha’aretz newspaper, took note of Israel’s exchanging 1,027 Palestinian convicts for army Staff Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who had been captured by Hamas in 2006. Mr. Oren wrote that the price paid by Mr. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak “can be interpreted only in a context that goes beyond that of the Gilad Schalit deal.”

He noted that Israeli leaders in the past have shown a readiness to absorb “a small loss” in order to attain a greater success, generally involving “some sort of military adventure.”

Mr. Oren also noted that, until recently, Mr. Netanyahu had faced opposition to attacking Iran from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan. Both retired earlier this year and have been replaced by men believed to hold a different view on Iran.

The Islamic republic has not been a top agenda item since the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Yet Iran’s nuclear program, which Western nations believe is geared for making an atomic bomb, has remained a key concern, despite Tehran’s denials that it is seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

According to Israeli media reports, a shift in the Israeli government’s views on Iran might have prompted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s Middle East visit in April: His main mission was to pass on a warning from President Obama against any unilateral attack on Iran.

At a press conference with [Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud] Barak in April, Mr. Panetta stressed that any steps against Iran’s nuclear program must be taken in coordination with the international community.

This week, Jerusalem Post military correspondent Yakov Katz wrote that, with the Schalit chapter behind it, “Israel can now move forward to deal with some of the other strategic problems it faces in the region, such as Iran’s nuclear program.” Had Israel first attacked Iran, Hamas’ patron, it would have endangered the Schalit deal, Mr. Katz said.

Writing in Yediot Achronot, Alex Fishman said that for Mr. Netanyahu, who built a political career as a warrior on terror, the Schalit deal was a very courageous step, particularly in view of an estimate by Israel’s security services that 60 percent of Palestinians who are released in such exchanges return to terror.

“He took a risk in a certain area and thereby focused all our attention on much more troubling fronts — in distant Iran and in the Arab revolutions around us,” Mr. Fishman wrote. To deal with these problems, national consensus is necessary and the freeing of Gilad Shalit went far toward achieving that.

Mr. Oren offered another insight that he says may point Mr. Netanyahu toward military action against Iran.

Although the prime minister failed to make any enduring mark on history during his previous term or so far during his present term, Mr. Netanyahu may see Iran as an opportunity to achieve his Churchillian moment, Mr. Oren wrote. “The day is not far off, Netanyahu believes, when Churchill will emerge from him.” [NOTE: “Churchillian moment” is relating to or similar to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, especially in being a good leader]

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1.  What does an analysis of Israeli media conclude about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s motive for exchanging 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for 1 Israeli soldier held by Palestinian terrorist group Hamas?

2.  List two of the three reasons Amir Oren of Ha’aretz newspaper gives for thinking Netanyahu had a motive beyond securing Gilad Schalit’s release by permitting the uneven prisoner exchange.

3.  What do the U.S. and other Western nations believe Iran is doing with its nuclear program?

4.  a) What did Israeli media reports say might have prompted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s visit to the Middle East in April?
b)  Do you think the Israeli government should listen to the Obama administration’s warning?  Explain your answer.

5.  Why does news man Alex Fishman say Prime Minister Netanyahu’s prisoner exchange was courageous?

6.  Read the “Background” below the questions.  Do you think Israel should work with the international community to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons?  (Will it be too late by the time the international community acts?)  Explain your answer.

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  • Iran’s 20 year secret nuclear program was discovered in 2002. Iran says its program is for fuel purposes only, but it has been working on uranium enrichment which is used to make nuclear bombs.
  • Under the United Nations’ NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) countries are not allowed to make nuclear weapons (except for the 5 that had nuclear weapons prior to the treaty – the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom).
  • Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
  • The IAEA issued a report on Sept. 15, 2008 that said Iran has repeatedly blocked an investigation into its nuclear program and the probe is now deadlocked.
  • The U.N. Security Council has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance. Despite the sanctions, Iran has refused to end its nuclear program.
  • A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued in May 2009 that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that. The study, published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute, also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles “in perhaps six to eight years.”
  • The Iranian government has called for the destruction of Israel on numerous occasions. It is believed that once obtained, Iranian President Ahmadinejad would use nuclear weapons against Israel.


  • The board of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency censured Iran (Nov. 27, 2009) for its nuclear program, in a motion endorsed by all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
  • Twenty five nations in the 35-member board of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted in favor of the censure motion, which calls on Iran to halt construction of a recently revealed uranium enrichment plant.
  • The measure says the plant violates a United Nations Security Council resolution. The motion also demands that Iran cease enriching uranium.
  • The vote was significant because Russia and China voted in favor of the censure motion, along with the three other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the United States, France and Britain – as well as Germany.
  • While the motion may not make a difference in itself, it carries weight in a push for tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran.


For a 2010 report and video on Iranian threats, go to: (scroll down for video)