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Israeli army chief says he doubts Iran will build a nuclear weapon

In an interview with Haaretz, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz acknowledged the threat of a nuclear Iran but said Tehran wasn't likely to go there, citing its 'rational' leadership.

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This statement is frequently attributed to Ahmadinejad in the West, but scholars say it stems from a mistranslation and exaggeration of the president's words.

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Staff writer

Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.

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Gantz also told Haaretz that Israel faces a new array of military threats, as a consequence of regional upheaval:

"I don't know what will happen in Syria, but presumably the Golan Heights won't be as quiet as before. I cannot remove Syria from the military equation, nor Lebanon. I assume that if there are terror threats from the Golan or Lebanon I'll have to take action. I cannot do everything by 'stand-off' [remote]. The enemy's fire capabilities have developed at every distance, four or five times what they were in the Second Lebanon War and four or five times compared to the Gaza Strip before Operation Cast Lead, not to mention the new ground-to-air missile in Syria."

I personally have long been skeptical that Israel will attack Iran unilaterally, mostly because it would be a risky operation at great distance, against an array of widely dispersed targets, that could possibly lead to missile barrages on the home front from the likes of Hezbollah. Others, many with far more military and regional expertise than I, have worried that an attack is more likely, particularly judging by the alarmist rhetoric of Netanyahu and some of those around him.

Gantz's comments are the latest indications that senior Israeli military officers, who wield great sway over national policy, are not as sanguine about war as Netanyahu is. Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli political analyst and author of "The Nuclear Sphynx of Tehran," a biography of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, writes on Twitter that the general's statement that he doubts Iran will seek the bomb "clearly contradicts and undermines" Netanyahu.

Still, some predictors of war soldier on. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in late 2010 that there was a 50 percent chance that Israel would attack Iran by July of 2011. This March, Mr. Goldberg allowed that perhaps all the tough talk from Israel (tough talk he's transmitted as fact, relying on unidentified sources) was a form of posturing by Netanyahu's government. Then a few weeks he ago, he upped the DEFCON level again, suggesting June 2012 is a "possible" time when Israel will unilaterally attack Iran.

Not, it seems, if Benny Gantz has any say in the matter.

This article was edited after first posting to correct the spelling of Gen. Gantz' name.

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.

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