- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Israel’s former army chief of staff said Wednesday he believes international sanctions are the world’s best hope for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution, where he is a visiting fellow, retired Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi described a renewed push on sanctions as Israel’s “best course of action.”

“I think it’s less costly than all the other options if we are serious in saying that we are going to prevent them from having the bomb,” said Mr. Ashkenazi, who left his post in February after four years at the helm.

The United Nations passed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran last year. The United States, the European Union and other countries have since added their own restrictions on Iran’s banking and petroleum sectors.

In a recent interview with The Washington Times, Iran Central Bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani claimed that sanctions were having “no effect” on his country’s cash flow and that the Islamic republic’s economy was “stronger than before.”

But Mr. Ashkenazi noted that all Iranian economic indicators have remained poor “despite the higher price of oil.”

He was careful to say that Israel needs to keep all options on the table — a reference to a potential military strike on the Iran’s nuclear facilities. But Mr. Ashkenazi said the sanctions route is “a very promising direction” that has yet to be exhausted.

“I think there is a long way to go in that sense,” he said. “Sometimes, I get the feeling that there’s a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality.”

He also argued that Iran is not just Israel’s problem but a regional and global one. “If you travel in the Middle East, you can hear it from Gulf countries as well as from our neighboring countries.”

Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks late last year revealed widespread fear of Iran in the Middle East, with the leaders of several countries — including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — arguing for military action.

But the leaders of Israel’s security establishment reportedly have been skeptial about a strike.

Meir Dagan, the recently retired head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, went so far as to call Israeli military action against Iran “a stupid idea,” sparking tension with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has likened the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran to that of the Nazis.

In his speech to a joint session of Congress last month, Mr. Netanyahu urged the United States to credibly threaten military action against Iran should it continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“The more Iran believes that all options are on the table, the less the chance of confrontation,” the prime minister said.

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