Iran watchGates expects Israel to hold back on Iran -- at least in 2009

Published 3 April 2009

U.S. secretary of defense Robert Gates says he does not think Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2009: “I guess I would say I would be surprised…if they did act this year”

Robert Gates, U.S. defense secretary, has said Israel is unlikely to attack Iran this year to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon. In an interview with the Financial Times, Gates said there was still enough time to persuade Iran to abandon what is widely perceived to be a nuclear weapons program.

Gates said he does not expect Israel — which believes the U.S. estimate for when Iran could develop a nuclear weapon is too sanguine — to take military action this year. “I guess I would say I would be surprised…if they did act this year,” said Gates.

The FT’s Demetri Sevastopulo writes as Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as the new Israeli prime minister this week, he warned that the greatest danger to Israel was Iran’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons. Asked whether Iran would cross a nuclear “red line” this year, Gates said: “I don’t know, I would guess probably not.”

I think we have more time than that. How much more time I don’t know,” said Gates. “It is a year, two years, three years. It is somewhere in that window.”

Israel raised the specter of war last year by conducting a large scale military exercise that some experts saw as a practice run for an attack on Iran. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs, later delivered an unusual public warning following a visit to Israel, saying “this is a very unstable part of the world, and I don’t need it to be more unstable.”