National Security

Israel Won’t Rule Out Preemptive Strike on Iran, Bibi Says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu / Getty Images

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that he is "not ruling out" a preemptive strike on Iran, the Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

"A preemptive strike is a difficult thing to do," Netanyahu explained. "I know that if Iran wants to base itself in the north, we are ready to fight them…. We will do everything in order to protect the State of Israel; we are not ruling out a preliminary strike."

The prime minister’s remarks came during a memorial for the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which pitted Israel against multiple Arab states after Egypt deployed a rapid attack on the Sinai region. Accordingly, Netanyahu exhorted fellow Israelis to take to heart lessons from the war, which include standing watch against regional adversaries.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin agreed that vigilance in security and domestic affairs remains critical. "The surprise that was our lot in that war must not be forgotten and must not be repeated: not in security, but also not in health or in the economy," said Rivlin.

In order to keep Israel secure as it enters a second coronavirus lockdown, leaders emphasized strength and readiness. Growing threats from Iran and its robust military buildup have made Jerusalem an attractive ally to other Gulf states, leading to peace deals with Bahrain and the UAE in the last month. 

"This is the power on our side," Netanyahu said. "[It is] the power that brought peace with Jordan, Egypt, agreements with the UAE and Bahrain. The power that will bring peace with additional states."

With a new coalition to push back against Iran, the combination of intensified rhetoric and progress in nuclearization from Tehran has kept the option of a preemptive strike on the table.

Israel has used the tactic before on adversaries with nuclear aspirations: A 1981 preemptive airstrike called "Operation Opera" set back Iraq’s nuclear program for decades.

The strike prompted the creation of the "Begin doctrine," a defining feature of Israeli statecraft named after former prime minister Menachem Begin. The doctrine holds that it is Israel's policy to carry out preemptive strikes to prevent enemies from acquiring nuclear weapons. Netanyahu's remarks at the memorial service echo the rhetoric used by Begin.

"On no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel," Begin’s government said soon after the airstrike. "We shall defend the citizens of Israel in good time and with all the means at our disposal."