There is no leader with a record that matches that of Prime Minister Netanyahu with regard to recognition of the dangers of Iran. He was addressing this issue in various forums -- again, and again, and again -- at a time when most world leaders were paying no attention.
And there is no question in my mind that he understands what must be done. Sanctions -- instituted late and half-heartedly -- have not deterred Iranian leaders. "Negotiations" are nothing but a pitiful joke. But Iran cannot be permitted to achieve nuclear capability.
This week Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to North America, and, on March 5, will be meeting President Obama -- who does not exactly see eye-to-eye with him on this issue. For all the public declarations by US officials meant to assuage concern and demonstrate that the US and Israel are on the same wavelength regarding Iran, it is clearly is not the case. The US does not want Israel to attack Iran.
Just how far apart on Iran the US and Israel appear to be is demonstrated by an article in Israel Hayom today. A "deeply troubling" International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly report released on Friday indicated "Iran had increased the pace of its uranium enrichment program in recent months at the Natanz facility in central Iran and the Fordo underground facility near the ancient holy city of Qom."
In response to this, the prime minister's office released a statement:
"The IAEA report provides more proof that Israel’s estimations were accurate. Iran is continuing with its nuclear program unchecked and is enriching uranium to a high level of 20 percent while blatantly ignoring the demands of the international community." This sheds light, at one and the same time, on what Iran is doing and the failure of the community to stop it.
However, "according to US media reports over the weekend, US intelligence officials stated that there is no definitive proof that Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon." On January 19, at a press conference in the Netherlands, Netanyahu stated unequivocally that Iran had already decided to build a bomb. But in any event this intelligence statement is meaningless:
For it has been explained repeatedly that the concern is that Iran will develop the capacity to build a bomb, such that it will be able to do so in six months to a year once that decision is made. And evidence makes it quite clear that the capacity is being developed -- Iran has gone well beyond anything that would be needed for peaceful purposes. This US intelligence statement feels like an attempt to downplay the danger.
And the Secretary of State? In a statement to Reuters TV from Tunisia, she offered one of her classic observations that tends to make you want to bang your head against the nearest wall:
"We continue to urge Iran to abide by its international obligations, and that is something that countries everywhere do, and we want to see them do it, and we hope that they will be listening."
No wonder the Iranians think they can proceed with impunity.
As much as Netanyahu is to be given credit for his clear-eyed position on Iran, however, he also has a reputation for caving under pressure from the US. (Consider, for example, the 10 month freeze he imposed on building in Judea and Samaria.) And there is no doubt that Obama will apply every possible pressure when they meet.
To date, Netanyahu has given no indication of caving, and it may well be that this existential issue is a genuine red line for him. He has made public statements in response to international pressure -- "stop telling us what to do," etc. -- that are encouraging. And his most recent release today is in line with the others.
Nevertheless, the situation is worrisome.
For this reason, I ask every one of you on this list who agrees that Israel has a right to defend herself as her leaders see fit -- without interference from the US -- to please write to Prime Minister Netanyahu now.
A short, succinct and positive message, please. Something like this, in your own words:
You are to be congratulated for recognizing the dangers of Iran as other world leaders have not. It is clear that you understand that Iran cannot be permitted to become a nuclear power. I implore you, do not let President Obama pressure you or dissuade you from your path.
If you are Israeli, tell him you count on him, as your prime minister, to keep this nation safe. If you are American, tell him that you do not agree with the position of your president.
Fax: 02-670-5369 (From the US: 011-972-2-670-5369)
As I have mentioned before, the question of timing of an attack is critical -- and there is disagreement between Israel and the US regarding how long it is possible to wait before attacking. Obama and Netanyahu will likely focus on precisely this issue.
The US maintains that sanctions can work but need more time. On this see Dore Gold, who says precedents of other nations against whom sanctions were levied indicate that it would take some nine to 12 years in the case of Iran, while it is predicted that Iran will be nuclear in somewhere between several months and two years.
Israel sees a closing window of opportunity for attack because Iranian nuclear facilities are in the process of being hidden deeper underground in very highly fortified bunkers, which will make it more difficult to hit them.
Totally aside from military considerations, there are peripheral political issues in play, and they should not be discounted either.
From YNet, we have this:
"...the prime minister's associates are engaging in contacts vis-à-vis the White House, aimed at drafting a joint Israeli-American declaration on Iran, to be issued in the wake of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting." This is particularly important to the US in order to demonstrate that the two nations are on the same page.
Netanyahu, says this report, is seeking a commitment from the US to "further tighten sanctions," which the Americans are considering. If the goal is to stop Iran without resorting to military action, it would seem to me that this should be a given. But the US, reportedly, would do this only as quid pro quo: the Obama administration wants a commitment from Israel not to strike Iran in the "near future" (however this is defined).
Please keep in mind that whatever reports such as this indicate, we will not actually know what goes on in discussion between Netanyahu and Obama. Only they and a very small cadre of insiders will know. We simply cannot predict how this will play out. As unlikely as it seems to many observers here, it is possible, for example (and this is purely speculative), that Obama will tell Netanyahu that if he waits absolutely as long as possible to give sanctions a chance, and it then becomes necessary for Iran to be attacked anyway, the US will provide back-up and additional weaponry for Israel.
Netanyahu has apparently ordered his ministers to deliver no public statements about Iran prior to his visit to the US. This is absolutely as it should be. There has been entirely too much talk already at official levels.
The prime minister has also temporarily halted all construction beyond the Green Line so as to not risk incurring the anger of the US while he is the midst of sensitive discussions.
That the situation should be this tenuous is regrettable: we have a right to do this building. But, if the halt is truly temporary, I would say that it is understandable, in light of the weight of the issues to be discussed in Washington.
Before moving on, I want to clarify one additional point:
Those Americans who are opposed to an attack on Iran not infrequently voice concern that America is about to be involved in an extensive ground war in Iran -- something that would not be sustainable in light of similar recent US experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But this is simply not the case.
No one is suggesting that Iran be conquered and its regime overthrown! No one wants to go looking for the mullahs in hiding or the Revolutionary Guard leadership. That, indeed, would require ground troops battling for a lengthy period. All that is envisioned is a massive bombing operation that would take out key nuclear installations and, most likely, other military installations (launching sites, communications centers, whatever) to prevent a major Iranian response. What had to be done would be accomplished by planes and missiles.
Nor is there reason to think that the US would have to send troops into Iran to deal with any possible response from Iran. Simply not the case.
Here I want to call the attention of my readers to an article by Lenny Ben David, "Syria's Arsenal of Unconventional Weapons Must Be Destroyed":
"Public reports claim that Syria has hundreds of long-range Scud B, C and D (the Korean No-Dong) missiles, and dozens of launchers –- one of the largest ballistic missile forces in the Middle East, according to the CIA. Some of the missiles are equipped with cluster-bomb warheads suitable for dispersion of chemical weapons. The reports list the bases where the missiles are stored as well as those bases where chemical and biological weaponization is carried out. Indeed, some of the chemical warfare activity is done in cooperation with Iran, which provides training and the equipment. (Emphasis added)
"A CIA study released in 2010 stated, 'Syria has had a CW [chemical weapons] program for many years and already has a stockpile of CW agents, which can be delivered by aircraft, ballistic missiles and artillery rockets.'
"Persistent reports over the last decade suggest that Saddam Hussein smuggled elements of his WMD programs to Syria before he fell."
The major concern, Ben David explains, is that in the current climate of extreme instability in Syria these weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists.
"...In Libya, the controlled destruction of WMD and missiles was conducted with Qaddafi’s reluctant cooperation. In Syria, the destruction of the stockpiles will only occur if they are obliterated and incinerated by Western missiles, warplanes, and cruise missiles. The blowing up of mustard and nerve gas stocks may result in local 'collateral damage,' but the outcome would be far less than a container of Sarin being sprayed in the Washington Metro, VX dropped from a London office building, or an Igla shoulder-fired missile bringing down a passenger plane near Heathrow. (Emphasis added)
"More importantly, the destruction of Assad’s WMD and missile arsenal, which today threaten Turkey, Israel and ships in the eastern Mediterranean, would be a powerful signal to the ayatollah regime in Iran to 'cease and desist' its nuclear weaponization program. It would be proof that indeed 'all options are on the table' — including wiping Syria’s table clean."
I believe this to be a proposal with genuine merit, which requires traction. As you are able, please share this with your Congresspersons and others in government.
Lenny Ben-David, now a public affairs consultant, served as deputy chief of mission of Israel’s embassy in Washington.
-- Last week, a bomb, which had been hidden in a bag and thrown over the border from the Sinai to southern Israel, was intercepted. There seems little doubt that this bomb, which was to be remote activated, was intended to be picked up and utilized for a major terror attack in a mall, bus, or other site. When it was detonated, shrapnel flew from its interior, indicating how serious was the intent to do injury.
-- The Hamas-Fatah "unity" is on hold, with each side accusing the other of being the stumbling block. Not a huge surprise, but a bit of a disappointment, truth to tell. If Fatah does not "merge" with Hamas we're going to be pushed, once again, to sit at the table with Abbas and to make "gestures" to him. People will conveniently forget that Abbas was willing to join forces with Islamist terrorists.
-- In Haifa on Friday night, two off-duty soldiers in civilian dress were brutally attacked by a group of Israeli Arabs, at least one of whom was drunk. The attack took place near the entrance to Rambam Medical Center, where they had gone because one of them was ill. There was no provocation. "Are you Jews?" they were asked, before being attacked by clubs, rocks and planks of wood. They have both been hospitalized, one with spinal injuries and the other with head injuries. Four men have been arrested in connection with this attack, which the police call "a very serious incident."
Last night I attended a major program on Har HaZeitim (Mount of Olives), at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. The issues regarding Iran and Syria that I wrote about above had precedence today. I simply want to mention the program here, with a promise to devote a major part of my next posting to this subject.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.