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August 19, 2010: Searching Facts

November 22, 2010

These times are fraught with genuine danger, coupled with confusion and frustration.  And so, balanced reactions seem to be in short supply.  Sometimes — perhaps because of a sense of being powerless or overwhelmed — there is a dangerous tendency to downplay or ignore a situation that merits genuine attention and action.  But, paradoxically, at other times responses to a situation of serious import become overwrought.  Not infrequently, the media promotes these latter responses.
 
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For a very long time, the world has been lamentably apathetic with regard to Iran’s intention to become a nuclear nation.
 
But in recent days —  certainly in the US and here in Israel — there has been a media explosion of reports regarding statements made by John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. 
 

 
Bolton has been speaking with regard to the Russian-built nuclear reactor at Bushehr, Iran, into which Russia is now scheduled to place low level radioactive rods, ostensibly for purposes of generating energy for peaceful domestic purposes.
 

 

The possibility exists that Iran will utilize the rods — which are supposed to be given back to Russia when spent — for further uranium enrichment on the way to making a bomb. This would not turn Iran into a nuclear nation, but it is potentially another step along the way.  However, I note that there is an alternate opinion maintaining that Russia’s own reputation would be on the line if Iran did not return the rods, as per written agreement, so that Russia will monitor the situation closely.  In addition to which, the very public visibility of this reactor is said to make it more difficult for Iran to utilize its rods for devious ends.
 
In any event, it is, as Bolton has pointed out, a “victory” for Iran that Russia — which had contracted with Iran in 1995 to construct the Bushehr reactor, but stalled for a considerable time in completing the facility — is finally about to place those rods. 
 
There is no ready clue as to why Russia decided to go ahead just now.  To many, this is an abysmal signal with regard to Russia’s willingness to cooperate in blocking a nuclear Iran.  It may simply be, as some maintain, that Russia — which wishes to sustain a reputation as a vendor of nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes — concluded, in a predictably self-serving move, that it could afford to stall no longer.  
 
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Bolton has made some very specific statements with regard to Bushehr, which have been picked up and inflated by the media.  (Some of you have already written to me about this and received private responses.)
 
Bolton’s contention is that we are facing a deadline only days away. For, he says, once the fuel is loaded into the reactor (with loading scheduled to begin August 21), Israel would no longer hit it for fear of releasing widespread radiation.
 
Many people — aided by some of those media reports — are drawing the conclusion from this that if Israel doesn’t attack Iran in the next couple of days, all chance to do so will have been lost.  Yet Bolton hasn’t said this — if you pay careful attention to his words, you see that he only addresses the issue of this one reactor. 
 
See, for example:  http://www.newsmax.com/InsideCover/John–Bolton–Iran–Nuclear–israel/2010/08/13/id/367449
 
It would be reasonable to conclude that Israel’s opportunity to effectively strike Iran at all would be lost after this deadline only if destruction of that particular reactor were a critical and necessary part of Israel’s attack plans. 
 
Right now, shining a bit of light on this issue is of considerable importance.
 
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A fact that is frequently neglected when there is talk of an Israeli attack on Iran, is that Israel does not have the ability military to completely destroy Iran’s capability to become a nuclear power.  I’ve heard this directly from Israeli generals here.  The best that we could do would be to cripple that capability for some (disputed) period of time.
 
There may be multiple ways to cripple Iran, with hitting Bushehr not necessarily critical at all. 
 
Among those of the opinion that it is not critical is Ilan Berman, who is vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council; editor of The Journal of International Security Affairs; and author of Tehran Rising: Iran’s Challenge to the United States. 
 
Berman says that the enrichment plants are the real backbone of Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons capability; his own well-informed speculation is that these facilities would be Israel’s primary targets.
 
“It’s not at all clear that Bushehr would be a high value target, because it’s only tangentially related to any conceivable Iranian nuclear weapons program. My suspicion is that this is not a game-changer. This isn’t going to give Iran enough fissile material for a bomb overnight.”
 
On this, see: http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=185060
 
Berman told me that he hasn’t “talked to anyone who even thinks Bushehr is high up on the target list.”  What is more, he has spoken to “technical experts [who] say there are ways to get at a facility of that type without unleashing radioactive fallout.”
 
He believes the main “victory” for Iran in having this reactor up and running is PR.
 
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The remaining question for me, then, is where John Bolton, a highly knowledgeable man whom I respect enormously, is going with this.  I have already made the point that the media, for its own purposes, inflated Bolton’s statements.  But Bolton’s comments, on their own, seem uncharacteristically inflammatory rather than straight-talking.
 
According to the JPost, which had communication directly with Bolton, he referred to the start-up of the reactor as “a huge threshold.”  But — as I have reflected above — that’s not what I’m hearing elsewhere.
 
I am particularly unsettled that, according to the JPost, he also said, “If Israel was right to destroy the Osirak reactor [in Iraq in 1981], is it right to allow this one to continue?  You can’t have it both ways.”
 
If this is an accurate quote, it is also grossly unfair.  The situation vis-a-vis Iraq 29 years ago was vastly different from what we face with regard to Iran now, and nowhere is it written that our response must or should be the same.
 
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As Prime Minster Netanyahu does not confide state secrets to me, I do not know whether or not Israel will be attacking Iran in the next several months or more — if indeed Netanyahu, who is undoubtedly in the process of measuring a number of shifting factors (such as the imminent departure of Secretary of Defense Gates), knows with certainty himself yet. 
 
But what I can say with a reasonable degree of assurance is that if we decide to (and my own inclination is to hope that indeed we do), it is still possible — the hysteria of the last few days notwithstanding.
 
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I wrote here about the self-serving attitude of Russia, but, while the stance of Russia may be a tad more blatant, it is hardly alone within the European community.
 
In spite of a direct request from Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains resistant to closing the Hamburg-based Iranian bank (EIH), which, according to the JPost, “has reportedly funneled over $1 billion into Iran’s military and ballistic weapons programs.”
 
The EIH bank, which is banned in America, is classified by the US Treasury Department as a terrorist entity because of its involvement with nuclear proliferation and terror activities. 
 
Germany’s defense, transmitted to the JPost by a spokesman for Merkel, is that the bank, located in Hamburg as it is, is subject to very strict controls by the German bank monitoring authority. 
 
Right.  Germany is Iran’s number one trading partner, and is charged by critics with putting short-term trade profits ahead of the security of the West. The governments of France and the UK have joined with the US in pressuring Germany to close down the bank.
 
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Netanyahu has just returned from a visit to Greece, part of a process of courting this nation as a stronger strategic Mediterranean ally in the face of the rupture of our long-standing relationship with Turkey.  The warming of our interaction with Greece, which has been fairly pro-Palestinian in its stance, is seen as promising.
 
There is the issue of tourism, as, until very recently
, Israelis were in the habit of vacationing in Turkey in large numbers; Greece presents what is in many ways an attractive low cost alternative.  Of significance beyond this is the possibility for increased shared intelligence and Greek purchases of Israeli military hardware, as well as growth in commercial trade.  Additionally, Greece might serve as an intermediary with certain Arab nations.
 
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The Greek Orthodox church has considerable holdings in Israel, and expresses deep interest in this region.  In light of the decades of enmity between Turkey and Greece, the Greeks can only be pleased with Israel’s expressed interest in an enhanced relationship.
 
Greek foreign minister, Dimitris Droutsas, while seeking to reassure the Arab world in a radio interview, sustained a refreshingly positive tone towards Israel:
 
Improved Greek-Israeli ties were “for the good of Greece and all of the Middle East region… and do not exclude our close cooperation with the Arab world, and particularly our Palestinian friends.

“Our rapprochement with Israel is not opposed to our traditional relationship of exceptional trust with the Arab world,” he said, noting that the improved ties with Israel had been discussed with “all our friends in the Arab world.”
 
Droutsas indicated that meetings with Netanyahu were “very useful and entirely successful because we achieved the fixed objectives: deepening of relations and cooperation with Israel.”

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Another ship bent on “breaking the Gaza blockade” has plans to leave from Lebanon on Sunday.  This ship, the Miriam, will carry some 50 to 75 female “activists” who declare themselves set on delivering “cancer medication, books and toys.”   These “humanitarian” items, according to organizer Samar al-Hajj, would be carried only in “symbolic” amounts — which automatically makes clear the true intention of the “activists.”
 
This ship, however, is one we are not likely to have to deal with, as the Cypriot ambassador to Lebanon has already told AP that the ship will be turned back when it reaches Cyprus.  “We decided that such a ship will not be allowed to enter Cyprus and if such a Gaza-bound ship docks in a Cypriot port the crew and the passengers will be deported to their country of origin,” Kyriacos Kouros said.  Cyprus has a “moral and legal responsibility” to those ships in its waters; there is concern that a ship intent on challenging the blockade could endanger lives, as well as “regional peace and stability.” 
 
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This is “cute,” metaphorically speaking:
 
Islamic officials in Jerusalem had obtained permission recently to enter the ancient Mamilla Muslim cemetery in order to clean and restore tombstones.  While there, the Muslims erected 300 “fictitious graves” on a neighboring plot of land, in what the Jerusalem Municipality is calling “one of the largest deceptions in recent years,” perpetrated in order to “illegally seize state lands.”  The Municipality, saying it has “indisputable evidence,” has released documentation that includes both photos and a time line.
 
The fake tombs and headstones are being demolished under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority, which sent experts to the site. 
 
In an act of enormous chutzpa, the Islamic Movement is holding a demonstration denouncing the Municipality for “desecration of a holy site.”  They are without shame.
 
For me, this relatively minor incident is one more signal lesson regarding the games that the Muslims have no compunctions about playing.
 
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A fire broke out in Bucharest’s Giulesti Maternity Hospital in Romania on Monday, killing four premature babies and seriously injuring others. Yesterday, Dr. Yosef Hayek, head of the burns unit at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer and two other staff members flew to Romania to treat seven premies, weighing between 1 and 2.5 kilos (2.2 to 5.5 pounds) who were burnt on some 40% to 80% of their bodies.  (How horrible!)
 
The doctors brought basic medical equipment with them, will call for more as needed, and may bring some of the babies back to Israel for further care.
 
And here we have a signal lesson on how Israelis routinely respond, lending succor and assistance to suffering individuals within the international community.
 
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Forty year old mathematician Prof. Elon Lindenstrauss, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was on today awarded the 2010 Fields Medal.  Considered the “Nobel Prize” of mathematics, it is granted to world’s leading mathematicians aged 40 and below.
 
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