The issue of Iran — which I have not covered in recent days — looms as likely the most significant with regard to threats Israel faces. As all or most of you are aware, a recently released US intelligence report — National Intelligence Estimate — reverses the US position on Iranian intentions to develop nuclear weapons; reportedly such efforts stopped in 2003. It has been met with incredulity and anger here in Israel.
Let me quote Yossi Klein Halevi , from his article, "An Insult to Intelligence," in The New Republic:
"The sense of betrayal within the Israeli security system is deep. After all, Israel’s great achievement in its struggle against Iran was in convincing the international community that the nuclear threat was real; now that victory has been undone–not by Russia or the European Union, but by Israel’s closest ally.
"What makes Israeli security officials especially furious is that the report casts doubt on Iranian determination to attain nuclear weapons. There is a sense of incredulity here: Do we really need to argue the urgency of the threat all over again? The Israeli strategists I heard from ridicule the report’s contention that ‘Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.’ Is it, asks one Israeli analyst sarcastically, a cost-benefit approach for one of the world’s largest oil exporters to risk international sanctions and economic ruin for the sake of a peaceful nuclear program?
"No one with whom I’ve spoken believes that professional considerations, such as new intelligence, were decisive in changing the American assessment on Iran. What has been widely hailed in the American media as an expression of intelligence sobriety, even courage, is seen in the Israeli strategic community as precisely the opposite: an expression of political machination and cowardice. ‘The Americans often accuse us of tailoring our intelligence to suit our political needs,’ notes a former top security official. ‘But isn’t this report a case study of doing precisely that?’"
Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz in his column, called "Bushwhacked," says:
"…a close reading of the material released from the National Intelligence Estimate offers little legitimate reason for any sense of relief. Quite the opposite. Along with the opening judgment that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 comes the immediate caveat that ‘Teheran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.’ And then, just a few paragraphs later, comes an undermining of the original, headline-making assessment. The authors acknowledge that ‘because of intelligence gaps’ they can ‘assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to these activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons program.’
"After that, the reservations and flat-out terrifying assessments in this supposedly sanguine estimate flow thick and fast. The authors state in their opening paragraphs alone: ‘We do not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.’ ‘We cannot rule out that Iran has acquired from abroad – or will acquire in the future – a nuclear weapon or enough fissile material for a weapon.’ ‘We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so. Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006 … [and] made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz.’"
Caroline Glick writing on "The Abandonment of the Jews," says that either Bush ordered this report because he didn’t want to bomb Iran, or the intelligence community used this report to push him to that position. She writes:
"…not only does the NIE make it impossible for the US to take action against Iran, it also sets a dangerous trap for Israel. If Israel doesn’t take action against Iran’s nuclear installations it risks annihilation. And if it does take action, it can expect to be subject to international and American condemnation far worse than what it suffered after bombing Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.
"…The NIE’s message to Israel and world Jewry is clear. Again we are alone in our moment of peril. It is high time that our political and military leaders acknowledge this fact, stop hoping that someone else will save us, and get to work on defending us.
Today’s Sunday Telegraph (Britain) reports that the British are upset about the NIE report. "British intelligence is concerned that US spy chiefs were so determined to avoid giving President Bush a reason to go to war – as their reports on Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs did in Iraq – that they got it wrong this time."
According to the Telegraph, a senior UK official says that British spies share the concerns of Israeli defense chiefs that Iran is still pursuing nuclear weapons:
"We are skeptical. We want to know what the basis of it is, where did it come from?…They say things on the phone because they know we are up on the phones. They say black is white. They will say anything to throw us off.
"It’s not as if the American intelligence agencies are regarded as brilliant performers in that region…
"Many middle- ranking CIA veterans believe Iran is still committed to producing nuclear weapons and are concerned that the agency lost a number of its best sources in Iran in 2004."
Perhaps most hard-hitting of all were the words of MK Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) during a Security Cabinet meeting this morning on the subject of Iranian nuclear intentions:
"It can not be that Bush is committed to peace as was declared at Annapolis, and then the Americans propagate such an intelligence report which contradicts the information we have proving Iran intends to obtain nuclear weapons. How can we rely on the Americans if they publish this report that emasculates what the world explicitly knows regarding Iran, and renders impotent the entire struggle against the Iranians?"
"[the report must have been] ordered by someone who wants dialogue with Tehran.
"In the middle of the previous century the Americans received intelligence reports from Auschwitz on the packed trains going to the extermination camps. They claimed then that the railways were industrial. Their attitude today to the information coming out of Iran on the Iranians’ intention to produce a nuclear bomb reminds one of their attitude during the Holocaust."
Olmert, speaking on this issue for the first time at the Security Cabinet meeting today, said:
"Israel has no
reason to change the assessments it had all along that Iran is continuing to pursue nuclear weapons and is developing weapons and rockets and enriching uranium." He says we will work with the Atomic Energy Commission to prove the point. But the bottom line, as Glick makes clear, is that it will fall to us to attack Iran.
This is chilling news and represents a shameful time for the U.S. How low will the American government sink, and how completely abandon its principles?
A tender has been put out for construction of 300 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, which is beyond the Green Line.
Condoleezza Rice doesn’t approve . She says it "doesn’t help build confidence" as we enter negotiations, and she sees it as a threat to peace efforts. That makes me gag, but for once our government has come back with a solid response.
Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Boim (Kadima) was quoted on Army Radio yesterday as saying that:
"Secretary Rice is to be praised for her part in getting the peace process restarted, but it is inconceivable that at every opportunity this will be tied to construction in Jerusalem.
"The neighborhood of Har Homa is within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to which Israeli law applies. Accordingly, there is no obstacle to building there as there is no obstacle to building anywhere else in Israel."
According to Aaron Lerner of IMRA , all of Kadima has backed Boim on this. Lerner asks, is this a way to gain some points with the public momentarily, or is this real.
Saeb Erekat, Palestinian negotiator, has said that if the homes in Har Homa are built, "it will ruin all the efforts to reach meaningful negotiations to end the Israeli occupation." Great!
But Haim Ramon, while defending our right to build in Har Homa, which is Jewish Jerusalem — as all of Jewish Jerusalem should be retained by us — told Army Radio that Israel should make it clear that it intends to turn over Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians.
Now, this is not an official gov’t statement , but it is unlikely that Ramon, close buddy to Olmert, would say this without sanction. Often such statements are put out to test the waters.
There are huge — enormous — problems with turning over Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem to the PA. The first is that the neighborhoods are so intertwined that a simple division is not possible. I’ve deal with this before. It would mean going through Palestinian territory to get from one Jewish neighborhood to another and cause a security, political and logistical nightmare. This only sounds reasonable to people who are not familiar with the area.
Then, it puts the Jewish neighborhoods — including neighborhoods in western Jerusalem — at direct risk for being the target of mortar shells, Kassams and more, and enormously increases the risk of infiltration by terrorists. It would make the city in its entirety unbearable for Jewish habitation — which is the idea, really. There are reasons why Arab neighborhoods were incorporated within the municipal boundaries: to serve as a buffer to keep the city safe.
And then there is the issue of the enormous reluctance of Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem to suddenly find they are under Palestinian and not Israeli control — the question of the legality of doing this without their consent.
The newspaper Al Quds Al-Arabi, in London , reported on Saturday that the militant groups in Gaza — Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Resistance Committees and Al Aksa Brigades (Fatah) — have met to discuss offering Israel a hudna. As we haven’t dealt with this for some time, let me point out here that while a hudna is often referred to in the press as a ceasefire, it is not. It is not! A hudna is a way of buying time with the intention of building strength with the intention of attacking when the time is right; it is a well-acknowledged pillar of Islamic military strategy. Egypt has offered to negotiate this hudna. It is, of course, being discussed now because of increasing indications that Israel is getting close to the major operation, and a stipulation would be that all Israeli incursions and targeted killings cease.
I can only pray that our gov’t is not stupid enough to fall for this: for there would be no stipulation that the terrorist groups stop training or building their weapons arsenal. We’ve been trapped in this before. We stop everything, they stop launching rockets at us temporarily, and they get stronger in the interim.
The flip side of the story is this: IDF officials are increasingly concerned about the upgrading of the Kassams in the Hamas arsenal. They are now able to store their rockets (which have a relatively volatile charge) for longer periods of time — thus building up their arsenal — and they are working on improving the range of the rockets. Rocket experts, capable of working on this, have been brought in via Egypt since Hamas gained control of Gaza. As range is improved, Ashkelon and other communities will fall within that target range. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said today that were this to happen, 250,000 would fall within range of the rockets, compared to the 25,000 today.
It is incomprehensible that action should not be taken against this. And even more breathtakingly inconceivable that we might agree to give them time to garner even more strength while we sit like idiots.