Wait?! …Wait for What?! This was the rhetorical question recently asked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the American refusal to draw a clear line whereby if crossed by Iran, it would act militarily.
Posts Tagged ‘nuclear proliferation’
Is Washington’s refusal to set red lines over Iran’s nuclear military program spurring Tehran to continue onward, towards nuclear weapons possession, at full speed?
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has issued a call for clear red lines to be defined by the international community. The idea behind the lines is simple: A breach of them by Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons will trigger action against it.
Jerusalem presumably believes that without red lines, Iran will simply not take the threat of military force seriously enough to freeze its uranium enrichment, or enter into further negotiations in any meaningful way.
Washington, saying that the only red line it abides by is the production of nuclear weapons, rejected this call. Any further red lines, President Barack Obama said earlier this month, would constrain the U.S.’s room to maneuver.
Furthermore, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, countries are not governed by red lines.
However, as Dr. Emily Landau, a senior arms control expert from Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies pointed out Obama himself used red lines twice this year — and did so effectively.
In the first instance, when Iran threatened to respond to economic sanctions by closing off the Strait of Hormuz shipping lane, through which much of the world’s oil passes, Obama said that doing so would constitute an unacceptable breach of a red line. Sure enough, Iran backed off, and downplayed its own threat within a few weeks.
The second use of a red line came after it emerged that Syrian dictator Basher Assad was moving deadly chemical weapons around Syria. Obama said that any further movements of the unconventional weapons, or signs that they were about to be used, would constitute a breach of a red line. There have been no further reports of chemical weapons on the move in war-torn Syria.
Iran knows that the U.S. is being selective about its use of red lines, and that the Obama Administration is reluctant to use this same pressure mechanism on its nuclear program.
What conclusion is Iran likely to take away? One need look no farther than Iran’s rapidly progressing uranium enrichment drive, its continuing refusal to allow IAEA experts access to nuclear facilities, and the fact that no serious negotiations between the P5+1 representatives (the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany) and Iran are on the horizon.
The threat of military force is supposed to be one of three critical pillars of a comprehensive policy to persuade the Iranian regime to stop its march towards atomic bombs.
The second pillar, biting sanctions, is in place, and is taking its toll on the Iranian economy. But the sanctions have utterly failed to convince Tehran to change course on its nuclear program. So long as the worsening Iranian economy does not influence the rate of uranium enrichment, sanctions cannot be considered to have worked.
The third and last pillar, diplomacy, is currently dead in the water, after three failed rounds of negotiations this year.
All three pillars are tied to each other – a structural weakness in one means the other two cannot function properly. In this instance, it is the pillar of a credible military threat that is looking weak, and a refusal to discuss red lines is contributing to that weakness.
Ironically, the less credible the threat of military force is, the more likely it is that military force will eventually have to be used.
Some in the Obama Administration, such as Defense Secretary Panetta, have pointed out that Israel too has not set red lines on Iran. But Israel is not involved in negotiations with Iran, and a red line pressure mechanism would be of no use to Israel — a fact that makes Panetta’s claim appear rather cynical in the eyes of Israeli national security analysts.
There are other factors leading Iran to confirm its belief that the international community is not serious about stopping its nuclear program.
One of them is the public spat between Netanyahu and Obama over these very issues. The open argument, which has escalated into unprecedented feuding via international media outlets, will surely give Iran more cause to trivialize international resolve and unity.
When chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, said last month that an Israeli strike would only delay Iranian nuclear progress, but not destroy the program, he seemed to be stating the obvious. Read between the lines, however, and Dempsey appeared to be hinting that a delay caused by an Israeli strike would not be significant.
The comment seemed to be part of an open U.S. media campaign to dissuade Israel from striking. What it may have done instead was damage Israeli deterrence in Iranian eyes.
The lack of red lines, diplomatic arguments among allies, and an unconvincing threat of military force will all lead Iran to move forward on its nuclear program.
In the meantime, it seems fair to believe that Iran is quickly approaching Israel’s own, unannounced red line.
Israeli Ex-Defense Official: Hezbollah has 60-70,000 Rockets; Iran’s Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons is the Main ThreatSunday, September 16th, 2012
The voice of Amos Gilad is generally a well-respected one in this part of the world. He is a major-general in the IDF reserves and at an earlier time was the IDF’s Spokesperson. For years he was the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). Today he heads the Political, Military and Policy Bureau at the Ministry of Defence.
* The fact that Israel is not facing a conventional military threat is a massive improvement over this country’s historical security situation. But…
* Hezbollah has between 60,000 and 70,000 rockets of various types aimed at Israel. Its arsenal is far more robust than the one it had prior to the Second Lebanon War. “The next war will be aimed against the home front,” he is quoted saying [source].
* The Golan Heights remains the quietest region in the entire Middle East. From Israel’s strategic standpoint, this is good news – at least for now. (Gilad has previously summed up the tragic Syrian situation this way: ”Assad is an Alawite, and he is slaughtering his opponents. He will continue until he is defeated.” Few Israeli leaders have had any illusions about the Assad strategy since the darkest days of his father’s blood-soaked rule.)
* The (inevitable and approaching) fall of Assad will allow al-Qaida to open a new terror front against Israel, and there are signs now that it is “starting to rear its head”.
* In Egypt, though there are many terrorist groups actively seeking to attack Israel from the Sinai, new Egyptian president Morsy and his entourage remain “committed to peace”.
* Gaza: The situation is “relatively restrained”.
That number he quotes – 70,000 rockets – would be worrying all by itself. But it’s more disturbing still when you compare it with what Gilad himself said in an interview he gave to the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai, reproduced in Yediot Aharonot/Ynet, just seven months ago. In that February 2012 piece, Gilad says Hezbollah has accumulated 45,000 missiles that pose a threat to Israel. These came from Iran and Syria via ships, planes and trains. Lebanon’s political leadership is out of the loop and unaware; the result is a vacuum he calls “Hezbollastan”.
In case those facts slipped past you: one of Israel’s highest placed defense officials says, with zero fanfare and no drums, that a sworn enemy of this country, whose forces are arrayed right across the length of Israel’s northern border, has increased its offensive attack capabilities to such an extent that, in a period of seven months, it has expanded its already huge arsenal of rockets by a further 56%.
He also told the Kuwaitis that the Tehran regime intends to use its nuclear strategy not only against Israel but also against the Arab regimes and the Gulf nations.
The more informed among the Kuwaiti readership probably knew this already. In an analytic paper called “Updating Israel’s Security Policy” [online here] published in May 2012, Gilad reviewed the Iranian strategy and how it is perceived here in the neighborhood. Some highlights:
* “Hizbullah has taken over half of Lebanon. Hizbullahstan is much more powerful militarily, or even politically, than Lebanon itself, heavily financed by Iran and Syria. They have at least 45,000 rockets, compared with 14,000 in 2006 at the time of the Second Lebanon War. There is also Iranian terror all over the world, with Iranians whose base is in Lebanon.”
* “I cannot imagine Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or any of the other Arab countries tolerating a nuclear Iran. There is an Arabic word, “ajami,” which expresses disgust of the Persians. If you ask any Arab leader about the greatest threat, he will say Iran – not Israel – but not publicly.”
* “The terrorists in Sinai are financed by Iran [he wrote this some months before the recent murderous attacks in Sinai] and they want to murder as many Israelis as they can.”
* “The Iranians and the Turks have a 1,000-year-old tradition of rivalry. I cannot believe that the Turks believe there is room for friendship with Iran. If Iran goes nuclear, the Turks will be very upset.”
* “Israel’s identification of the Iranian nuclear threat was a great intelligence achievement. We identified the threat of a nuclear Iran in the mid-1990s, when Iran did not have a single missile that could reach Israel. Iran’s capabilities for developing nuclear weapons are no longer a question. They only have to make the decision. They have 5.5 tons of low-enriched uranium. They have hundreds of Shahab-3 missiles which can travel 1,500 km., and they have missiles with a range of 2,200 km. Their ambition is to become the regional superpower. They have the know-how to assemble nuclear warheads on missiles if they want to. They have not yet crossed the Rubicon.”
* Khamenei, who is the leader, not Ahmadinejad, relies on the brutal force of the Revolutionary Guard. Whenever he finds it appropriate, he is determined to develop the option to decide to develop nuclear weapons. He has not done so yet because he is shocked by the magnitude of exposure of these secret projects.”
* “Two years ago at the United Nations, the president of the United States exposed the existence of a top-secret project near Qom, and the Iranians were shocked. For a long time the world did not recognize the nature of this threat, but now there is a consensus among the world’s intelligence agencies: Iran is a threat. There is no current existential threat to Israel, but a nuclear Iran has the potential of creating such a threat when they get the bomb.”
* “Both Turkey and Iran used to be our best friends. We are doing our best to ease the tension between us and Turkey, but it is quite a challenge to digest and understand the changes that have occurred in Turkey. We do not like the way Turkey is cooperating with Iran from time to time, but the Iranians and the Turks have a 1,000-year-old tradition of rivalry. I cannot believe that the Turks believe there is room for friendship with Iran.”
* “If Ahmadinejad and Khamenei keep saying that Israel does not have the right to exist, then with nuclear capability it becomes serious. Without nuclear weapons, it remains just a statement. Iran without nuclear capability is a terrible threat but not an existential one. At the moment, they are using terror and we are suffering from it. The main issue today is how to prevent a nuclear Iran.”
The U.S. is “not setting deadlines” for Iran and still considers negotiations to be “by far the best approach” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Bloomberg in an interview published Monday.
Speaking to Bloomberg Radio on Sunday after the conclusion of meetings at an Asia-Pacific forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Clinton said that economic sanctions are affecting Iran and the U.S. is “watching very carefully about what [the Iranians] do, because it’s always been more about their actions than their words.”
And there are no red ones either, according to State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland yesterday:
QUESTION: Toria, your closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, is quite upset with a interview that the Secretary gave, particularly when she was asked about redlines or deadlines for Iran’s nuclear program. Do you have positions or levels in Iran’s nuclear enrichment that you consider unacceptable and that would force some sort of change to the current stalemate, let’s say?
MS. NULAND: Well, as we have been saying for many months, and as was clear when the Secretary was in Jerusalem earlier this summer, we have extensive and ongoing contacts with our close ally Israel to discuss the full range of security issues, but obviously to compare notes on the challenge posed by Iran, and we will continue to do that…
QUESTION: Well it’s a very – will you agree that it’s – are you – is there a specific policy of being – of constructive ambiguity here? Because, I mean, not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon means many different things to many different people. As you know, the Israelis have one definition of what it means to have a nuclear weapon, and maybe you have another one. So could you provide any –
MS. NULAND: Among the many reasons, Elise, why these consultations with Israel need to be constant, they need to be detailed, they need to be private. …
So we are absolutely firm about the President’s commitment here, but it is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, redlines. It is most important that we stay intensely focused on the pressure on Iran, the opportunity for Iran to fix this situation through the diplomacy that we’ve offered, and intensive consultations with Israel and all the other regional states, as we are doing.
Nuland seems to be trying to suggest that there is more going on under the surface with Israel, but Israel Hayom quoted “senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem” saying that,
Hillary Clinton is speeding up the Iranian centrifuges with her erroneous public comments … Without a clear red line, Iran will not halt its race for nuclear weapons. … not only do Clinton’s comments not deter Iran, they actually appease it.
So to recap: there are sanctions, but Iran’s 20 biggest trading partners have exemptions. Iran still refuses to let IAEA inspectors into its test site at Parchin, where it appears that experiments related to weaponization have been carried out. The I.A.E.A. also reports that Iran is carrying out computer simulations of the destructive power of nuclear warheads. Iran continues to add centrifuges to bolster its enrichment capabilities.
But the U.S. is not prepared to issue an ultimatum. It will go no further than to repeat that “we will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon,” but it will not say — publicly or to Israel — how far it will allow Iran to go.
The Iranians understand this to mean that they can keep on doing what they are doing, which is putting all the pieces in place to sprint to the finish line when they choose to do so. It’s by no means clear that we will know when this is about to happen, or that we will be able to act quickly enough to stop it, even if we do know. It is also generally accepted that the ability of Israel by itself to prevent Iran from building a weapon is eroding with time.
The U.S. has the power to issue a credible threat to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability, as well as a great deal of its military assets — missiles, air defense systems, etc. Such a threat would most likely cause Iran to pull back and would not actually have to be carried out.
By not doing this, the administration leaves Israel with only one option, which is to try to destroy or delay Iran’s program itself. While an American threat carries the risk that the Iranians will call our bluff and provoke a conflict, an Israeli attack guarantees one.
Incidentally, it should be mentioned that the former Israeli security officials like Meir Dagan who are opposed to an Israeli attack in the near term do not believe that Iran should be allowed to get nuclear bombs. They simply disagree with the PM and Defense Minister aboutwhen there will be no other way to stop Iran. If the US persists in allowing Iran to proceed, then even Meir Dagan’s red line will be crossed.
If the administration wants to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran, it has a strange way of showing it!
Canada suspended diplomatic relations with Iran, closing down its embassy in Iran and giving Iranian diplomats in Canada five days to leave its soil, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird announced Friday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly welcomed the decision, calling on the rest of the world to follow suit while, predictably, Iran denounced it.
Speaking in Vladivostok, Russia, Baird summed up the reasons for the decision saying that the Canadian government views “the Government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.”
Baird went on to list a litany of actions by the Iranian government, from providing military assistance to the regime of Bashir Assad in Syria, “refus[ing] to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program,” threatening Israel’s existence, violating human rights and supporting terrorism.
Baird also said that Iran “has shown blatant disregard for the Vienna Convention and its guarantee of protection for diplomatic personnel” and therefore “Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran” due to safety reasons.
Elaborating to reporters, Baird referred to the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran last November, the New York Times reported.
That same day, Baird and Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews also announced that Canada has listed both Iran and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism. That decision will allow victims of terror to sue both countries under Canada’s Justice for Victims of Terror Act.
Later in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for taking “a bold measure which displays leadership and sends a clear message to Iran and the entire world.”
Netanyahu said the decision was particularly important in light of the “anti-Semitism and hatred” displayed at the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran, which was attended by 120 countries and U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki Moon.
Netanyahu called on the international community to follow Canada’s example and reiterated his call on the world to set “clear red lines for Iran.”
Meanwhile, an Iranian foreign ministry spokeperson, Ramin Mehmanparast, condemned Canada decision, saying it was one of Canada’s “extremist policies in the field of foreign policy” and that it was “in fact, the pursuit of Zionist and British dictated policies,” the Tehran Times reported.
The Canadian government, led by Stephen Harper and Canada’s Conservative Party, has shown support for Israel on a number of instances as of late.
In November 2010, Harper said Canada was “morally obligated to take a stand” for Israel, adding that “as long as I am Prime Minister . . . Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost.”
Canada also stood with Israel in opposing the Palestinian Authority’s bid for U.N. recognition as an independent state in 2011.