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Remembrance & Israel's Independence

Prime Minister Netanyahu: 'One Of Israel's Hands Is Extended In Peace To Neighbors Who Seek Peace, The Other Wields Sword Of David In Defense Of Israeli People!'

Defense Minister Barak: 'Need To End Israeli Rule Over Palestinians & Mend Developing Alienation With U.S.'

IsraCast: 'Memorial & Independence Day Celebrations Under Pall Of Looming Iranian Nuclear Threat'

 Israel has paid tribute to the 22,864 of Israelis who have fallen in defense of the state. The sirens wailed for two minutes - and the people paused throughout the land, to stand with heads bowed to remember those who had given their all in protecting the Jewish homeland. Since last Memorial Day, the Iranian nuclear threat has loomed larger - by next Remembrance Day, an Iranian nuclear capability could be a fact of life or, whatever. IsraCast analyst David Essing assesses the major issues on Israel's national agenda as the Jewish state enters its sixty-second year of independence.

Benyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

 By next Memorial & Independance Days, the Israeli intelligence assessment is that an Iranian 'breakout' to a full nuclear capability could be a fact of life. Prime minister Bibi Netanyahu and his government will have to decide what to do about it, if the U.S. and the international community continue to procrastinate. No one knows when Tehran, if it hasn't already, will make its crucial move from 20% uranium enrichment to 90% weapons grade. This would be the final giveaway that the Iranians were entering the home stretch to getting the bomb. And as one Israeli expert has noted, if anyone plans on intervening militarily, it would have to be done before Iran actually acquires the bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently indicated the Iranians have been working secretly on a nuclear warhead, while their progress in developing a delivery system of ballistic missiles has surprised the experts. Although Israeli political leaders and strategic experts are convinced that serious sanctions, for example on gasoline imports, might make the Iranians think twice, very few believe that U.S. President Barack Obama will succeed in persuading countries such as China and Russia to really get serious about stopping Iran. So, it will be more 'jaw-jaw' before the U.S. bites the bullet and decides how to proceed.

As of last January at least, even U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was apparently worried the Obama administration lacked a long-term policy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat. According to the New York Times, Gates sent a three page memo about his concern to Gen. James Jones, Obama's National Security Adviser. For their part, Obama and Jones talk of all options being on the table - these would be some of the possibilities.

  1. To organize new sanctions outside of the UN Security Council and to possibly enforce these sanctions by a naval blockade (that would entail numerous risks including war with Iran and trouble with countries opposed to the sanctions) 
  2. To decide to 'live with the Iranian bomb' as suggested by some American experts. This policy of containment, as U.S. Joint Chairman Mike Mullen has just noted would trigger a dangerous nuclear arms race in the Middle East out of fear for Iran's aspirations for regional hegemony. Obviously, there is the additional complication of whether Israel would then decide 'to go it alone'. 
  3. To issue an ultimatum to Iran including the threat of an American military strike on Iran's nuclear installations. Admiral Mullen has clarified that the Joints Chiefs of Staff are prepared to launch such a strike but 'the use of the military should be the last option'. With American forces so deeply involved now in Afghanistan and eager to withdraw from Iraq, Admiral Mullen has more than enough on his plate and is aware of the 'known and unknown consequences' of a military operation against Iran. At the same time, speaking publicly on April 16th Admiral Mullen, who has met with IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi several times in recent months, was also worried about Iranian threats to wipe Israel off the map.
  4. Another factor would be how to react to an urgent Israeli alert about irrefutable evidence that Iran has started to secretly produce the bomb and the Israeli government is considering its reaction, including a military operation
Gabi Ashkenazi

 Although a nuclear Iran is not at the back but at the front of Israeli minds these days, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made no specific reference to Tehran when he addressed the memorial service in Mount Herzl military cemetery that was carried live on all major Israeli TV and radio networks. Netanyahu, whose brother Yoni, was killed in the Entebbe rescue operation to free Israeli hostages, spoke movingly of how two of his comrades in the elite Sayaret Matkal commando unit were killed and of how one died in his arms. In the past, Netanyahu declared:'Iran would not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons!' Not a week goes by, without Achmadenijad or some other Iranian official blustering about Israel's end being near and Iran soon joining the nuclear club. And on this True to form, on this Memorial Day, Iran also announced new sites for uranium enrichment. However, at the Israeli service amid prayers for the dead, Netanyahu made no mention of Iran and by not referring to it, the Israeli leader actually spoke from a sense of strength, as if Israel's position was well known and there was no need to repeat it. There are times of crisis, when saying less can mean more. He declared:' Israel is a peace yearning nation and prays for peace. One of Israel's hands was extended in peace to her neighbors, the other wielded the sword of David To defend her people!' A week ago, at the Holocaust Memorial at Yad V'shem, Netanyahu said although Iran openly declares its goal of annihilating the Jewish state, yet the international community has still failed to take 'determined action'.

It is possible to say there are two aspects to Israel nuclear weapons policy; one is official, while the other can be deduced from past actions. Israel's official policy is that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. On the other hand, until now Israel has not allowed any other country to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the region. This was proven in the Israeli air strike against Saddam Husein's nuclear reactor in 1981- an action that prevented the Iraqi tyrant from acquiring an atomic weapon by the time of America's desert Storm campaign in 1991. And more recently, the Israeli air raid on the Syria's secret nuclear reactor, being built with North Korean aid in 2007. With Iran next in line, the question is sometimes asked: 'If Israel is widely suspected of possessing her own nuclear weapons, why shouldn't Iran be allowed to do the same?' It should be noted that Israel has never threatened to wipe anyone else off the map as has Iran. Not even during the darkest days of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when the massive Egyptian Army nearly defeated Israel with a massive surprise attack, did the Jewish state threaten to unleash her alleged nuclear weapons, even though Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had, at the time, spoken privately about an imminent fall of the Third House of Israel. The fact is that Israel is the only state in the world threatened with extinction by another state, in flagrant violation of the UN Charter. Then there's Israel's refusal to join the NPT, the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty that is supposed to control the spread of nuclear weapons. Has anyone noticed that Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Iran publicly signed the NPT which obligated them to open all their nuclear facilities to inspection in return for nuclear aid but then happily violated their commitment by secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Defense Minister Barak:' Time to end the occupation!'

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

In a Memorial Day interview on Israel Radio, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel was strong enough to 'change things in 2010'. He warned that Israel must act to ' end its rule over the Palestinians, it was something that did not exist anywhere else in the world'. Moreover, the alienation that was developing with the U.S. over settlements and East Jerusalem was jeopardizing Israel's long- time friendship and strategic partnership with the U.S. Barak's blunt comments came at a time the Obama administration is exerting stiff pressure on Israel to also suspend building in eastern Jerusalem and not just in Judea & Samaria (West Bank). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeated that Washington is still waiting for Netanyahu's response. It can be said that Barak's radio interview recalled the starting comments by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he told his Likud caucus: 'The time has come to end the 'kibbush' (occupation). Sharon's political bombshell led to the eventual split in the Likud and Sharon's forming of the break-away Kadima party that conducted Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The question now is whether Barak was simply thinking out loud or whether he hopes to persuade Netanyahu to risk a break-up of his Right wing coalition and to form a new government with the Centrist Kadima party lead by Tzipi Livni.

So in Israel's new year of independence, Prime Minister Netanyahu must cope with two 'make or break' issues - how to confront the most dangerous enemy of Iran and to mend the strained relations with best friend, America. There are other high priority items on the national agenda. Iran, aware that the nearer its gets to the bomb, the more dangerous she is in Israeli eyes, has been stocking up Hebollah in south Lebanon with longer-range SCUD missiles. They could be launched at Israel in case of any future war. After the Second Lebanon War in 2006, there should be no doubt that Hezbollah would again target Israeli population centers and this time with missiles capable of reaching the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Prof. Eyal Zisser, a leading Israeli expert, has estimated that during the past four years, Iran has shipped some 40,000 missiles to Hezboallh via Syria. This has lent Hezbollah ' an unprecedented missile capability far greater than the Arab armies surrounding Israel'. Moreover, Damascus has also supplied Hezbollah with advanced SCUD missiles produced in Syria that are far more accurate and carry a much greater payload. Therefore there is no wonder that the IDF views them as tilting the balance of power in Hezbollah's favor. In Zisser's view, this is not enough to change the overall situation but it does show that Syrian President Bashar Assad is prepared to bait Israel and risk a severe Israeli reaction. As long as there is no progress in a political process with Syria, Assad can be expected to aid in Hezbollah's military buildup. Zisser charges that Israel has turned a blind eye to Hezbollah's buildup since the Second Lebanon War (in violation of the UN's 1701 cease-fire agreement). Hopefully, the price for Israel's failure to intervene will not be too high. Although no one is interested in such a confrontation, not in Syria, Lebanon or Israel but this was also the case on the eve of the Second Lebanon War and nevertheless war broke out. Let's not forget that Hezbollah takes its orders from Iran.

Will the sirens that marked this year's Memorial Day wail again before next year's ceremony comes around?

David Essing

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