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Preposterous Pundits & Israel

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: 'EU Sanctions On Iran Are Step In Right Direction - Israel Waiting To See Results'

Iran: 'If There Is Any Disruption To Sale Of Iranian Oil, The Strait Of Hormuz Will Definitely Be Closed'

IsraCast Assessment: Israel Views EU Gradual Oil Embargo As Means To Halting Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program In Coming Year & Barring Unforeseen Developments Will Give Sanctions A Chance Before Deciding On Any Unilateral Measures

Iranian President Ahmadinejad

 From their vantage point thousands of miles away, foreign pundits love nothing better than preaching to Israel on how to cope with the Iranian nuclear threat. Recently, Roger Cohen of the New York Times and Andrew Adler formerly of the Atlantic Jewish Times Weekly took diametrically opposed positions, but both were preposterous in their own right. They centered on U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Meanwhile, back in in Israel, Maj. Gen.(Ret.) Amos Yadlin, the former commander of the IDF intelligence branch, who actually knows the facts, discussed the current reality that analyst David Essing compared to the fantasizing of Adler and Cohen.

 Although Andrew Adler's crackpot idea does not deserve serious attention; Roger Cohen's critique is more insidious. Adler's suggestion that Israel's Prime Minister should send Mossad agents 'to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel' does a great disservice to the state of Israel and belongs more to the discipline of mental health. On the other hand, Cohen is deeply concerned that Barack Obama may not be re-elected and insinuates that Netanyahu might carry out a pre-emptive attack, what many Israeli observors have called the most dangerous operation in the state's history, in order to torpedo Obama's prospects. Cohen also attempts to intimidate Netanyahu and Israel, by warning they would feel Obama's 'displeasure', if he does win a second term. His conclusion is that Netanyahu is capable of playing petty politics with Israel's very survival.

Granted there is an ongoing public debate in Israel, initiated by former Mossad director Meir Dagan, over when Israel should launch a pre-emptive strike to prevent Iran going nuclear. Dagan, who retired a year ago, is himself credited with setting back Iran's nuclear project for years. In his opinion, Israel should refrain from going it alone 'unless the sword of Iran's nuclear weapon is cutting into the very flesh of Israel'. That is to say that Israel must delay until the last possible moment. But will anyone know when Iran has acquired the Bomb and if it does will it then be too late to act? For example, Kadima opposition leader Tzipi Livni, an ascerbic critic of Netanyahu has also declared: 'If endangered, Israel must not rule out the military option!' Would Cohen also tar and feather her for not taking into account that this might harm Obama's election prospects? (Livni does add the criticism that Netanyahu has failed to rally international support for Israel by continuing building in West Bank settlements.)

The question of the timing of any unilateral Israeli strike is at the heart of the matter and such a decision would have to be based on an Israeli intelligence assessment that time had run out and the Iranians had started their 'break out' to nuclear weapons. It can be assumed that any Israeli decison to go solo against Iran would have to be passed by the full cabinet. This was the case in 1981 when the Begin government ordered the Israel Air Force to destroy Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. That decision was based on the Israeli intelligence assessment that the Iraqi reactor was about to go 'hot'. (Subsequently, the Reagan administration imposed a temporary embargo on the shipment of U.S. aircraft to Israel; however later Washington lauded Israel for neutralizing Saddam Hussein's nuclear aspirations).

It can be assumed, that Netanyahu would not seek cabinet approval for an Iranian strike without an unequivocal Israeli intelligence appraisal that Israel was facing a clear, present and existential danger. On this score, Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently told Army Radio that Israel was still 'far off from such a decision'.

The Iranian Missile Range

The whole issue of if and when to bomb Iran's nuclear sites is predicated on the determination that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons and President Obama's position: 'All options are on the table'. On this Israel and the U.S. are in full agreement as evidenced by the recent visit by Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. After some three years of a predictably fruitless dialogue with Tehran, Obama has finally decided to get serious. When he does defy Iran's threats, such as sending a U.S. aircraft-carrier back into the Gulf, the Iranians have backed down. Iran's Islamist regime has insane religious and political aspirations of ruling the Middle East but there is also 'method in their madness' when it comes to achieving their final objective. This is probably best understood by French President Nicole Sarkozy, a driving force behind the EU's decision to impose the oil embargo and freeze the assets of Iran's central bank. Although Sarkozy ruled out a nuclear Iran he predicted international 'chaos', if there were a military strike on Iran. The European Union has now concurred by also getting serious.

Is it not possible that Israel's 'beating the war drums' has carried significant weight in the EU's confidential discussions? And that the Europeans reached the conclusion that those 'crazy Israelis' might actually go it alone against Iran if the EU did not impose crippling sanctions. As Sarkozi stressed that could also threaten the supply of Gulf oil and result in $200 per barrel. It was politically and economically correct for the EU to side with the U.S. on the oil embargo shored up by the OPEC guarantee to boost production in order to replace the Iranian supply.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

In any event, Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the EU's embargo calling it 'a step in the right direction'. Speaking to his Likud Knesset caucus, Netanyahu said until now Iran has continued its nuclear weapons program without let-up and unhindered. However he cautioed that it was still too early to foresee the outcome of these new sanctions. The EU's Foreign Policy Chief Catharine Ashton told reporters in Brussels that the sanctions were designed to bring Iran back to the table to negotiate the nuclear issue.

Conclusion: The EU oil embargo on Iran goes a long way to rectifying the erroneous U.S. National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 that created the false impression that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. Ironically, Iran had actually crossed the technological red line for producing the Bomb somewhere in 2007- 2008, at the very time the U.S. intelligence community was telling the world the opposite! That's what Maj.Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, the former commander of the IDF Intelligence Branch, told the Israeli daily Maariv.

So how much damage was caused by the NIE of 2007?

Gen. Yadlin said it had been important to stiffen sanctions at that time and if this had been the case there might be no need to talk of a military operation today. The U.S. estimate enabled the Russians, Chinese and Europeans to oppose tougher sanctions allowing the Iranians to buy time. But how was it that the U.S. intelligence community had drafted such a faulty NIE. Yadlin revealed: 'We had deep respect for the U.S. intelligence organizations and therefore we took their NIE seriously. It set off alarm bells because we thought we might be wrong with our own differing assessment. So thinking the Americans were right we went back to the drawing-board double checking our evaluations. However after our intensive review we rejected America's NIE and decided to stick with our own estimate that Iran had not halted its nuclear weapons program. This we presented it to Israel's decision makers'.

Attention Roger Cohen and all other pundits: When it comes to intelligence on Iran's nuclear weapons project, Israeli intelligence has proven to be at least , if not more reliable, than America's.

But if Israel believes the Iranians now have all the means and components for building the Bomb, how much time would they require from the moment they decide to break out and make a dash for it? Yadlin, who also retired about one year ago, believes the U.S. and Israel are very close in their assessments. It would depend on how many centrifuges they have at the time of their decision. Iran's goal is that this time would be shorter than the time it would take for opposing states to take action after they had detected Iran's nuclear dash. The assessment is that approximately one year would be needed to enrich uranium of low grade to military grade and 3,000 centrifuges would be required to produce enough material for one nuclear weapon annually. At this point, the Iranians do not have the tens of thousands of centrifuges they want to enable them to make the break-out in a very short time. The diferrences between Israel and the U.S. revolve mainly around the question where the red line is that will require action. Israel defines the red line as Iran's capability and potential to break out whereas the U.S. views the red line as much farther away'. But barring unforeseen developments, Israel will wait for the latest sanctions to kick in but it's not a sure bet that Iran will give in. The Islamist leadership in Tehran views a nuclear weapons arsenal as its ticket for dominating the Middle East and its own long term survival.

PS. - Amos Yadlin was one of the eight Israeli pilots who bombed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. Without going into detail, he told Maariv that he did not agree with Meir Dagan's position on a pre- emptive Israeli strike (only if Iran's nuclear sword has actually begun cutting into Israel's flesh).

David Essing

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