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Obama Blindsides Israel on Iran

Defense Minister Barak: 'Only Way To Overcome Gap Between Israel & U.S. Is To Stiffen Sanctions & Set Short Time-table For New Nuclear Talks'

'Confronting A Nuclear Iran In Future Will Be More Costlier In Blood & Treasure Than It Is Today'

ISRACAST ASSESSMENT: Obama Administration Conducting Orchestrated Campaign Of Media Leaks To Pressure Israel Not To Attack Iran's Nuclear Weapons Sites

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

'We do not see the latest sanctions or the new nuclear talks stopping Iran's nuclear weapons project' - Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak has stated this publically and privately. On the other hand, American officials have told the New York Times that an Israeli military strike against Iran 'could leave hundreds of Americans dead'. Other U.S. and Western sources have also been leaking information designed to influence the Israeli government and public opinion. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Achmadinejad has declared: 'No one will stop Achmadinejad from building a nuclear weapon any time he decides to do so!' On the eve of a new round of nuclear talks, analyst David Essing is of the view that paradoxically the Iranian regime and the Obama administration are both interested in playing for time, albeit for different reasons.

Better Now Than Later...  Neither the latest economic sanctions nor the upcoming round of nuclear negotiations will persuade Iran to halt its nuclear weapons project - that's the assessment of Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak. On one hand, there is now full agreement with the U.S. that Iran is bent on building a nuclear weapon and that no option should be taken off the table. Strategic cooperation with the U.S. was also at a record high and although Israel must listen to Washington Barak pointed to 'some differences in perspective'. As a world leader, the U.S. had a different viewpoint and far greater military capabilities than did Israel which also happened to be within range of Iranian missiles. Then there was the factor of time. The Iranians have been trying to neutralize Israel's ability to pre-empt by spreading their nuclear sites around the country in underground locations reinforced with layers of concrete. Barak now perceives the Iranian nuclear sites as being on the verge of entering 'the zone of immunity' from a preventative Israeli strike. However America believed it still had 'long months' to deal with Tehran.

Barak's bottom line is: 'Waiting to confront a nuclear armed Iran will be far costlier in blood and treasure than it is today!' Therefore the Defense Minister saw only one way to close the gap between Jerusalem and Washington - there was a need for even stiffer sanctions, the recent measures had an impact on the Iranian economy but will not bring the nuclear program to a screeching halt. Second, a short timetable had to be set for the upcoming round of nuclear talks, otherwise the Iranians would simply resort to their stone-walling tactics. (Jerusalem is concerned that the negotiators who are scheduled to meet on April 13th will start talking about inching forward when the Iranians start their diplomatic waltz of one step forward and two steps back. DE ) Barak has made clear that he is speaking for Prime Minister Netanyahu: ' There are no real differences between me and the PM on Israel's position'.

After conferring privately with Barak in Berlin, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere exclaimed: 'I have become more concerned. The Israeli side doesn't believe the sanctions are successful. Iran is trying to hide a considerable part of its nuclear program deep in the ground. If that succeeds it would hinder an Israeli attack. I told Barak that it was hard to calculate the consequences and Israel should not take uncalculated risks'. However Barak recently said Israel had devoted more time and attention to the Iranian nuclear threat than any other he could recall. But the fact remained that only the Israeli government bore ultimate responsibility for the safety of its citizens.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Obama's mixed messages... Obviously, Israel has conveyed this message to U.S. President Barack Obama who has spoken about the 'closing window of opportunity'. It has become increasingly apparent the Obama administration is trying to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran by media leaks designed to influence both the government public opinion. Otherwise, how is it possible to explain what Condolleezza Rice has called the 'mixed messages' from President Obama and his administration over the Iranian nuclear threat? Interviewed on NBC's 'Meet the Press', the former Secretary of State complained that on one hand the President has said he will use military force if necessary but then: 'We hear too many whispers that the military option may not be a good one' or 'there are all these consequences'. Rice stressed these mixed messages were coming from 'within the administration'. And she added: 'Only when the Iranians heard loud and clear that no U.S. President - current or future- could allow the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon, only then might they take the ever-narrowing path to a diplomatic solution'.

The former Secretary did not elaborate but just take some recent examples. The New York Times has quoted American officials as disclosing that a recent U.S. military simulation revealed that an Israeli strike against Iran 'would leave hundreds of Americans dead in the Middle East'. What kind of message did that send to Tehran? Surely they have less to worry about an Israeli attack on their nuclear weapons sites, while also believing that Obama is not likely to attack Iran before the presidential election on November 6. Even more devious was the London Time's disclosure quoting Western intelligence sources that Israel had mounted a clandestine operation into Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan to gather evidence from nuclear facilities. The agents were said to be disguised in Iranian military uniforms and driving in Iranian Army vehicles. Why would Western intelligence sources, most likely American or British, want to leak such information about a covert Israeli operation to learn about Iran's nuclear program? Surely they want to know as much as Israel, or do they? If the report is true it will obviously hinder it and perhaps put Israeli lives at risk.

Back in Washington, a study by the Congressional Research Service casts doubt on Israel's ability to halt Iran's nuclear program by more than six months. Leaked to the Bloomberg news service it quotes past and present American officials as saying that neither Israel nor the U.S. knows for certain where all of Iran's nuclear sites are located. Moreover Iran could likely replicate its conversion process and centrifuges within six months of an Israeli strike.

How much credence should be given to this study? Obviously it is based on the assessment of U.S. intelligence officials - the same officials who drafted the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 which concluded erroneously that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. This combined with the benign IAEA assessments, presided over by Egypt's Al Baradei, set back for years the international effort to stop Iran. Therefore, U.S. intelligence assessments are not likely to carry much weight in Jerusalem. However, this latest Congressional Research study could serve as did the NIE in helping to build the case against an American military option. More than anything, President Obama wants to buy time at least until after the presidential election this November. If so, it is unlikely the U.S. leader will adopt what Barak and Netanyahu proposal for a tough stance in the nuclear negotiations scheduled for April 13. And if Obama is re-elected might he then repeat that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons but the way to stop it is by imposing nuclear non-proliferation on the entire Middle East, including Israel? Admittedly, this is total conjecture at this point. But what will be the situation in another few months from now if Barak and Netanyahu prove to be right and the current sanctions and nuclear talks fail to halt Iran's nuclear weapons project?

Last but not least... American sources have also disclosed that Azerbijan has recently granted Israel 'access to air bases on Iran's northern border. According to a Foreign Policy reporter, in February a senior Obama administration official told him: 'The Israelis have bought an airfield and the airfield is called Azerbijan'. According to the source, the Azeri military has four abandonned Soviet-era airfields that would potentially be available to the Israelis as well as four airbases for their own aircraft. U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials added that Israel has gained access to these airbases through a series of quiet political and military understandings. Access to such airfields is important for Israel, because it would mean that Israeli F-15I and F-16I fighter-bombers would not have to refuel in midflight during a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, but could simply continue north and land in Azerbijan. In February, Israel agreed to sell Azerbijan $1.6 billion of sophisticated drones and missile defense systems.

Shaul Mofaz

Shaul Mofaz -A Rising Political Star... The newly elected Opposition leader of the Kadima party makes no bones about it. In the past, Shaul Mofaz has repeatedly declared that if Iran breaks out for The Bomb, Israel should immediately attack Iran nuclear sites. The former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister should have some idea of how hard it is to calculate the consequences, if sanctions and diplomacy do fail. Then the choice will be either to attack or let the Iranian fanatics get their hands on 'dirty bombs' and more sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Mofaz could be a rising star in Israel's political firmament after he trounced Tzipi Livni in the Kadima primary. He is a self-made man, who arrived with his impoverished family from Iran at the age of nine to make his home in an immigrant tent-camp. But from there, by dint of hard work and true grit, he has made it to the top. Known for his bull-dog determination and short temper, he recently called Prime Minister Netanyahu a 'liar' to his face in the Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, for insinuating that Mofaz had slandered the current IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. However Mofaz, unlike Livni, has expressed his readiness to join a Netanyahu coalition government in the future. The PM called Mofaz to congratulate him on his party victory and pledged to personally brief him on the security situation, in keeping with his new role as opposition leader. Mofaz reputely is an excellent team leader with an ability to listen and digest various opinions and then chart an effective course of action. So far, it has worked well throughout his career enabling him to achieve every goal he set for himself. Now after winning the leadership of the Kadima party, Mofaz has declared: 'I will become prime minister!' No one should underestimate him - if his track record is anything to go by, Shaul Mofaz could indeed become the first Mizrachi PM of Israel.

David Essing

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