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Obama's Red Lines On Iran?

Will U.S. President Barack Obama Set Some 'Red Lines' For Iran To Allay Israeli Concerns?

Obama & Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu Expected To Discuss Their Differences During An Upcoming Session of UN General Assembly

Netanyahu Accuses Unnamed Cabinet Minister Of Leaking To Media That Israeli Intelligence Services Are At Odds Over Iran

Barack Obama (White House Photo, Pete Souza)

 The Israeli intelligence services are at odds over Iran – that was leaked to Yediot Ahronot by a participant at a closed door session of Israel's security cabinet. The meeting on Sept.5 has sparked a firestorm after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cancelled a second meeting on Sept 6th. The intelligence services are comprised of the IDF Intelligence Branch, the Mossad foreign intelligence service and the Shabak, the internal intelligence service. Netanyahu told the ministers that the leak was intolerable. Some public officials have called for all the participants to take a lie-detector test. Analyst David Essing says the leak from the classified session on such a delicate issue highlights the public firestorm in Israel over whether to launch a military strike against Iran's military weapons sites. More it comes shortly before Netanyahu is expected to meet U.S. President Barack Obama for what could be a crucial meeting during the upcoming session of the UN Security Council.

 If President Barak Obama has any red lines on Iran, what are they? So far all he is willing to say is 'all options are on the table, including the military' and that falls far short of a firm commitment not only to Israel, but also to the Sunni Arab states. Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has now warned: "If Iran goes nuclear, it will trigger a mad race for nuclear arms throughout the entire Middle East and beyond. In the global arena, it would cause the collapse of all understandings and all agreements on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction". Could the Foreign Minister been alluding to South American countries?

Until now, Obama has tended to shy away from taking a serious stand. But a leading New York Times article has disclosed that Obama and his advisers are now mulling over some new tactics. The article is entitled: 'To Calm Israel, U.S. Offers Ways to Restrain Iran'. Is this an attempt to placate some of Obama's prospective voters in the upcoming election? In any case even the NYT a solid supporter of Obama drew this conclusion:

"None of the steps being taken by the Obama Administration addresses the most serious, immediate goal of the U.S. and its allies: Slowing Iran's nuclear development". However, even if Obama decides to finally set a clear 'red line', its credibility may be 'questionable'. Professor Graham Allison, a Harvard expert on nuclear conflict had found: "The U.S. and its allies have allowed Iran to cross seven previous red lines over eighteen years with few consequences".

So what 'red lines' could Obama now set:

1. Obviously there is the enrichment of more higher grade uranium beyond 3.5% that Iran is authorized to produce by the NPT - 90% weapons grade that would be a telltale sign the Iranians were 'breaking out' for the bomb

2. Continued refusal of Iran to permit IAEA monitors from inspecting the Parchin facility where the Iranians are suspected of conducting nuclear weapons research and the underground Fordo plant where more centrifuges are being installed for uranium enrichment

3. Continued Iranian refusal to allow international inspection of any other secret sites that may be detected

Such 'red lines' could not be left open ended – they would have to be linked to a deadline. Otherwise they would be empty threats the Iranians would again ignore. Ever since the Iranians began negotiating, first with the EU and none with the 5P+1, the Iranians adeptly stonewalled any attempt to bring them to account. Some call it a poker game but it's more like a never ending game of chess, where they play with the defending black pieces, letting their rivals start with the white (that is with the goal of stopping Iran's nuclear weapons project).

But until now, the Iranians have succeeded in parrying and blocking every Western initiative. And this is the point: as long as they do not lose they win by continuing their quest for the A-Bomb. At present the Iranian chess players have never been check-mated. Moreover, they also feel they have a free pass until the Nov.6 U.S. presidential election. Barack Obama will do nothing that could harm his political prospects while Israel's hands are tied without a green light from the U.S. On this score, Gen. Martin Dempsey's denial in advance of not being 'complicit' in an Israeli strike against Iran speaks volumes about the current attitude in Washington. This explains why Iran is enriching more uranium, installing more centrifuges, rejecting IAEA inspection of the Parchin weapons site and giving the run-around to nuclear negotiators.

All eyes will now turn to the upcoming session of the UN General assembly that both Obama and Netanyahu will address. In the U.S. the two leaders are expected to meet at some point. Although both agree that Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, they are far apart on 'if and when' to enforce the military option. A former CIA Director Gen. (ret.) Michael Hayden told Haaretz: ' There is still some time, and the real decisions will be made in 2013 or 2014'. His statement reflects the current assessment in Washington but in Jerusalem, Netanyahu is saying: "Time's up! The U.S. must set red lines that show true resolve to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons". At this point Obama's rhetoric and the sanctions, although having an impact on Iran's economy, have not delivered the goods. The question is whether Obama will be prepared to set 'red lines' that show the ayatollahs they now have one choice – carry on their nuclear weapons project and being bombed.

In Israel, the public debate continues without letup. Dan Meridor, the Minister of Intelligence Affairs, has said that reports of a crisis between Jerusalem and Washington are exaggerated out of all proportion. In his view, international pressure shows some signs of success - the Iranians are leery of upgrading uranium above 20% and, as far as is known, they have not began a dash for nuclear weapons knowing this would trigger a severe international reaction.

But although there are sharp differences over when Israel should decide to go it alone, it is fair to say there is a consensus for a statement by Likud Cabinet Minister Sivan Shalom:

"Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran. Just think of hundreds of Iranian nuclear missiles and an ayatollah gives the order to launch them at Israel!"

David Essing

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