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 Forget the current rhetoric coming out of Washington and Tehran. Both sides are playing each other as they prepare to kick off yet another round of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear issue, the most critical crisis facing the world today. Iran's newly elected President Hassan Rouhani is the new smiling face of the tyrannical Islamist regime that supports Syria's use of chemical weapons. On the other hand, US President Barack Obama is trying to regain some of the credibility he lost to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although he will not be taking part, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu will be a key absent partner, and he has left no doubt about where he stands on a nuclear Iran. On the basis of past experience, there is little chance that Iran will really back down from its nuclear weapons drive. On the other hand, Obama's erratic handling of the Syrian chemical weapons atrocity has raised questions about his staying the course. If Iran does eventually make a dash for the A-bomb and Obama choses to procrastinate, what will Israel do? Analyst David Essing refers to historian Barbara Tuchman's analogy of ‘the lantern on the stern' to illuminate how past history can aid in foretelling a future course of action.

 Bibi's red lines...   

 'What's in a name?'  For all intents and purposes these are Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's four 'red lines' for preventing Iran from acquiring the nuclear fuel for building its first A-bomb:  

The Ayatollahs are convinced that an arsenal of A-bombs will serve as an insurance policy against any American or Israeli attack...The door would then be open for Iran to promote its regional hegemony and international aspirations.


  1. Iran must halt all its nuclear enrichment  
  2. Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium must be transferred out of the country
  3. Iran's new Fordow uranium enrichment facility must be closed down 
  4. Iran must halt the manufacture of plutonium (some Israeli experts believe Iranian scientists are also producing plutonium at their Arak reactor, as an alternative to enriched uranium, for an A-bomb).  


Iran's new and improved centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

 Reading between the lines, the Israeli leader stated emphatically that he will not go along with any half-measures that may be agreed by American and Iranian negotiators or another long and fruitless diplomatic dance that enables Tehran to close in on its first A-bomb. For example, Der Spiegel magazine has reported that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may soon offer to close down the new Fordow enrichment plant, built inside the side of a mountain near Qom, in return for easing of the UN sanctions which have severely affected Iran's economy. So what? The Iranians shut down 3,000 centrifuges at Fordow and continue spinning up to 14,000 more elsewhere.  In return they would get an easing of the sanctions that have been biting into the economy. For example, revenue from oil exports, which pay for half of the government's expenditures have plummeted by 50%, and sanctions on foreign banking have caused a free-fall of the rial (Iranian currency) and its sharp inflation is galloping off the chart. To top it off, unemployment for young Iranian males is estimated at 23%, and 34% for women. Nonetheless, this has not induced Supreme Leader Ayatollah Al Khamenei to halt the nuclear weapons project. And why is that? Simply because the ayatollahs are convinced that an arsenal of A-bombs will serve as an insurance policy against any American or Israeli attack. It will also guarantee the survival of a regime that brutalizes its people as does its ally Syria. The door would then be open for Iran to promote its regional hegemony and international aspirations.

Rouhani's mission is to buy more time to enable Iran to become a 'threshold nuclear weapons state'.


 Iran's race for the A-bomb vs. crippling sanctions...

 So what does this auger for the upcoming talks between the US and Iran?

Once all the centrifuges go on line, Iran could produce enough 90% weapons grade for one A-bomb within as little as eight weeks. And the Ayatollahs believe an A-bomb will put the insurance policy into force - that is game over!

 There are two separate trends that will be staring the American and Iranian negotiators in the face when they sit down in the near future. First, there is Iran's deteriorating economy, which even Ayatollah Rafsanjani has warned must be checked. (Although Rafsanjani once told Iranian students at Tehran University that it would take only one nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv to obliterate Israel). On the other hand, despite some of President Rouhani's soothing statements lately, Iran's centrifuges are spinning out more enriched uranium. This, according to the International Atomic Agency in Vienna, whose Director General Yukiya Amano has spoken of the 'essential and urgent' need for Iran to account for the 'absence of undeclared (nuclear) material and activities'. On September 27, the IAEA is to discuss the 'possible military dimensions'. These are the facts that will also be facing President Obama. Look for Rouhani to continue his 'nice smiling guy' act to persuade U.S. public opinion that he is also capable of bringing 'change', although the Iranian president is Ayatollah Khamenei’s yes-man. In other words, Rouhani's mission is to buy more crucial time to enable Iran to become a 'threshold nuclear weapons state'. This requires three basic components for its first A-bomb: a stockpile of enriched uranium, a workable warhead, and a delivery system. Time is fast running out. According to Ron Ben Yishai, a prominent Israeli military commentator, Iran now has 17,000 uranium centrifuges, ten thousand are now operational producing 20%-enriched uranium. However, once all the centrifuges go on line, Iran could produce enough 90% weapons grade for one A-bomb within as little as eight weeks. And the Ayatollahs believe an A-bomb will put the insurance policy into force - that is game over! 


 Israel's 'lantern on the stern'...

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani & U.S. president Barack Obama (photo credit: Pete Souza and www.rouhani.ir)
Down the road, some Iranian concessions on this or that aspect of Iran's nuclear program may be acceptable to the US but not to Israel. On this score, Israeli leaders tend to keep their red lines.

 So what happens when Netanyahu sees Obama in the White House on September 30? The Israeli not only refrained from the President's handling of the chemical weapons crime in Syria, but also ordered his cabinet ministers to do so as well. After Obama's highly successful visit to Israel last March, the President and the Prime Minister turned a new and friendlier page. Therefore, Netanyahu will give his blessing to a new US-Iran dialogue while adding a cautionary note, as he has already, about Iran's powers of diplomatic deception. However, down the road, some Iranian concessions on this or that aspect of Iran's nuclear program may be acceptable to the US but not to Israel.  On this score, Israeli leaders tend to keep their red lines. Menachem Begin aroused the ire of President Reagan back in 1981 by bombing Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor after Israeli agents discovered it was about to go 'hot'. Reagan even suspended the supply of US warplanes to Israel. Later the US recanted and commended the Jewish state for helping to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting his hands on an A-bomb. According to foreign reports, Ehud Olmert ordered an Israeli air strike on Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad's nuclear reactor that was being secretly built by the North Koreans in 2007. As in the case of Saddam Hussein, Israeli intelligence was first to uncover the clandestine reactor and informed Washington. But when President George W. Bush dithered, Olmert apparently gave the order.  And more recently, after Israel warned that it would not acquiesce in Syria's supplying sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the IDF reportedly conducted a series of air strikes inside Syria, bombing arms convoys to Lebanon and a nuclear research site near Damascus. Netanyahu has declared that Iran will not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Obama has also made such a vow, but after zigzagging on his own red line for Assad's chemical weapons attacks, the US President's credibility has been severely dented.  

 Even his two former Secretaries of Defense have castigated Obama. Robert Gates and Leon Panetta both criticized Obama's decision to seek Congressional endorsement for an attack on Syria.  At a public forum in Texas, both Robert Gates and Leon Panetta took Obama to task; Panetta was scathing:

Former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who denounced Obama's lack of action and indecisiveness on Syria. (photo credit: US Secretary of Defense)

 'Mr. President, this Congress has a hard time agreeing as to what the time of day it is...

When the President of the US draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on his backing up his word...

Not backing up his words with a strike will embolden Iran on nuclear weapons...

Once the President draws a red line- damn it, you've got to do it!'…

 Then there's Russia's President Vladimir Putin riding high after he bailed out Obama in the Syrian chemical weapons affair. In his quest to achieve a greater stature in the international arena, Putin has been playing the role of the ultimate cold-blooded realpolitik. Note his latest allegation about the Syrian rebels being responsible for the chemical weapons attack that killed 1400 people, including some 400 children, on August 21. Putin alluded to an old Russian chemical weapons shell that he said was found in the area. He pointed to the date on the shell adding that Russia had not supplied such shells to Syria for years, so it must have been in the hands of the rebels! Moreover, he defended Syria's chemical weapons saying they served to counter-balance Israel's nuclear arsenal. Look for Putin to seek a greater say in the Iranian nuclear crisis at the expense of America and most likely Israel as well. 

David Essing

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