Daily Archives: February 9, 2012

Report: U.S. believes Israel sees Iran nuclear problem ‘too narrowly’

A New York Times report says Obama administration see approach of Defense Minister Ehud Barak for stopping the Iranian program as ‘too narrow.’

Haaretz

Differences between Israel and the U.S. over Iran are currently focused on what Defense Minister Ehud Barak has coined the “zone of immunity” of Iran’s nuclear program, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The White House and the U.S. administration in general do not agree with Barak’s use of the term, and even see it as “too narrow,” the New York Times said.

U.S. officials told the newspaper that, as opposed to Barak, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not use the term “zone of immunity,” at least not in public.

The newspaper reported that one official thought that Netanyahu’s remarks recently that Israeli officials should “shut up” about Iran was a welcome move.

“I think that’s good advice,” one of the American officials told the New York Times.

According to the report, the phone conversation between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu last month was intended to help the U.S. understand Israel’s position regarding an attack on Iran. During the conversation Obama tried to give Netanyahu arguments against a strike on Iran at this time.

U.S. officials said that the feeling in the Obama administration after the conversations was Netanyahu was willing to see whether sanctions and other steps would work, the newspaper said.

American officials said that tensions between Israel and the U.S. have also increased regarding the Palestinians, and particularly regarding the question of the West Bank settlements.

President Obama ordered U.S. government officials not to allow the topic to enter talks with Israel over Iran, and to carry out talks over Iran’s nuclear program “without politics.” Obama will continue to discuss the topic with Netanyahu during his visit to Washington at the beginning of March.

U.S. government officials added that after a period in which the U.S. had doubts over Israel’s intentions at the end of 2011, the two sides are currently communicating better over the matter. According to U.S. officials, Obama’s interview with NBC a few days ago was a recognition of this. In the interview, Obama said that he does not think that Israel has already decided whether or not to attack Iran.

According to the New York Times, the U.S. and Israel are carrying out intense talks over when Iran’s nuclear program will enter the so-called “zone of immunity,” and whether this situation can even become a reality.

American officials claim that the term is “ill-defined” and that they are frustrated that Israel sees the problem “too narrowly,” especially in light of the evidence that sanctions are having an impact on Iran. The Americans are sure that there are many more ways to damage the Iranian nuclear program than to carry out a military strike.

The Israeli view, led by Ehud Barak, holds that when the Iranians move all uranium enrichment activities to bunkers in a mountain next to the city of Qom, they will deport all UN International Energy Agency inspectors, and it will no longer be possible to stop their nuclear armament efforts, even though the process will take another few years to complete.

The New York Times reported an American official as saying that, essentially, “the argument the Israelis make is that once the Iranians get an “impregnable breakout capability,” meaning a place that will not be harmed by a military strike, “it makes no difference whether it will take Iran six months or a year or five years” to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The American approach is different. “There are many other options” to stopping Iran’s nuclear program, a U.S. official told the New York Times. 

According to the newspaper, these options include stopping Iran’s oil revenues, targeting facilities that provide centrifuge, or targeting facitilties installations where the Iranians would turn enriched uranium into a weapon.

 

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The World Turned Upside Down

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When the British Army of Lord Cornwallis boarded its ships to depart from Yorktown after being defeated by the Continental Army and the French under the command of General George Washington, a regimental band supposedly played an old ballad called “The World Turned Upside Down.” The music was intended to convey that the established order had been inverted by the American victory, with the king of England’s writ soon to be replaced by a union of states that eventually evolved into a constitutional republic.

There has been considerable press coverage during the past week that makes one think of a world turned upside down. Washington is unnaturally consumed with the Iranian Problem. Talk shows resonate over the question of what to do about Tehran’s nuclear program. There is a whole smorgasbord of things that Iran might do that are forbidden, including even having the knowledge of how to build a bomb. The negative press and commentary are being spun into a casus belli, something called the Iranian Threat writ large. The message is clear: even though Iran has a minuscule defense budget, has never attacked anyone, and is essentially a Third World country, it is nevertheless a global menace that must be dealt with by military means if all else fails. Oh yes, and brave little Israel will do the job if President Obama doesn’t have what it takes.

The only problem with all of the above is that the United States intelligence community confirms that Iran does not have a nuclear device and has not made the political decision to build one. Even Israeli intelligence agrees. So if you want a war, what do you do when that happens? You shift your narrative and develop a new way of defining the threat. Israel and its friends have consequently initiated a major offensive both back at home and in the United States to heighten the impression that Iran poses a genuine threat to Israel, the United States, and even to world peace in general. And make no mistake about what it entails: this is a major disinformation strategy that involves diplomatic, intelligence, and media resources.

The new narrative goes roughly as follows: Iran is developing a nuclear weapon and is close to having one in spite of what the intelligence people think. The weapon will inevitably be used directly by Iran or even given to terrorists to threaten Israel, Europe, and even the United States using ballistic missiles that are currently being developed. Because Iran is concealing or defensively“hardening” its new nuclear facilities, the window is closing on a military option to destroy the program. Iran is also planning to attack Jewish and American targets worldwide, including inside the United States, so a military attack is doubly essential to deter it from sponsoring such terrorist activity.

But there has been pushback within the U.S. government, particularly from the Pentagon and the CIA, with voices calling for calm. The Obama administration also does not want a war with Iran at this time, even though it has done precious little to prevent one. It has sent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to Israel to warn the government of Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States will not support an uncoordinated military action by Israel. But Israel has refused the demand to provide advance warning of an attack and has defended its right to take action against the perceived Iranian threat. This does not sit well in Washington, but there is little that the White House can do in an election year, since any attempt to pressure Tel Aviv will result in an avalanche of criticism from Congress and the media.

Israel has been working hard to make a case through The New York Times and other media that retaliation by Iran really wouldn’t be so bad. The Netanyahu government has been circulating a memo that apparently details how Israel would easily counter Tehran’s reaction, also implying that the United States and its assets in the Persian Gulf would suffer little damage. The memo additionally makes the point that an attack on Iran would be perceived well by Iran’s Arab neighbors, leading to improved relations between Israel and all interested parties. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon also hyped the damage that Israel could inflict, saying last week that Israel would be able to attack all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, a statement that the Pentagon regards as whimsical.

But describing an Israeli attack on Iran as both potentially decisive and a benefit to everyone except Iran is apparently not enough. It has also been necessary to introduce other threats that will be deterred by the action. That is why the Israeli government and its usual cheering section in the media have been working up the story that Iran is planning terrorist actions inside the United States. This came to the fore in the press coverage of intelligence and defense community testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee last week in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein burbled enthusiastically as Persian perfidy was laid out for all the world to see. “Iran … willing to attack on U.S. soil, U.S. intelligence report finds” read a headline for an article on the front page of The Washington Poston the following day. But paragraph three of the same article began with“U.S. officials said they have seen no intelligence to indicate that Iran is actively plotting attacks on U.S. soil.” The article then went on to cite the alleged Iranian-Mexican drug dealer plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington — which outside the government has been widely regarded as a fabrication — as possible evidence that “some Iranian officials … are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States.” When it comes to Iran as seen by official Washington, it is not necessarily what they do but what they might be thinking of doing.

The Israeli embassy in Washington then moved to drive something like the same message home, sending a memo around to Jewish groups indicating that “the threat on our sites around the world will increase.” This was picked up by ABC News and other national media after the allegedly confidential document was conveniently leaked. Overall, Tel Aviv’s disinformation program appears to be doing quite well, thanks to an obliging media and a receptive Congress.

But the real kicker last week was an op-ed by neocon-lite David Ignatius of The Washington Post, who is in Europe traveling with Panetta, in which he spelled out the steps the White House was taking to stop Israel from starting a war with Iran. Oddly, or perhaps not, the article included the following referring to possible U.S. abstention from the conflict: “Administration officials caution that Tehran shouldn’t misunderstand: The United States has a 60-year commitment to Israeli security, and if Israel’s population centers were hit, the United States could feel obligated to come to Israel’s defense.” Ignatius is unusually well-plugged in to White House and Pentagon circles, so what he says should be regarded as reliable. If his “could” should be understood as meaning “would,” his comment basically means that if Israel starts a war, even without warning Washington that it is coming, an Iranian reaction that hits civilian targets in Israel, either deliberately or not, would require a U.S. response because America is pledged to “defend” Israel no matter what and no matter who started the fighting. As Israel is physically a small country and Iranian missiles cannot hit targets with pinpoint accuracy, it is hard to imagine any Iranian response that would not strike civilian targets. If the U.S. response would be automatic, that means that the White House has effectively turned over its foreign policy to Israel’s kleptocratic leadership.

The world has turned upside down.

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