Expectations that the meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday, March 5, will produce accord on how and when to stop Iran going nuclear are likely to prove unfounded, say debkafile’s military and Washington sources. Obama has made it clear that a military strike would be “premature” and economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and negotiations must be allowed to run their course before a military option is considered as a last resort.
When Netanyahu flies home, therefore, he will come away from the White House facing exactly the same dilemma as before: It is up to him to determine Israel’s window of opportunity for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and decide if and when to go through with it.
After he met Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa Friday, March 2, Netanyahu tried to temper his disagreement with Obama by offering to go along with the Six Power negotiations with Iran starting in Istanbul next month, which are a cornerstone of the US president’s Iran policy, although Israel firmly believes Iran is just playing for time.
Nonetheless, for the talks to have any point, he proposed that they should aim for three results:
1. The dismantling of the uranium enrichment facilities buried underground at Fordo;
2. The transfer of highly-enriched uranium outside the country to international control, effectively removing the material for assembling a bomb out of Tehran’s hands;
3. A ban on uranium enrichment to a grade higher than 5 percent instead of the 20 percent concentrated fissile fuel stocked at present.
The Israeli prime minister’s proposal was rejected by the White House after Moscow too found it unacceptable.
A number of confidential Russian messages advised Israel to forget any reversals of Iran’s nuclear progress. The coming international negotiations, they said, must start with accepting the current status of Iran’s nuclear program, “There’s no turning back.”
The White House message to Netanyahu on the eve of his meeting with Obama was that Tehran would simply not come to the negotiating table if faced with those three demands.
This message was reinforced by a leak to the New York Times Sunday, March 4, asserting that “American intelligence agencies continue to say that there is no evidence that Iran has made a final decision to pursue a nuclear weapon. Recent assessments by American spy agencies have reaffirmed intelligence findings in 2007 and 2010 that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program.”
By reverting to its long-abandoned attitude of denial on the Iranian nuclear threat, Washington flies in the face of the last two International Atomic Energy Agency quarterly reports. The last one published ten days ago stated: “The agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” and “Iran has produced nearly 110kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent since early 2010. Western experts say about 250 kg is needed for a nuclear weapon.” The report also pointed out that “Iran is shifting the most sensitive aspect of its nuclear work, refining uranium to a level that takes it significantly closer to potential bomb material, to the site.”
Nuclear watchdog concerns were further exacerbated by Tehran’s refusal to allow inspectors to visit the Parchin site suspected of nuclear explosion tests in two recent visits.
The Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak has warned that Iran was in the process of moving clandestine nuclear projects to a “zone of immunity” safe from outside attack.
Notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, the Obama administration has resorted to turning the Iran’s nuclear clock back to 2007. Then, too, in an effort to hold Israel back from a preemptive attack on Iran, the National Intelligence Agency informed President George W. Bush that Iran had abandoned its military program in 2003.
A year ago, all the evidence accumulating of Iran’s rapid nuclear advances appeared to put the US-Israeli dispute to rest.
But now, the White House may be reacting to the explicit statement of Israel’s case by former Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin in the NYT ofn March 2. He wrote: “What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity – and all other options have failed to halt Tehran’s nuclear quest – Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so.”
debkafile’s Washington sources report that no American president can be expected to tolerate Israel dictating terms, however just and pressing its case may be. Even before hearing what Israel had to say, Obama was resolved to oppose military action on Iran and not be moved on this. Now he is additionally determined to put his Israeli visitor in his place and draw a line on Jerusalem’s influence in Washington – both as a lesson to Jerusalem and an incentive for Tehran.