The US fudged and Israel procrastinated but Iran’s ayatollahs waited for no man.
By September 22 or 23, Iran will have accumulated 270 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium, having covered 87 percent of the enrichment process for enough bomb-grade material to make a single nuclear bomb.
Iran will also have accumulated 7 tons of low-grade, 3.5-percent enriched uranium. By refining this material to a fissile concentration of 20 percent – a short jump to the 90 percent weapons grade – the Islamic Republic will have enough material to fuel 4-5 nuclear bombs. It will thus reach the target Iran’s Islamist rulers set themselves twenty years ago – having its hand not just on a single nuke, but on a nuclear arsenal and therefore the capacity for a second-strike strategy.
(See a separate article in this issue devoted to the “second strike strategy.”)
Yet, notwithstanding official nuclear agency reports and other evidence to the contrary, the Americans, Europeans and Israelis who oppose military action against Iran, continue to claim there is no proof of Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei having given the order to start building a nuclear bomb – or even enriching uranium to weapons grade.
Netanyahu and Barak resolved to strike
This claim falls agreeably on the ears of peaceniks but doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Tehran has not wasted a moment of the time gained by barren diplomacy with world powers to reach the goal set by the revolutionary republic decades ago: A stock of 20-percent enriched uranium ready to power nuclear explosives and all the elements for building a nuclear bomb including the ballistic missiles for delivering it.
When updated information to this effect reached Jerusalem in the second half of August, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened the diplomatic-security cabinet to approve plans drawn up with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on military action against Iran.
This inner cabinet is competent to decide on such issues on behalf of the full government.
Then, Tuesday, Sept. 4, a full-dress cabinet held an extraordinary closed-door session to hear and discuss updated briefings from the heads of all Israel’s intelligence arms – Military Intelligence, the Mossad, the Shin Bet and the Foreign Ministry’s Research Department.
The ministers were presented with the annual National Intelligence Report before turning to review the current state of Iran’s nuclear program.
Seeing that the issue had already been decided, the ministers accepted that they had been co-opted to a historic process, one of the most pivotal in Israel’s 64 years of history. They did not know exactly when Israel would attack Iran or how, but any private conversation with the prime minister or defense minister left no room for doubt that both were resolved to stop Iran piling up enough 20-percent enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear bomb.
Washington continues to pummel Israel against an attack
In the last ten days, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington and Jerusalem report many Obama insiders (Obama avoids talking to Netanyahu in person) continued testing the ground in Jerusalem to find out if a decision to attack Iran before the presidential election on Nov. 6 had been finalized.
Among them was US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
They came away from all their contacts with uniform replies obviously dictated by the prime minister: The US president could, if he wished, forestall an Israeli attack by publicly pledging US military action when Iran reaches the capacity to produce nuclear explosives from its stock of 20-percent enriched uranium.
President Obama’s reply to this was negative.
No one in the White House or Pentagon was willing to say whether Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, was authorized and by whom to say in London on Thursday, Aug. 30: “I don’t want to be complicit if they (Israel) choose to do it,” i.e., attack Iran, later dubbed the “Dempsey Avalanche” because of its powerful impact on Jerusalem.
More than one informed source said off the record that Dempsey’s comment was “scripted” at the highest administration level.
Language on “red lines” for blurring differences
It was followed on Aug. 31 by the TIME Magazine disclosure of the Pentagon’s decision to downsize US military participation in its joint Austere Challenge 12 exercise with Israel scheduled for October – just 1,200 US troops taking part instead of 5,000; American Patriot missile batteries without crews; and one or no American warships fitted with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense systems.
This disclosure, widely sourced to the Pentagon, was taken in Israel as the hailstorm after the Dempsey avalanche – a transparent message that Washington was withdrawing its military backup for Israel in a Middle East war – even if the country came under missile attack.
However, officials in Washington and Jerusalem – and even the regular pundits in America or Israel who studiously report every utterance on Iran – avoided connecting the Dempsey remark with the TIME disclosures as part and parcel of the Obama administration’s strategy to save Iran from an Israeli attack.
This week, the concept of “red lines” was mustered to contain the damage to US-Israel relations: Word was put out that the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem were in “very advanced” dialogue on the “red lines” that Obama would publicly and unequivocally set for Iran in return for Netanyahu’s consent to hold off on military action.
US-Israel marathon summit – the last ditch
It came from US officials, most of them US National Security Council officers, who pooh-poohed any suggestion of friction between the two after talking to Israeli officials at various forums, some of them hush-hush. But they avoided comment when asked what would happen if Israel nevertheless went for Iran’s nuclear sites before the US presidential election.
Later this week, a high-placed American source in Washington disclosed that US-Israel diplomacy has moved on to a last-ditch attempt to deflect Israel from its course through not one but two tête-à-têtes set for Sept. 28. Obama and Netanyahu will meet in New York, while at the same time, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta receives Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Pentagon. Military and intelligence teams will attend the Pentagon meeting.
Any deals worked out in New York may thus be relayed instantly to the defense chiefs in Washington for translating into detailed practice with the help of their professional teams.
This dual marathon aims at restoring the trust between US and Israel leaders and repairing the ravages wrought by Gen. Dempsey.
CIA Director David Petraeus’s talks in Israel on Tuesday, Sept. 4 were important for clearing the way to those encounters.
Pre-war preparations noted
Asked to comment on the state of play on Iran between Jerusalem and Washington at this point, authoritative Israelis sources would only say Thursday, Sept. 6: “Israel’s position hasn’t changed.” They declined to answer questions about whether Israel’s decisions could be altered.
More than one bellwether attested to the expectation of action in the last week of September or early October:
Israeli and American airlines began preparing this week for the abrupt closure of Israel’s Ben-Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv to civilian air traffic. They assumed this would happen the moment Israel launched an attack on Iran.
The hasty change of guard at the top IDF General Command was a side-effect of this readiness.
Tuesday, Sept. 4, the IDF announced that Maj. Gen. Yoav Har-Even would take command of the Operations Directorate on Thursday, and the outgoing commander, Maj. Gen. Yaakov Ayash, would take off for Washington as soon as Saturday night, Sept. 9, to start settling in for his job of next military attaché at the Israeli embassy.
The timing of these appointments is unusual. If a war scenario in the coming weeks is taken into account, it would make sense to get the new military attaché established in Washington in good time.
His is a key Israeli military function in times of war crises. It would be his job to manage the logistics of the traffic passing between the US and Israel.