US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman arrived in Israel Friday, March 1, to a cold-to-freezing reception from leading the US delegation to the Six-Power nuclear talks with Iran in Kazakhstan. For her briefing on the two-day session, she had to make do with an audience of one, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror – i.e. an official of sub-ministerial rank – because Israel regards the positions American put forward in Almati as a betrayal.
This harsh word is almost unheard-of in government circles in Jerusalem and the defense establishment in Tel Aviv. However, it reflects the feelings in both places that President Barack Obama has gone back on his pledges to prevent Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Israel’s take on the new US position, as reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources, falls into four parts:
1. Obama has reneged finally on the US demand to shut down and dismantle the Fordo underground uranium enrichment plant. In Almati, Sherman told this to chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili, adding that Washington accepts the continued production and accumulation of 20-percent grade (a short step from weapons grade) uranium in quantities agreed between the US and Iran.
For Israel this has one meaning: Washington is reconciled to Iran acquiring a stock of enriched uranium sufficient for building a nuclear bomb.
Obama gives Iran a free hand to keep its enriched uranium
2. If that is so, what are President Obama’s pledges worth and what is the point of the conferences ongoing between top US and Israeli officials and officers on plans for a joint attack on Fordo?
In Kazakhstan, the US delegation gave Iran a promise not to attack Iran’s underground enrichment facility at Fordo. This promise was conveyed on behalf of Israel too, albeit without approval from or even consultation with Jerusalem.
3. Sherman went on to inform Jalili that Washington has also backed down from proposals to export low-enriched (3.5-5 percent grade) uranium stocks to a third country for conversion into nuclear plates, from which it almost impossible to produce fissile fuel.
Obama has thus given Tehran a free hand to hold onto as much enriched uranium as it wants.
From Jerusalem's perspective, five years of adjusting its Iran policies to those of the Obama administration, while making endless concessions, have gone down the drain, because, during all that time, Israel counted on the United States sticking to its strict 1,100 kilogram cap on Iran’s low-enriched to uranium and having any surplus removed to another country.
Worst of all, the relations of trust between Jerusalem and Washington on the Iranian nuclear issue have gone by the board.
Israel left out in the cold
4. Iran’s preparations for going into the production of plutonium by means of the heavy water plant going up in Arak never came up at all in Kazakhstan, although, according to Israeli intelligence, it will be ready to go with plutonium for bombs in 2014.
This is taken to mean that a plutonium bomb is now a non-issue for the Obama administration which has come to accept Iran’s two routes to a nuclear bomb – enriched uranium plus plutonium – leaving Israel out in the cold.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military, Jerusalem and intelligence sources report that Prime Minister Netanyahu, appreciating that this is the most serious falling-out and loss of trust he has ever experienced with the Obama White House, has responded with two steps.
a) At the end of last week, he gave Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, former IDF Chief of Staff (2002-2005) the appointment of defense minister in the new coalition government he is in the process of forming.
Yaalon will step into the shoes of Ehud Barak, who led the five years of give-and-take with Washington on the Iranian nuclear question and on whose watch Israel suffered a letdown.
Our military sources note that whereas Barak was long in favor of preempting Iran’s nuclear program by military force, he changed his mind in recent months.
Yaalon, who long objected to military action against Iran, has reversed in the opposite direction: He now sees the military option as the only remaining feasible course for keeping the Islamic Republic of Iran out of the world’s nuclear club.
Moshe Yaalon assigned to lead Israeli strike on Iran
This week, the Netanyahu government began preparing the ground for a solo operation against Iran.
Our military sources report exclusively that Yaalon is not letting the grass grow under his feet. He has assembled the team to man his new bureau at the defense ministry and packed them off to Washington this week for introductions to their opposite numbers at the Pentagon.
So, as outgoing defense minister Ehud Barak was closeted with new US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, in one part of the defense department, incoming minister Yaalon’s aides were paying their respects in other sections.
b) Netanyahu’s second step was to send out an army of pro-military option advocates for sales talk to the public. They were all instructed to pitch the same message: Israel will not permit the Islamic Republic of Iran to arm itself with a nuclear weapon and will pursue military action to prevent this happening.
One of the first of these spokesmen was former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin. In an address Monday, March 3, to the annual convention of the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC in Washington, he said the US and Israel are divided by three different Ts: "A different trauma, a different trigger, and maybe not enough trust," he said.
"We, the Israelis, carry the Holocaust. We are six million Israeli Jews who listen when Ahmadinejad calls for Israel's destruction. You carry a different trauma, Iraq. You don't want another war, understandably," he said.
When he referred to military action against Iran, Yadlin stressed it would not be a full-scale war. “This is a one-night operation…" he said.