After a high-ranking US delegation headed by White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon failed in three days of tough talks (Feb.18-20) to dissuade Israeli leaders to back off plans for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites, the White House invited Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for talks with President Barak Obama on March 5. He will try and break the stalemate which ended his advisers’ talks with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.
The defense minister, addressing his Independence Party later Monday praised Israel’s security relations with the US as very good and very important for a strong Israel. The dialogue between the two governments, he said, is marked by openness, mutual respect, understanding and attentiveness. At the same time, Barak hinted at discord by adding, “Both are sovereign nations which are ultimately responsible for their decisions in relation to themselves and their future.”
debkafile reported earlier Monday, Feb. 20:
White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon faced an acrimonious Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in two hours of stormy conversation in Jerusalem Sunday, Feb. 19, according to updates reaching senior US sources in Washington. The main bones of contention were Iran’s continuing enrichment of uranium and its ongoing relocation of production to underground sites.
Israeli officials declined to give out any information on the conversation. Some even refused to confirm it took place.
According to debkafile’s sources, Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of drawing Iran into resuming nuclear negotiations with world powers by an assurance that Tehran would be allowed to continue enriching uranium up to 5 percent in any quantity, provided it promised not to build an Iranian nuclear weapon. The prime minister charged that this permit contravened US administration guarantees to Israel on the nuclear issue and, moreover left Tehran free to upgrade its current 20 percent enrichment level to 90 percent weapons grade. This Israel cannot tolerate, said Netanyahu, so leaving its military option on the ready.
He warned the US National Security Adviser that no evidence whatsoever confirms Washington’s claim that Tehran intends suspending enrichment and other nuclear advances when negotiations begin. Quite the contrary: Even before the date was set, Iran started working at top speed to build up its bargaining chips by laying down major advances in its nuclear program as undisputed facts.
Tehran now claims to have progressed to self-reliance in the production of 20 percent-enriched uranium, the basis for the weapons grade fuel, in unlimited quantity. Once the talks are underway, Netanyahu maintained, there would be no stopping the Iranians without stalling the negotiating process. Going by past experience, Tehran would use dialogue as an extra fulcrum for its impetus toward weapon production without interruption.
Monday, Donilon and his delegation meet Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The mission of this high-powered US delegation in Israel takes place to the accompanied of a resumed US media campaign for discouraging Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear installations.
Sunday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, offered this opinion to CNN: “Israel has the capability to strike Iran and delay the Iranians probably for a couple of years. But some of the targets are probably beyond their reach.”
Monday’s New York Times carried an assessment by “American defense officials and military analysts close to the Pentagon” under the caption, “Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israel Jets.” debkafile’s military sources report the main argument, dredged up from the past and long refuted, is that Israeli Air Force bombers cannot cover the distance to Iran without in-flight refueling.
That array of “analysts” apparently missed the CNN interview and therefore contradicted the assessment of America’s own top general that “Israel has the capability to strike Iran…”
Reality has meanwhile moved on. Four events in the last 24 hours no doubt figured large in the US delegation’s talks with Israeli leaders:
1. Monday, the IAEA sent to Tehran its second team of monitors this month for another attempt to gain access to nuclear facilities hitherto barred by the Iranians. The inspectors will also demand permission to interview scientists which according to a list drawn up at the agency’s Vienna headquarters hold key positions in their nuclear program.
2. The Russian Chief of Chaff Gen. Nikolai Makarov estimated that the attack on Iran would be “coordinated” by several governments and “a decision would be made by the summer.”
3. Moscow recalled Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kutznetsov from the Syrian port of Tartus to its home base at Severomorsk on the Kola Peninsula.
4. Turkey is beinding over backward to assure Iran that data collected by the US missile shield radar stationed at its Kurecik air base will not shared with Israel. It is especially anxious not to annoy Tehran after foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced that the resumed nuclear talks with the five Permanent Security Council members and German (P5+1) would be held in Istanbul.
However, the Iranians certainly know exactly what is going on after watching the recent joint US-Israeli radar test which demonstrated that Israel is fully integrated in the missile shield radar network and that the US radar station in the Israeli Negev interfaces with its station in Turkey and Israel’s Arrow missile Green Pine radar.
When he visited Ankara last week, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen assured his Turkish hosts that “Intelligence data collected within the missile defense system will not be shared with third countries. It will be shared with the allies within our alliance.”
His statement was quite accurate – except for the fact that the radar stations collecting the intelligence data are not controlled by NATO but by US military teams, both of which, including the Turkish-based radar, are integrated and coordinated with Israeli radar and missile interceptors.