Less than a month ago, during a very warm and friendly visit to Israel, President Barack Obama persuaded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to finally agree to abstain from a lone offensive against Iran’s nuclear facilities. This week, a different tune was heard in Jerusalem.
Tuesday, April 16, Netanyahu warned "tough sanctions" may not be enough to prevent Iran from going all the way to a military nuclear capability.
"We have to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," he told foreign diplomats at a reception marking the 65th anniversary of the Jewish state at the presidential residence in Jerusalem. "We've seen what happens when a rogue regime has atomic weapons," he said in reference to North Korea. "Tough sanctions and diplomacy don't always do the job."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, a former opponent of unilateral military action, said in a speech in Herzliya, that the country must prepare for the possibility of having to strike Iran's nuclear program on its own. “Iran is definitely unimpressed by the measures the West has imposed to deter Tehran and its nuclear program is still "the paramount threat facing Israel, the Middle East and today’s world.”
Confronting the regime in Tehran with a stark choice between the bomb and its survival is the only way to stop the project.
The defense minister added: The west, starting with the US must lead the campaign against Iran’s nuclearization, but Israel, as the ayatollahs’ first target, must also prepare “to defend itself with its own forces,” if necessary.
Israel’s top decision-makers sing in unison
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz picked up his cue when he answered questions put to him in Independence Day interviews: Asked whether the Israel Defense Forces is capable of taking on Iran single-handed, he replied: “Certainly, yes.”
He added sanctions and diplomacy were preferable, but “operational capabilities” (which he did not spell out) were also necessary. “We’ll know what to do when the time comes” he said, adding that the IDF had also drawn up plans to meet the consequences of its actions.
All three of Israel’s top-decision-makers were obviously singing from the same song-book.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence and military sources account for their change of tune by the events of the last three weeks:
1. Israel’s faith in the US resolve to abort a nuclear Iran slipped several notches under the influence of the Obama administration’s handling of the Korean crisis. Jerusalem carefully noted how the White House went out of its way to insist that North Korea had not fully developed a nuclear weapon that could be delivered by missile – contradicting the finding of the Pentagon intelligence agency, the DIA.
CIA chief James R. Clapper followed the White House with a cautious denial: The DIA report did not represent the consensus of the (16) US intelligence agencies, he said.
In Jerusalem, this was seen as a maneuver by the US president to step away from confronting a major problem, ready even to impugn the credibility of an important US intelligence agency for the sake of creating a distance from the Korean crisis.
To act or deny – that is the question
Furthermore, if President Obama is so mistrustful of Pentagon intelligence evaluations on North Korean nuclear warheads, how can his administration count on discovering the exact moment when Iran begins assembling its nuclear warheads, as US officials have assured Israel?
Another question asked in Jerusalem is: Where did Obama’s “red lines” go when Bashar Assad started using chemical weapons in Syria?
Former Army Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin commented Friday, April 12, in a TV program that Iran will very soon cross the “red line” which Prime Minister Netanyahu posted in his illustrated speech to the UN last September.
Netanyahu is therefore hanging on the horns of the same dilemma as the US president: He must either deliver on his pledge, which means reverting to Israel’s unilateral strike option, or adopt Obama’s tactic of denial and dismiss Yadlin’s claim as “not proven.”
The strategy of denial provides the ultimate rationale for never letting anything be proven. It allows policymakers to dismiss Intelligence assessments and findings if they don’t suit their agendas.
In this case, Israel has concluded from the Korean affair that what President Obama wants to avoid is the conclusion that if Pyongyang has indeed developed nuclear warheads suitable for mounting on functioning ballistic missiles, Iran has attained – or soon will attain – the same capability, because their parallel nuclear and missile programs have been virtually twinned for many years.
Iran’s nuke program is on fast forward, ready for weapons-grade uranium
2. Israeli intelligence finds Iran’s weaponized nuclear program advancing by leaps and bounds. Contrary to the reports put out by US official sources that Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has put uranium enrichment on hold until after the presidential vote in late June, the uranium enrichment process has been accelerated.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources, just as North Korea is shown to have collected all the military technology and components for fitting nuclear warheads onto missiles, so too has Iran acquired all the elements for assembling a nuclear weapon, including enough enriched uranium.
The head of Iran's Nuclear Energy Commission, Fereidoun Abbasi, was putting out the official cover story when he said Tuesday, April 16, that his country may need to obtain uranium enriched to a higher grade than it was producing.
He was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as asserting that Iran had no plan to enrich uranium beyond 20 percent, "But in some special cases like ship and submarines, where we must manufacture small engines, it requires fuel enriched up to 56 percent."
Our military sources stress that Iran has no nuclear ships or submarines or the capacity to build them.
But these phantom vessels provide Tehran with the pretext for raising the level of uranium enrichment to 60 percent which leaves no more than three or four weeks’ work for producing weapons grade (90 percent) material.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly informed its readers four months ago that Iran had completed preparations for raising the uranium enrichment level from 20- to 60-percent.
A Hizballah attack on Israel to punish the US
3. The dramatic military reversal in favor of the Assad regime in Syria has also affected the Israeli government’s faith in leaving critical issues, like a nuclear Iran, to Washington.
The forces loyal to Assad have chalked up major victories in Damascus, the South, Center and North – due in no small measure to the Iranian and Russian officers planning and overseeing the Syrian army’s operations up close in the field. It is therefore unrealistic at this point to judge the Syrian conflict in terms of the substantially buttressed Assad regime’s impending fall.
4. Coming out stronger too is the Iran-Syria-Hizballah axis. This directly affects Israel because its intelligence agencies have picked up the first signs of plans in Tehran, Damascus and Beirut for the Shiite Hizballah to launch a preemptive strike on the Jewish state.
The three radical partners have two motives:
One: Wreaking revenge on US-led Western assistance to the Syrian rebel movement in combat training, intelligence, arms and funds, is one. Tehran sees war on Israel as an object lesson to teach Washington that any strike against Iran’s strategic interests is met with military action against US interests.
Two: Tehran also believes that a Hizballah war offensive against Israel would deter Jerusalem from any plans it may have for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Ya’alon warns Lebanon
This what Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon meant when he warned Tuesday that “although Hizballah was busy fighting for Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, it is also ready to engage Israel in a confrontation with the backing of Iran and Syria.”
In Yaalon’s words, “Hizballah is Tehran's executive officer, both in assisting Syria and in threatening us. However, Lebanese citizens and leaders must understand that Lebanon will be accounted responsible for any Hizballah attack on Israel and pay the price."