Thursday, August 02, 2012

On Iran: US and Israel using different clocks

From JPost, 3 Aug 2012, by Herb Keinon:
...if Iran does not voluntarily and peacefully decide to halt its program, “we cannot allow the nuclearization of Iran,” [PM Bibi Netanyahu] said.
In an interview with Channel 1, Netanyahu made clear that Israel and the US had different time references regarding the problem.
“The US is big and distant, Israel is smaller and closer to Iran, and – of course – we have different capabilities,” [Netanyahu] said. “So the American clock regarding preventing nuclearization of Iran is not the Israeli one. The Israeli clock works, obviously, according to a different schedule.”
Netanyahu also said that if Israel acted in opposition to US desires on Iran it would not lead to an irreparable rupture, just as there was no rupture in ties with Washington in May 1948 when David Ben-Gurion declared statehood in opposition to American wishes; in June 1967 when Levi Eshkol acted against US advice and launched a preemptive attack against Egypt; and in June 1981 when Menacham Begin decided to destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor despite US opposition.

From JPost, 1 Aug 2012, by Herb Keinon:
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s visit to Israel on Wednesday was aimed at achieving one goal – getting Israel to trust the United States.. In a warm, smiling, handshake pumping photo-op before his meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, the two men ...reading from carefully prepared statements – gave us a real-time glimpse at the differences in the two countries’ approaches to Iran.
And it all has to do with one word: capability.

...“Today we’ll have the opportunity to discuss the many challenges facing our region and no challenge is greater than stopping Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” Netanyahu said...

“I want to reassert again the position of the United States that with regards to Iran, we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period,” [Panetta] said in an unequivocal statement that sounded like a read-my-lips-moment. “We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.”

The US won’t allow Tehran to get a nuclear weapon. But Panetta did not say anything about keeping the Iranians from gaining nuclear weapons capability.
And that is a world of difference.

In Netanyahu’s view, Tehran must be kept from accumulating all the different components needed for a nuclear weapon, meaning it cannot have the sufficient quantities of enriched uranium, triggers and missiles. It must be stopped before it has all the technical pieces in place and just needs to make the decision to put them together.
In Panetta’s view, Iran cannot get a weapon. Apparently meaning, if his words are parsed, that the US has no intention of preventing the Iranians from achieving the capabilities, only from actually putting all the capabilities they accumulate into a nuclear bomb.
In layman’s terms, that means that in America’s view it may be okay if the Iranians have a missile in one room, and all the enriched uranium for a bomb in another, as long as they do not make the decision to put it all together in the same room and emerge with a nuclear-tipped missile. Israel’s view is that Iran must be stopped before it has sufficient uranium in any one room.
This difference – between keeping Iran from nuclear capability and keeping Tehran from a nuclear weapon – has huge operational ramifications affecting the decision when military action might need to be taken.
Those who believe the Iranians must be stopped before they have achieved nuclear capabilities must take action well before those who say they must be stopped only before they start putting together everything they have in their different “rooms.”
That key difference in approach came out clearly in Netanyahu and Panetta’s smiling public comments on Wednesday. But how the two sides deal with that difference, and what it means operationally, remains very much in the realm of speculation.

From Israel National News, 1 Aug 2012, by Chana Ya'ar:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has informed US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Israel will make its own decisions on how to deal with Iran....

Arab Spring of Imposed Islamism

From PMW, 1 August 2012, by by Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook:  
PA cleric: "Our streets are Islamic," therefore even non-Muslims should be "severely punished" for eating in public [during Ramadan]
Six people have been arrested and one sentenced to a month in prison for eating in public during the month of Ramadan... Under Islamic law, eating is prohibited from sunrise until sunset during the entire month.
In addition, the Chairman of the PA Supreme Court for Shari'ah Law said PA law should prohibit even non-Muslims and those who cannot fast for health reasons from eating in public during the month. Sheikh Yusuf Ida'is  explained: "Our streets are Islamic," and formal legislation should be enacted to "severely punish" anyone who eats publicly during Ramadan. Sheikh Ida'is was appointed Chairman of the Shari'ah court by presidential order of Mahmoud Abbas in January 2012.
It should be noted that approximately 10 per cent of Palestinians in the West Bank are Christian.
The following are the texts:
"The Jericho court yesterday sentenced a man to a month in prison who ate in public during the blessed month of Ramadan."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 30, 2012]
"The police arrested five people who desecrated the holiness of the month of Ramadan by eating in public during daytime, in the city of Nablus."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 29, 2012]
PA TV interview with the Chairman of the PA Supreme Court for Shari'ah Law, Sheikh Yusuf Ida'is:
TV host: "If someone doesn't fast for some reason [during Ramadan month] because he follows a different religion or has health reasons, it's his right. However, he breaks the spirit of Ramadan by eating or drinking in public or at work."
[Sheikh Yusuf] Ida'is: "We have to monitor the streets and severely punish anyone who [eats] in public during Ramadan, and this is the responsibility of the security forces. Our [Palestinian] streets are Islamic, praise Allah. Any person caught committing this sin in public during Ramadan has to be imprisoned until the end of Ramadan, as an example to others. I call upon others [non-Muslims] to be considerate of Muslims' feelings."
[PA TV (Fatah), July 22, 2012]

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Thank Israel that Saddam Hussein and Assad Never Got Nukes

From the Huffington Post, 30 July 2012, by Alan Elsner:
As the death toll mounts in Syria and the country slides deeper into civil war, the world should be thankful that the Assad regime never succeeded in developing nuclear weapons -- which almost happened in 2007.
The danger presented today by the presence of Syrian chemical and biological weapons is bad enough. Just think how much more dangerous the situation would have been if there were loose nukes lying around.
According to a new history of the Mossad by reporters Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, Spies Against Armageddon, Israel had become suspicious that the Syrians were building a nuclear facility with North Korean help. The authors said Israel sent Mossad operatives and a special forces unit into Syria several times to take samples of soil, water and vegetation and in March 2007 managed to secure photos taken inside the facility. Who took those photos remains the most closely-guarded aspect of the operation.
According to Raviv and Melman, the images provided clear evidence that Syria was building a graphite reactor similar to North Korea's Yongbyon reactor which was used to build nuclear bombs. The Mossad assessment was that the reactor would become "hot" within a few months and would produce enough plutonium for a nuclear bomb within a year.
Once it went online, the reactor could not have been attacked without the danger of spreading deadly radiation throughout the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Washington in June 2007 and asked then-President George W. Bush to bomb the facility. Bush refused and suggested instead that Western countries should instead "expose" the Syrian reactor. This failed to satisfy Olmert and the decision was taken to destroy the reactor -- which happened in a two-minute air raid on the evening of Sept. 6, 2007.
Syria responded to the attack by denying it had been building a nuclear plant. However, the Syrians refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the site until they had cleared away the rubble and replaced the soil. Still, the inspectors were not fooled and found enough evidence to convince them that the structure had contained a North Korean-style reactor.
The IAEA said in a release in June 2011 that the destroyed building "was very likely" a nuclear reactor. "The Syrian Government was given ample time by the Agency to cooperate fully concerning the Dair Alzour site, but did not do so. Nevertheless, we had obtained enough information to draw a conclusion," IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said.
This, of course, was not the first time Israel had saved the Middle East and the world from a dangerous nuclear program. In 1981, Israel destroyed Iraq's Osirek reactor. When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait nine years later, he did not have a nuclear weapon in his arsenal to deter the United States and its allies who acted to reverse that act of aggression.
The Iraqi and Syrian operations are examples of Israel braving international condemnation to defend its vital security interests. But as the Syrian situation proves today, Israel did the entire world a huge favor in both cases.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Romney Stands with Israel

From Daniel Pipes, 29 July 2012:
Mitt Romney in Jerusalem

Mitt Romney ...delivered a stem-winder of a speech to the Jerusalem Foundation today, packing emotional support with frank policy statements. The contrast with Obama could hardly be more dramatic. Indeed, one could go through the speech and note the many refutations of Obama. For example, the opening comment that "To step foot into Israel is to step foot into a nation that began with an ancient promise made in this land" directly contrasts with Obama's crabbed statement in Cairo about "the aspiration for a Jewish homeland [being] rooted in a tragic history."
Also, in contrast to the nonsensical Obama administration stance on Jerusalem – sneaking in changes to captions that identified it as such and going through verbal gymnastics to avoid calling it that –
Romney came out and plainly called Jerusalem "the capital of Israel."...
Our two nations are separated by more than 5,000 miles. But for an American abroad, you can't get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel.
It is my firm conviction that the security of Israel is in the vital national security interest of the United States.
We have seen the horrors of history. We will not stand by. We will not watch them play out again. It would be foolish not to take Iran's leaders at their word. They are, after all, the product of a radical theocracy. … We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran's leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions.
...our alliance runs deeper than the designs of strategy or the weighing of interests. The story of how America – a nation still so new to the world by the standards of this ancient region – rose up to become the dear friend of the people of Israel is among the finest and most hopeful in our nation's history. Different as our paths have been, we see the same qualities in one another. Israel and America are in many respects reflections of one another.
the enduring alliance between the State of Israel and the United States of America is more than a strategic alliance: it is a force for good in the world. America's support of Israel should make every American proud. We should not allow the inevitable complexities of modern geopolitics to obscure fundamental touchstones. … A free and strong America will always stand with a free and strong Israel.
By history and by conviction, our two countries are bound together. No individual, no nation, no world organization, will pry us apart. And as long as we stay together and stand together, there is no threat we cannot overcome and very little that we cannot achieve.
But of the whole speech, it is the final words that most struck me: "May God bless America, and may He bless and protect the Nation of Israel." When last did a politician ask the Lord to protect another country and not his own?...

Gaza drifts away from West Bank and towards Egypt

From the Council on Foreign Relations (USA), July 23, 2012, by Elliott Abrams:
Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (R) meets with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal at the presidential palace in Cairo, July 19, 2012. (Courtesy REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh) Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (R) meets with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo, July 19, 2012.
(Courtesy REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

...Egypt’s new MB president, Mohammed Morsi, met in Cairo last week with the Hamas leader Khaled Meshal (and will meet soon with the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh). According to the Hamas spokesman, Gaza will soon be connected to the Egyptian electricity grid and natural gas pipeline. This means its economy will be tied to Egypt, not Israel—its current energy supplier.
The ability of Gazans to travel to Egypt is also being broadened. Some
press reports state that “Egyptian officials announced Monday that Palestinians will no longer need visas to enter the country, ending part of a five-year blockade on the Gaza Strip …. Gazans will now be able to leave the coastal enclave freely. ....” ... opening of the border and a reliance on Egypt for energy will cut ties between Gaza and Israel and closely connect Gaza to Egypt while the West Bank faces Jordan. In the short run the impact may be small, but over the years it seems likely that Gaza and the West Bank will grow further and further apart.

From American Interest, July 16, 2012, by Walter Russell Mead: 
...Mohamed Morsi has shown some signs of being open to a change in border policy between Egypt and the Gaza Strip...
...if the Morsi administration eventually goes ahead with this plan, it would change the Egypt-Gaza-Israel relationship in a big way. Gaza could become a de facto protectorate of Egypt ...and the remaining ties between Gaza and the West Bank would start to fray. This would leave the West Bank to negotiate with Israel on its own while Gaza charted its own path in orbit around Egypt.
... Deeper economic ties between Egypt and Gaza will give Cairo much more influence over the Strip and Cairo needs reasonably smooth relations with Israel to focus on its own economic development. Egypt may not like its peace treaty with Israel but it cannot afford a war. It is particularly averse to the idea that a handful of hot headed radicals in Gaza could drag all of Egypt into an unwanted war.
...Gaza wouldn’t recognize Israel but it wouldn’t be able to fight it, and putting Gaza under Egyptian tutelage would also get Israel off the hook in terms of being criticized internationally for the blockade.
Nothing is risk free in the Middle East and nothing is perfect, but if I were an Israeli political leader, I just might be pleased to see Gaza and Cairo growing closer together.

The White House can't name the capital of Israel?

White House press secretary Jay Carney is asked by a reporter what is the capital of Israel.

26 July 2012:

Reporter: What city does this Administration consider to be the capital of Israel? Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?
Jay Carney, White House press secretary: Um... I haven't had that question in a while. Our position has not changed. Can we, uh...
Reporter: What is the capital [of Israel]?
Jay Carney: You know our position.
Reporter: I don't.
Lester Kinsolving, World Net Daily: No, no. She doesn't know, that's why she asked.
Carney: She does know.
Reporter: I don't.
Kinsolving: She does not know. She just said that she does not know. I don't know.
Carney: We have long, lets not call on...
Kinsolving: Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?
Carney: You know the answer to that.
Kinsolving: I don't know the answer. We don't know the answer. Could you just give us an answer? What do you recognize? What does the administration recognize?Carney: Our position has not changed.
Kinsolving: What position?
Carney then moved on to another question.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Iran adopts an agressive stance in the Mediterranean

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 175, July 26, 2012, by Dr. Shaul Shay*:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: As tensions rise in the Middle East over Iran's nuclear weapons program, Tehran has upped the ante by developing an aggressive new naval strategy and sent warships to the Mediterranean for the first time since 1979. In addition, it threatens to block key straits in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf that would cripple Western shipping routes. Such bold moves by the Iranian navy are clearly meant to intimidate the West from continuing its pressure on Tehran regarding the nuclear issue, to show that Iran is able to foment trouble in the region, to aid its allies and counter the American naval presence, and to encroach with physical proximity upon Israel.

In June 2012 Iran announced that it would hold a naval exercise together with Syria and Russia in the eastern Mediterranean. This reflects an ongoing change in Iranian naval strategy. For years Iranian vessels have operated exclusively in the Persian Gulf. A new evolving strategy has now caused Iran to send military vessels to other waters including the Gulf of Oman, Caspian Sea, Red Sea, and even the Mediterranean Sea. Iran's naval leadership has declared that since today's major global threats are sea-based, Iran must update its naval forces and strategy.
In February 18, 2012, Iranian Admiral Habibollah Sayyari announced that two warships entered the Mediterranean for the second time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, showcasing Iran's "might" to regional countries. They docked at the Syrian port of Tartous, marking Iranian naval cooperation with the Syrian regime.
This expanded naval presence has been accompanied by threats in response to the ever-harsher sanctions being imposed on the country over its nuclear program. For example, in February 2012, Hossein Ebrahimi, a vice chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission, called the ships "a serious warning" in case of any US strategic mistake in Syria.
The strategy is result of the Iranian attempt to achieve regional hegemony and a response to the perceived threats to its national interests, in particular Western attempts to stop Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. Therefore, Iran has adopted a new strategy of naval presence in the region, sending ships to the Red and Mediterranean seas.
Iranian Naval Strategy in the Red Sea

Iran recognizes the Red Sea as a strategic area of interest because of its desire to gain control over the main maritime oil and gas route to the West, the straits on each corner of the Arabian Peninsula: Hormuz to the east and Bab-el-Mandeb to the west. The latter forms the southern tip of the Red Sea between Eritrea and Yemen, places of strategic importance for Iran. Control of this area is also important when combatting Somali pirates who operate in the Gulf of Aden and threaten international oil shipping routes. The Red Sea route is also a main channel of communication and arms supply from Iran to its regional ally Hamas in the Gaza Strip, allowing Iran to funnel weapons to the Strip via Yemen, the sea, and through Sudan to Sinai and ultimately Gaza.
The straits of Bab-el-Mandeb are situated three kilometers from Eritrea and Yemen and constitute the closest spot to the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, the passageway for oil tankers and cargo ships in the African and Southwest Asian regions.
Eritrea has fostered close political, military, and economic ties with Iran. Iran has mist likely used Eritrea as a base to provide weapons to Shiite Houthi insurgents in Yemen. According to the Yemeni military, Iranian weapons have been used by Houthi rebels against the Yemeni government.
The Iranian Navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the high seas, including the Gulf of Aden, since November 2008, when Somali raiders hijacked the Iranian-chartered cargo ship MV Delight, off the coast of Yemen. In September 2010 the Iranian Navy dispatched its tenth flotilla of warships to the Gulf of Aden to defend the country's cargo ships and oil tankers against the continued threat of attack by Somali pirates. The presence of the Iranian Fourth Fleet in the Gulf of Aden is useful in smuggling weapons to Iranian proxies in Somalia and Yemen.
Iranian Naval Presence in the Mediterranean Sea
The deployment of the Iranian ships in the Mediterranean is no surprise. In September 2010, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari relayed Iran's plan to continue naval deployment in the high seas as part of Tehran's strategy for defending its interests abroad. In addition, he announced several months later that Iran would deploy its first home-made destroyer, Jamaran, in international waters.  Soon after, on February 25, 2011, two Iranian warships docked in Syria after passing through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea, the first time Iranian ships passed through the canal since 1979.
This new development comes at a time of significant turmoil in the region and illustrates the Iranian search for strategic dominance in the region and Iranian efforts to support its regional allies in the Mediterranean: Syria, Hizballah, and Hamas.

Iran has used maritime routes to send arms shipments to Hizballah and Hamas through Sudan or the Mediterranean and has smuggled weapons into Gaza. In fact, from 2002–2012 the Israeli Navy intercepted five of these ships: the Karin A in 2002, the Abu Hasan in 2003, the MV Francop in 2009, the Victoria in 2011, and the Atlantic Cruiser in 2012.
In addition, an Iranian naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean could complicate a future maritime struggle near Gaza. Ali Shirazi, Khamenei's representative in the Revolutionary Guard, claimed in 2010 that Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards were ready to provide a military escort to cargo ships trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.
Iran is also a strategic ally of the Assad regime in Syria. Its naval deployment sends a strategic message of support in turbulent times for Assad. It also adds to Western concerns that the Syrian crisis could boil over into a regional conflict. Iranian presence could also deter a Western intervention in Syria.
Finally, the naval Iranian presence is intended to intimidate the West from continuing its pressure on Tehran and the nuclear issue. If a significant number of Western warships can operate in the Gulf – which Iran sees as its maritime backyard – then Iran can also deploy vessels to the Mediterranean, which NATO countries regard as their maritime backyard. It complements the Iranian campaign of terror against Israeli targets that can be expanded to Western targets as well.  
The arrival of Iranian military vessels to the Mediterranean represents a clear sign of Tehran's widening strategic horizons and serves several functions. The efforts invested in building a stronger navy buttress the Iranian quest for expanding its influence in the Red Sea region and eastern Mediterranean. It is able to foment trouble and aid its allies, as well as counter the American naval presence. It also encroaches upon physical proximity to Israel, an arch-enemy. For now the Iranian naval deployment in areas close to Israel, the Red Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean is limited but nonetheless is of concern for Israel.

*Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay is former Deputy Head of the Israel National Security Council and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He lectures at Bar-Ilan University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.