Anyone who is tracking the news these days, and genuinely cares for the security of Israel and the future of the US – not to mention Europe and the Mideast – has got to have an extremely heavy heart. We are facing some very dark times.
With regard to Israel, serious thinkers are pondering the best way to survive the 22 months until Obama is out of office. But the problem is actually a great deal bigger than the issue of how Obama is behaving towards Israel – as much as this remains huge for us here.
Obama. In addition to his irrational and venomous attacks on Israel, there is his courting of Iran. One is the flip side of the other: Alienate Israel, buddy up to Iran.
We are now a mere two days away from the presumed deadline on a signed framework deal between Iran and P5 + 1. (In reality this is a negotiation between Iran and the US, as the other negotiating partners, with the exception of France, have largely pulled back.) How likely it is that a deal really will take place depends on whom you ask. What is clear is that Obama – and Kerry, operating in his stead – are doing all they can to achieve this “diplomatic success.”
Because of Obama’s eagerness, what we are seeing is the stuff of nightmares. Definitely nightmares, as it’s hard to believe this could be happening in the light of day. The Iranians – recognizing very well with whom they are dealing – have consistently stonewalled on US demands. Last Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal broke with a story on yet another US pullback, each in turn design to conciliate the Iranians (emphasis added):
“Talks over Iran’s nuclear program have hit a stumbling block a week before a key deadline because Tehran has failed to cooperate with a United Nations probe into whether it tried to build atomic weapons in the past, say people close to the negotiations.
“In response, these people say, the U.S. and its diplomatic partners are revising their demands on Iran to address these concerns before they agree to finalize a nuclear deal, which would repeal U.N. sanctions against the country.”
The issue is “possible military dimensions” (PMD). As Omri Ceren of The Israel Project has explained (emphasis added):
“PMD disclosure is about base-lining all of Iran’s nuclear activities – not just its known civilian parts – as a prerequisite for verifying that those activities have been halted under a nuclear deal. Iran has uranium mines; some are civilian and some are military. It has centrifuges; some are operated by civilians and some by IRGC personnel. It has uranium stockpiles; some are maintained by civilians and some by the military. There’s no way for future inspectors to verify that Iran has shuttered its mines, stopped its centrifuges, and shipped off its stockpile – for instance – unless the IAEA knows where all the mines and stockpiles are.
“No PMDs mean no verification.”
And there’s more. On Thursday, AP reported (emphasis added):
“The United States is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites…”
As Ceri explains here (emphasis added):
“Allowing the Iranians to enrich at Fordow means they could kick out inspectors at any time and have a fully-functioning enrichment facility hardened against military intervention. Since sanctions will be unraveled by design at the beginning of a deal, that means the West would have literally zero options to stop a breakout…
“The White House started out promising that Fordow would be shuttered, then that it would be converted into an R&D plant where no enrichment would take place, and now they’ve collapsed.”
Add to the above the fact that the US is ignoring the violent hegemonic encroachment of Iranian proxies across various areas of the Middle East – as if it were only the issue of nuclear capacity that must be dealt with.
There are, of course, Syrian president Assad, and Iranian proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon (and Syria). But most recently what we’ve seen is the takeover of Yemen by the Shiite Houthis, also supported by Iran. Houthi control of Yemen has enormous importance because of its strategic location, adjacent to Saudi Arabia. From the Yemenite port city of Aden, the straits of Bab el-Mandeb, which are only about 20 miles wide, can be controlled. The straits constitute a major chokepoint – so the party that controls the area has the capacity to block marine traffic from the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.8 million barrels of oil and refined petroleum products pass through the straits daily on their way to destinations in Asia, Europe and the US.
This is before we mention that increased Iranian backed presence in the Middle East is worrisome to Israel.
But the US is not paying a whole lot of attention. US special forces fled Yemen a while ago, and US negotiators are not raising this issue. There are commentators who believe that the US should have walked out on negotiations until Iran withdrew support for the Houthis. But that might have jeopardized the deal, which has first priority for Obama – the rest of the world be damned.
You want to know how crazy it is? While Obama is promoting diplomatic ties with Iran and “reaching out” to the Iranians, we can see in a MEMRI video that Iranian leader Khamenei cries “Death to America.”
Amir Hossein Motaghi is an Iranian journalist who was supposed to be covering the negotiations, but has defected because he could not longer tolerate Iranian demands that he write his reports according to their specifications.
In a TV interview, he has now said:
“The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal.”
If this does not blow your mind, you are not getting it.
What I really cannot grasp – even beyond the question of how a man such as Obama secured two terms in the White House – is why the other negotiating nations are being so passive, when Iran is a threat to them, or why the American people are not truly up in arms (meant figuratively here).
There are just a small number of possible recourses with regard to this situation:
The first is the US Congress, many of whose members – Republicans, but a handful of Democrats as well – indeed are grievously distressed by what is going on. What is required is a sufficient number of votes in the Senate to over-ride a veto by Obama, so that sanctions to weaken Iran can be put in place appropriately. We are seeing signs that this may be possible.
“The U.S. Senate voted unanimously on Thursday for a non-binding amendment to a budget bill intended to make it easier to re-impose sanctions if Iran violates a nuclear deal.
“The vote was 100-0 for the amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Mark Kirk, which would establish a fund to cover the cost of imposing sanctions if Tehran violated terms of an interim nuclear agreement now in effect, or the final agreement negotiators hope to reach before July.”
And then there is Israel.
According to Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) there is time between the signing of a framework agreement now and the final agreement in June – at which point details would be factored in – when diplomatic maneuvering can still be done. This would involve, it seems to me, key communication with France first – as France has the greatest unease about what is taking place.
Beyond this, there is the military option, with the moment of truth advancing rapidly. We are now probably past the 11th hour, perhaps at about 15 minutes to midnight.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, again and again, that he will never permit Iran to become a nuclear power. He has also made it clear that Israel is not bound by the terms of a very bad P5 + 1 deal with Iran.
Just today, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a close Netanyahu associate, declared on public radio that Israel “will not be bound by an accord concluded by others and will know how to defend itself.” (Emphasis added)
What our government will do in the end, and what our military is capable of doing, remains to be seen. Israel cannot take out Iran’s capacity for nuclear development entirely – but can, as I understand it, do considerable damage.
The scuttlebutt is that Netanyahu wants to attack, although I know people who are convinced he never will. (Please, do not write to share opinions on this.) Some months ago, information was revealed indicating that at one point Defense Minister Ya’alon was opposed to an attack but has now changed his mind.
A key factor here is the readiness of Saudi Arabia, which is absolutely enraged with Obama’s inaction on Iran, to lend passive assistance, at a minimum, should Israel decide to attack. The Saudis would be delighted – make no mistake about this. This assistance might make a difference in the end. Because the other piece of the story is that Obama is trying his best to track Israeli intentions and to block us.
Leon Panetta – former director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense under Obama, gave an interview to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC three days ago that merits mention here. Put simply, what he said was that he learned at the CIA and Defense that “The Iranians can’t be trusted.”
This is the bottom line. Said Panetta (emphasis added):
“…the real test is going to be, and the whole world will be looking at it — the test will be have we truly made sure that Iran can be stopped from developing a nuclear weapon. And to do that in my book demands transparency and it demands accessibility so that we have a firm inspection regime that will guarantee they cannot do this.”
Precisely! And that is never, ever going to happen.
I recently encountered an article that asked, in its lead: Which side is Obama on? That, my friends, is a rhetorical question. It is clear that he is on Iran’s side.
That being the case, it is inevitable that the president would come down on Netanyahu in every way possible. He wants to discredit him, and weaken him, and delegitimize his position, for Netanyahu is the key stumbling block to what he is trying to achieve. There is no way for Bibi to make it “right” with Obama. It’s not really about the negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs or other related issues.
And facing the truth straight on also helps explain why Obama worked so hard behind the scenes to defeat Netanyahu in the elections, and why he is so frustrated now.
Just a moment here, then, to look at what is happening at home. I wrote last week about the apparent halting of building scheduled for Har Homa in Jerusalem (and indeed I’ve received no information that it was anything else such as a bureaucratic mix-up). That did not sit well. Since I wrote about that, information has surfaced about Israel agreeing to release to the Palestinian Authority tax monies that had been collected – with some held back against money owed to Israel for electricity and other services. On top of this, there is apparently a deal for Israel to sell gas to Gaza, with Qatar paying the bill.
This did not sound good. Really not good. Certainly at first blush it looks like a caving to Obama under pressure, because there is so much talk about Israel’s “readiness’ for a “two state” deal.
But that’s at first blush, and I’ve been struggling with this long and hard over the last couple of days. Because there is another way to look at this. If Netanyahu is making concessions to please Obama it is the height of foolishness, a terrible weakness, as nothing will please Obama where we are concerned. The only way to respond to him is with strength. Anything that smacks of weakness will simply invite more pressure.
But suppose Netanyahu is doing this to remove some of the poison spewed by Obama (Netanyahu is a racist, he does not want peace, etc.), in order to deal more placidly with others? Suppose he wants to approach Democrats in Congress conveying the image of someone who is willing to compromise for peace, so that they will hear him on Iran? Suppose he wants to speak with French leaders – who are eager for “two states” – from a position that will make them more amenable to his message? Or with other European countries? Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz suggests several nations are uneasy about the deal.
In light of the enormous weight of what our prime minister has to deal with, I prefer to cut him some slack here, for the moment, and see how the situation evolves. Today he told the Cabinet:
“This deal, as it appears to be emerging, bears out all of our fears, and even more than that.”
I had hoped to discuss some matters related to the formation of the coalition here, but will table this. Before closing, I want simply to look at a couple of relative bright spots in an otherwise grim picture.
Saudi Arabia, alarmed by the Houthi take-over in Yemen, and absolutely furious at Obama for opting out of involvement, decided to act, in concert with other Sunni allies. This was promising, as the Iranian takeover by proxy in Yemen is being pushed back as a result of Saudi airstrikes that are being hailed a success. There is further talk of ground forces in Yemen, although my information is that it will not be necessary, as there are tribal groups in Yemen that are ready to act on the ground against the Houthis.
Even further, the Arab League, at the closure of a meeting in Egypt, has announced in principle the creation of a joint Arab rapid response force. Egypt, which would be a prime mover in the establishment of such a force, declared that it would consist of some 40,000 elite troops, backed by jets, warships and light armor. What this means is that even though the US has totally abdicated its role of confronting Iranian regional aggression, there are Sunni Arab states presumably ready to step up, lest the feared and detested Iran take over the region.
Then see this report that says Hezbollah – operating at the behest of Iran – has been stopped by paramilitary rebel forces from establishing a major presence on the Golan directly adjacent to the Israeli border.