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19 May 2009

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b

I don't agree with the "dramatic technological gains by Iran, and it predicts that the country could probably build a simple nuclear device in one to three years"

Remember:“Late 1991: In congressional reports and CIA assessments, the United States estimates that there is a ‘high degree of certainty that the government of Iran has acquired all or virtually all of the components required for the construction of two to three nuclear weapons.’ A February 1992 report by the U.S. House of Representatives suggests that these two or three nuclear weapons will be operational between February and April 1992.Quite some time ago ...

Obama made a big mistake by giving in to Israeli demands to name some time limit on negotiations with Iran. Those have not even begun and already Obama set some limit to the end of the year.

Now stall negotiations (what Dennis Ross will be eager to do) and you are there. And then???

Babak Makkinejad

b:

Mr. Obama has no such thing.

He has created a bench-mark (for the end of 2009) the fulfillment of which only he can judge.

R Whitman

There is a distinct possibility that Iran already has enough HEU for a nuclear weapon. Can we honestly say that we know the disposition of every bit of fissle material produced in the US and the USSR and sucessor states in the last 60+ years. This encompasses material for about 80,000 weapons.

arbogast

Has anyone stopped to think how easy it would be for Obama to one day stand up and say,

"The United States is not served by blind adherence to the aggressive doctrines of a single state in a region marked by difficult and complex inter- and intranational relationships. In the future our foreign policy in this region will be multilateral and even-handed."

Obama owes nothing to Shelly Adelson et al. They owe him everything, literally.

Matthew

Col: As a proud immigrant to the Great Republic, I have some insight into the dilemma of the "Special Relationship." Having come from a country that also treasures its "special relationship" (the UK), I think foreigners, particularly those who over-state their own intelligence (British and Israeli government officials), believe that America is easily manipulated.

Netanyahu is going to find out fairly soon that America has friends....but never, ever assume that we place our friends interests in front of our own. The French Ambassador realized this when he learned of John Adams "ingratitude." Bibi will learn this lesson too.

Harper

I fully concur, that Bibi did not succeed in breaking Obama or getting any concessions on Iran. I know that George Mitchell weighed in very strongly, in advance of the meeting, insisting to the President that nothing take place that would contradict his mission. Mitchell is still furious over Larry Summers' bout of flight-forward at the Israeli embassy a few weeks back, when he delivered an impromptu speech, purporting to speak for the President, on Israel's 61st anniversary. Summers' remarks could have been, and probably were, drafted at AIPAC headquarters. He railed against Palestinian terrorism threatening Israel and promised that the President would never do anything to jeopardize Israeli security, for the sake of a peace deal. Both Mitchell and Hillary Clinton hit the roof, when the Israeli press--Maariv--covered Summers' speech as Presidential gospel.

So Obama stood up to Bibi and then some. What next? As long as Bibi is PM, Israel will keep building settlements, and nothing will progress. The US has to get much tougher with Israel, by imposing sanctions and cuts in aid everytime the Israelis expand settlements. That behavior by Jim Baker III got Shamir to Madrid. Only such tough action will get Bibi's attention. If he balks, either we turn Israel into a second-fiddle pain in the neck "ally" or the Israeli institutions get serious and dump him. Try indicting Avigdor Lieberman for a myriad of crimes as a first step, by sane Israelis, in dumping Bibi. In the meantime, push the Fatah/Hamas reunification government, normalize with Syria, and get on with the tough negotiations with Iran. And in June, when the Hezbollah/Aoun coalition win a majority in Lebanon, treat the Lebanese government as a normal government, engage in diplomacy, trade and all the rest. And let Rose Gotmueller keep pressing Israel to sign the NPT. That really drives them up the wall, but, after all, those are the rules which all civilized nations adhere to. Even Iran is a signator. And borrow a leaf from Dwight David Eisenhower. In the midst of the Suez crisis, he threatened to lift the tax exempt status of all pro-Israel charities.

Col. Lang is correct. The next step from Bibi will be an escalation of the AIPAC, ADL, Conference of Presidents apparatus against the President. The power of the lobby is waning gradually. Let's accelerate.

Bill

Bibi won the day. Bibi's main goal for the day was to have the debate be about Iran and how more or less evil they were, and to have nothing done about Palestine.

What happened? Folks are arguing about whether or not Iran is truly evil, but both sides simply restated their position on Palestine and left it at that. Since Israel controls Palestine on the ground, a simple restating of positions is an Israeli victory.

Bibi won the day. You could prove him wrong in every since thing he said and he still would have won, because he had the conversation on the subject he wanted to talk about.

Dave of Maryland

Why not just declare Israel to be an enemy of America?

Do they not act like an enemy?

LeaNder

I like this: (something like the "Yellow Peril") The matter of Neolibroconia.

And yes, WaPo's Oped's and editorials seem to be drawn into the orbit.

**********************

Obama made a big mistake by giving in to Israeli demands to name some time limit on negotiations with Iran. Those have not even begun and already Obama set some limit to the end of the year.

Admittedly that's what it felt to me on the surface, but I sensed a tiny chance that makes it possible to read it differently. Could Obama mirror Israeli stalling techniques? With a little audacious hope this image appears in my crystal ball:

Headline 12/31/2009. Progress in talks with Iran, still many details to be resolved.

*****************************

But the propaganda mills are swift to take the first message to the reader (& looker - see how the photo emphasizes the message of the headline: Nethanyahu talks / Obama listens):

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/world/middleeast/19prexy.html?_r=1>Obama Tells Netanyahu He Has an Iran Timetable

Consider that Iranians surely know were these timetables originate. Good job. A little more humiliation will work wonders as will the impression that Israel can dictate US behavior in combination with Dennis Ross (see above)as envoy. Perfect sabotage signals.

George W. Bush redux with slightly more attention on the politely glossy surface: We tried our best (to sabotage talks)?

LeaNder

U.S.-Russian Team Deems Missile Shield in Europe Ineffective

Last paragraph:
"The much more urgent problem is to seek a resolution" of the Iranian nuclear crisis, the report says. "That is a project on which the United States and Russia need to cooperate more closely."

Interesting. Somehow I wonder, was Lieberman aware of this project, and who suggested first Europe could be endangered by Iranian nukes?

Lieberman: U.S. will accept any Israeli policy decision


"Believe me, America accepts all our decisions," Lieberman told the Russian daily Moskovskiy Komosolets.

Lieberman granted his first major interview to Alexander Rosensaft, the Israel correspondent of one of the oldest Russian dailies, not to an Israeli newspaper. The role of Israel is to "bring the U.S. and Russia closer," he declared.

Compare the headline with this:

During the interview, Lieberman said Iran is not Israel's biggest strategic threat; rather, Afghanistan and Pakistan are.

This comes after years of Lieberman warning about the growing Iranian threat. Now, he has dropped Tehran to number two, with Iraq coming third.

ptw

@ Harper: "The power of the lobby is waning gradually."

What if they succeed in getting rid of Pelosi? Isn't Hoyer next in line? Isn't that what Yglesias is warning us about?

http://tinyurl.com/oy4luw

Andy

b,

That previous assessments were wrong on Iran does not necessarily mean the current assessment wrong - your argument on that score is a fallacy. Missed assessments work both ways: For example, the intelligence community was completely wrong on Iraq's program before 1991 and grossly underestimated Iraq's capabilities. Should we then assume current assessments also underestimate capabilities? No, yet this is exactly the analytical spin Israel's analysis takes through "worst casing," along with a lot of people who agree with Israel on how to deal with Iran (ie. the Neocons and others). The point is that one can't (or shouldn't) simply point to historical error as "proof" that current estimates are flawed.

Assessments are only as good as their evidentiary basis and the reality is that we have much better information now than we did in 1991, or even 2002 when Iran's program remained clandestine. The main difference is that we now have a lot of open-source first-hand technical knowledge of Iranian capabilities - knowledge that technical experts (including those outside the intelligence community) can use to make very good estimates of Iran's future/potential capabilities.

Speaking of "capabilities," there are many subtle and not-so-subtle differences between various "capabilities" that greatly affect timelines. It is, of course, no surprise that people tend to choose the scenario which best fits their preferred narrative.

So, the reality is that, left alone and with the will to do so, Iran could produce a crude nuclear weapon within about 18 months. Of course, that scenario isn't remotely likely for any number of reasons, yet it is the basis for many of the "worst case" scenarios. More realistic and probable scenarios extend the timeline considerably. The point being, there is a tremendous difference between the technical capability to build a bomb, the ability to do so clandestinely, the ability to weaponize the device and mate it to a delivery system, etc. How one "frames" the capabilities question drives the time required to achieve that capability - that's why it's important to understand specifically what capability is being estimated in a particular piece of analysis - not always an easy thing to do.


All,

Now, the title of this post is, in part, "not a good day for Bibi" but I think an equally good title might be, "not a good day for Israeli strategic doctrine." Since 1973, Israel has operated under the doctrine that it cannot affect the intentions of its enemies, only their capabilities. So for Israel, strategic choices were often pretty clear - if an enemy was developing a capability that could threat Israel's position or the Israeli state, it would take action.

Over the years, cracks and breaks in the validity of this doctrine steadily developed but the situation with Iran threatens to completely discredit it. Iran is a case that puts Israel into a strategic corner painted by their own doctrine. Iran is a case where Israel cannot affect the capabilities of an enemy without significant assistance - if it could have done it solo, it would have long ago. So Israel is presented with a case where they believe they cannot influence Iranian intentions while their ability to diminish Iran's (latent) capabilities is very limited. Israel still hopes the US will help them out of this strategic conundrum by facilitating an attack on Iran. This was something even GWB was not willing to do, and Israel clearly struck-out here with President Obama.

So the conundrum remains and it is a very dangerous one because the result is an Israel that believes it is cornered and out of options but extreme ones. This is where Col. Lang's posts on the possibility of an Israeli nuclear strike come in. With no other "out" available, a nuclear option suddenly becomes viable.

This kind of myopic strategic thinking can be found at the root of many conflicts through history. Japan in the early stages of WWII, for instance, deluded itself into believing that a war with the USA - a war it knew it would likely lose - was its only viable strategic option. Things didn't turn out too well for them in the end. Israel, I believe, is in a similar position unless it can break out of its current mindset.

What can the US do to help Israel transition out of their strategic morass? There seem to be many who comment on this blog that loathe Israel, wish to see the US "dump" its ally, etc. I say be careful what you wish for and consider the consequences - kicking Israel to the curb will only heighten its fears and increase the likelihood it will do something extreme. A better approach, as Col. Lang has indicated, is to make it clear to Israel who is the Alpha dog. Beyond that, I see to main tasks for US policy:

First, the US must try to prevent Iran from provoking Israel and playing into its fears. The comments of Pres. Ahmedinijad and several senior IRCG commanders are taken very seriously - literally - in Israel. Influencing Iran is, for now, not an easy prospect because the Iranian leadership is, in my view, currently full of triumphalism and overconfidence. I think Pres. Obama is right to take a wait-and-see approach until after the Iranian elections and hope that new, more reform-minded leadership comes to power.

Secondly, the US must work to foster the development of a new and viable strategic doctrine in Israel. This will require quite a bit of "tough love" from the Alpha Dog USA to guide Israel out of its myopia, but ultimately Israel is going to have to figure out a lot of this for itself.


Sidney O. Smith III

Odds increase that the GOI will attempt to execute a false flag operation.

Logically speaking, such analysis should take place in an NIE titled “Bad company: Bibi bombs Iran”. Such a title sums up the executive summary as well. You could even score it with lyrics from the song, Bad Company.

The work of Israeli New Historians supports such a view. Tom Segev’s work is simply brilliant and highly recommended. I thorough respect the courage of former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg but Tom Segev in his book 1967 offers much greater detail as to the Israeli worldview. In particular, he provides a much deeper understanding to what he refers to as the Amalekite-syndrome (quoting Schmuell Hugo Bergman, one of the old school Zionists who believed in a binational state, contra Bad Company.) But Burg is fearless as well in his most recent book.

And, at some point in history, even "progressives" may start to appreciate the extraordinary analytical assumptions that arise out of the work of the Satmar Rabbis, particularly that of Satmar Grand Rebbe Joel Tietelbaum. In many ways, the work of great Jewish Americans such as Phil Weiss as well as the insights of Burg and Segev interweave with the prophetic warnings of Rabbi Teitelbaum.

Here's a fascinating tidbit from Segev that may illustrate the point. Eshkol referred to the IDF generals before the 67 War as “The Prussians”, translated as “Preissn” in Yiddish. A synonym for Preissn may be Bad Company, although I still hold onto a glimmer of hope about Moshe Dayan, one of the heroes of my youth.

Mary

Heh. Haaretz said Israel wouldn't take it lying down if Michelle Obama did not rearrange her schedule to meet with Sara Netanyahu. And it didn't happen. Baby steps.

Patrick Lang

Andy

In fact before the first Gulf War the "intelligence community" was prevented from issuing an accurate forecast of Iraqi nuclear prospects by internal disagreement.

Three "communities" of analysts were involved on a cross agency basis; 1- The tech intel people, 2- The Europeans, specifically the expiring Soviet crown who had long been dominant across all lines, 3- The Middle East regionalists. I was one of the leaders of this last group.

Groups 1 & 2 insisted that the "towel heads" could not be as close as they actually were, and they persuaded the heads of the agencies to accept their view over the unified position of the semi "towel heads" like me. pl

curious

just another fun day at the zoo. (Bibi is saying. Settlement and two states? FU. Who is going to make me?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/19/AR2009051900932.html

Israeli settlers reject Obama call to halt building

Jewish settler leaders on Tuesday shrugged off President Barack Obama's call for Israel to halt settlement building in the occupied West Bank, saying Palestinians needed to "halt terror first."

Dani Dayan, chairman of the West Bank settlers' umbrella organization Yesha Council, said he felt assured that domestic political support would allow settlers to continue to live in the occupied West Bank.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-05/19/content_11403493.htm

Israeli settlers expand two West Bank outposts: anti-settlement watchdog

http://washingtontimes.com/news/2009/may/19/settlement-construction-taking-shape-in-maskiyot/

Settlement construction taking shape in Maskiyot

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0519/p06s21-wome.html

In Jerusalem, an uptick in demolition orders of Arab homes

----------------------

Count down until military operation in Gaza and west bank. The minute a rocket land in Israel. Bibi is doing Sharon dance.

Everybody please cycle through your old Israel ploy book. We are on page 2 now. Page 1 was fun, as usual.

curious

That previous assessments were wrong on Iran does not necessarily mean the current assessment wrong - your argument on that score is a fallacy.
Posted by: Andy | 19 May 2009 at 08:30 PM

I wouldn't trust any israel intel except as a a general trend of their political intention.

curious

The Obama-Netanyahu talks were clearly a train wreck for Israel's far rightwing Likud Party. The talks went on nearly twice as long as scheduled, suggesting a lot of bumps in the road. The two seemed to me stiff in their body language afterward, and they clearly did not agree on virtually anything important. Both finessed the disagreement by appealing to vague generalities and invoking the long term. Obama wants to negotiate with Iran regarding its civilian nuclear enrichment research program, but stressed that his patience is not infinite. Netanyahu, of course, wants military action against Iran on a short timetable.

Netanyahu's hysteria about Iran is a piece of misdirection intended to sidestep the issue of Israel's own nuclear arsenal. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, and allows regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, even if the latter is not completely satisfied with Iran's transparency. Israel just thumbed its nose at the NPT. Israel would only have the moral high ground in demanding that Iran cease enrichment research if it gave up its own some 150 warheads.

http://www.juancole.com/2009/05/obama-netanyahu-meet-produces-few.html

jr786

I wonder if Bibi hasn't made some lemonade after all. It's hard to believe that the Israelis figured on getting a green light to attack Iran at this late point, if such a thing was ever really feasible. It's more likely they used the 'threat' as a leverage point over their real existential fears.

Thus Netanyahu's out of the blue demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish State, something that seems to have slipped under the radar. The implications are obivous, not least that it will take at least 8 years, asssuming Obama wins again, to even come close to 'negotiating' that. Certainly, the Palestinians will not even go near such a demand. More settlements, more facts on the ground.

The Israelis know damn well that Iran will never attack them - seems to me they played respect and understanding of that fear well and now have the tacit support of the US in what is surely a wrench in any hope of a two state solution.

The Amelkite meme was particularly well played. Can anyone imagine, say, Karzai wwanking on about fear of the Mongols? Unbelievable. Not to mention all the 'chatter' about Israel in the weeks leading up to Bibi's visit - the NYT had something on the front page every day - the tree that Anne Frank saw from her hiding place!? Endless op-eds...

jr786

I see that Netanyahu gave Obama a copy of Innocents Abroad; is this true?

Twain makes some nasty comments about Muslims and Arabs in Palestine (or Syria, don't remember), as I recall, threatening a day of reckoning for their lack of servility.

Clever present.

William R. Cumming

I interpret this meeting as one required by the past relationship between Israel and the US. What I find interesting is that so little of the feel of the meeting got out! Discipline by Obama and maybe Bibi too. But now they each have a close-up of the other. I think suspicions might have been raised of the other by each! Time will tell the significance of this meeting. Maybe by the December time-frame Obama selected for further review.

kao_hsien_chih

Andy,

I'm intrigued by the Israel-Japan analogy you suggest. In many ways, the situations they face are similar. Both Israel and Japan seek to dominate their immediate neighborhood: Palestine and Levant in case of Israel; China and Northeast Asia in case of Japan. In both cases, the motive for domination is a complex mixture of realpolitik, paranoia, domestic politico-economy, and even messianic religious-like idealism. Whatever the specific motives for various ruling factions within each might be, they are fairly unified in believing that domination of their neighbors is necessary. They will not be easily persuaded from their abandoning this goal.

However, they are also fearful of the more distant adversaries--Iran for Israel, US and USSR for Japan. The fear rests on two pillars: that these distant adversaries are providing both material and political support to their near adversaries and as such undermining their primary goals and that these distant adversaries have hostile intent and that they possess the means (theoretical or real) to do serious harm to damage them directly should they choose to.

But the analogy ends if we look to how the Japanese dilemma was resolved: we didn't just defeat Japan in WW2. We guaranteed their security, especially against China--which conveniently was unified by our communist enemies--whether they liked it or not. We also gave them access to our markets--indeed, international markets--by promoting free trade. Most of Japan's needs were addressed by these arrangements--and those who sought other goals in NE Asia were either totally discredited or hanged after the war. But we were free to impose these on Japan because we beat them militarily.

Can we impose a comparable arrangement on Israel? The Israeli militarists, unlike their Japanese counterparts, will not have been discredited by losing the war. Is there anything sought by various other Israeli factions that we can guarantee, vis-a-vis its neighbors? Seems to me that all we will wind up doing is to replay another Munich where we sell out a Palestine like Czechoslovakia to an Israel on the basis of somewhat improbable conflict between Israel and Iran--and perhaps this is what Netanyahu's goal behind insisting on Iran first. Still, the possibility of Israel doing something crazy is real enough that it cannot be discounted a priori--like Pearl Harbor, perhaps.

But, all these might still be moot: at least in 1941, US had the choice to not interfere with Japan's designs on China to avoid the improbable prospect of a Pearl Harbor. What can US offer here?

Sorry about the length of the post.

Clifford Kiracofe

The Obama Administration lost leverage with Israel and its US "pro-Israel" lobby (Jewish and Christian) by its actions on the Chas. Freeman appointment and by its actions with respect to the AIPAC spy trial.

As I posted some time ago, IMO the US needs to take the position Ike did at Suez which included no pro-Israel votes at the UN, no tax exempt status for pro-Israeli fundraising in the US, etc. Naturally one would include a cutoff of any US foreign aid to Israel, military aid and the like. Counterintelligence pressure needs to be raised and not lowered.

A so-called "two-state" solution is not now possible as the Israelis have stolen too much Palestinian land. A one state solution, binational state, not a "Jewish state" but rather a Holy Land state is the reasonable option. However sincere, the Obama Administration seems to be chasing windmills with respect to the two-state line.

One indicator on the US domestic political side which should be monitored is the Netanyahu relationship with the Christian Fundamentalists in the US, Hagee and all that.

My book, "Dark Crusade: Christian Zionism and US Foreign Policy" published by IB Tauris will be out in just a few weeks. I hope it provides some context for interested readers.

par4

Obama should invite Tzipi Livni over for a meeting as soon as Bibi leaves.

Mark Stuart

Not a good day for Sarah Netanyahu either it seems!

She didn't get Michelle Obama to change her schedule. Could you believe the nerve?!

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