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Monday, April 06, 2009

What a difference a leader makes

The Obama administration doesn't like the tone of the pronouncements being made by Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, but at least when it comes to Iran there is apparently an understanding in Washington that they mean it.
Americans in key positions have noticed this Israeli message. In a meeting Thursday at the Journal, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told us that "there is a leadership in Israel that is not going to tolerate" a nuclear Iran. Tehran's atomic designs, he said, were a matter of "life or death" for the Jewish state. "The operative word is 'existential.'" When we asked him whether Israel was capable of inflicting meaningful damage to Iran's nuclear installations, his answer was a simple "Yes."

The Admiral was also clear about Iran's challenge to the U.S. "I think we've got a problem now. . . . I think the Iranians are on a path to building nuclear weapons." For the time being his counsel is diplomacy, noting that "Even in the darkest days of the Cold War we talked to the Soviets." But, he added, "we don't have a lot of time."

If Israel decides to strike Iran the consequences -- intended and unintended -- will be felt far and wide, including in Iraq where, Admiral Mullen says, Iran's ability to cause mayhem "has not maxed out at all." We thought readers might like to know how the Chairman sees the threat, and how well he appreciates Israel's peril.
Can anyone imagine the Americans taking a threat issued by Ehud Olmert so seriously?

Mullen seems a lot less sanguine about the Iranian threat than - for example - Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is parroting Obama's line, as is his duty as a cabinet member. Meanwhile, here in Israel, the reaction to Sunday's missile launch by North Korea was largely framed in terms of Iran.
First, if the world fails to stop North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program, it is also likely to fail to stop Iran's nuclear program. Second, Israel is concerned about the transfer of technology between North Korea and Iran.

Iran is believed to have a number of BM-25 intercontinental missiles that it purchased from North Korea years ago. The Syrian nuclear reactor Israel destroyed in September 2007 was reported to have been modeled after the North Korean reactor in Yongbyon.

"It has already been proven that North Korean technology makes its way to Iran and Syria," one defense official said Sunday.

While Iran, unlike North Korea, does not yet have a nuclear weapon, it is on its way. According to the latest assessments, Iran has enough fissionable material from which it can extract a SQ (significant quantity) of high-enriched uranium needed for a nuclear device. The current Israeli timeline assesses that Iran will likely have a nuclear weapon within the next 18 months.
We also could not help but notice the rapid response to the North Korean missile launch as compared with the muted silence when Iran launched the Omid back in February. After all, both had the same purpose. Our 'defense officials' tried to explain:
The answer, one of these officials explained, has to do with America's credibility and standing in the world, since North Korea, under United Nations Security Council resolutions, is not supposed to fire ground-to-ground missiles, and the US has invested energy and resources in the Six-Nation talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear facilities.

Iran has yet to reach this advanced stage. While it continues to enrich uranium and, according to Israel, advance in its weapons program, it has not yet tested a weapon, something North Korea has already done. For this reason, the US believes there is still plenty of time for talks with Iran to bear fruit.

Israel, as usual, begs to differ. Based on events in northeast Asia on Sunday, it has reason to.
Israel has very good reason to differ, and not just because the talks with North Korea have been going on for a long time and have obviously failed. You see, if the North Korean launch was meant to put a satellite in orbit, as the Koreans claim, then the launch failed. Iran's launch succeeded.


At 3:10 PM, Blogger Ashan said...

If anything, we made them sit up and notice. Heh!

At 3:45 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Ashan, as I mentioned yesterday on the Toronto thread, a major and beneficial difference is Israel appears to have a government that puts the country first as opposed to acting as an apologist for its enemies. Indeed, under Tzipi Livni's tenure as Foreign Minister, one might be forgiven for thinking Israel had any interests and rights that needed to be defended before the world. The Foreign Ministry went out of its way to conflate Fatah's goals with Israel's and to downplay Iran's nuclear threat. That has now changed under the new Israeli government at least in respect to Iran and we can only hope and pray it soon extends to other aspects of Israeli foreign policy as well.

A bully is not going to be impressed by Israeli weakness and impotence. The only thing that will compel Obama to respect Israel is when the country's leaders say clearly that Israel will pursue what it sees as own rights and interests with determination and a clear vision. And its one the Obama Administration is bound to heed.


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