Attack on Iran: the clock is ticking ‘until Pesach’
Atmosphere in Israel’s corridors of power ‘resembles run-up to Six-Day War’
AS ON EVERY Yom Kippur for the past 35 years, Israeli newspapers, television and radio channels this week were full of interviews, features and special projects, picking at the unhealed wound of the terrible war that took a nation and its military idols by surprise.
But while the Yom Kippur War remains a trauma to this day, Israel’s current strategic predicament is much more reminiscent of the Six-Day War.
Then as now, the political leadership remains uncertain whether the looming threat — this time, f rom Iran — is indeed an existential one.
They are divided between those who believe that international diplomacy should be given another chance and those convinced that Israel has no choice but to go it alone.
A similar divide exists in the IDF general command between those who counsel caution and the officers who cannot wait for the politicians to give the command.
In Washington, meanwhile, Israel’s diplomats and allies are feverishly lobbying for the elusive “green light” from the White House.
Just read one of the excellent histories of 1967 published in recent years — the comparisons are breathtaking.
As in the weeks before the Six-Day War, Israel is now entering a “period of waiting”, with the army hanging on the prime minister’s word. At this stage, the urgency is not of the same order. The IDF’s reserves have not been mobilised. The generals are not demanding that Binyamin Netanyahu give the order, as they did 42 years ago of Levi Eshkol, some of them muttering darkly about the necessity of a military takeover.
But what we do have now is what seems to be almost a clear schedule, a deadline.
With negotiations between Iran and the Western powers beginning this week in Geneva, the clock has begun ticking.
A couple of months of talks; then a month or so in which the United States and its allies will have to assess progress and decide on the next step; and then two more months for the international community to impose sanctions or — in the less likely case — to verify that Iran is indeed dismantling its nuclear weapons programme.
Altogether about five months or, if you prefer, until Pesach, until Mr Netanyahu will have to get off the fence.
The tough talk at the G20 and the revealing of Iran’s second uranium enrichment plant have given Israeli leaders hope that at least this round of talks will be serious, and that there is a real effort to hold the Iranians to account.
But Israel has been disappointed by its friends in the international community enough times, and even if Barack Obama proves resolute, the Iranians may not be impressed. Israel is about to call time. As far as it is concerned, this is the last chance for diplomacy.
If it fails again, it will be time to consider those much vaunted “other options on the table”.
THE RECENT exposure of the secret uranium enrichment facility at Qom may have come as a shock to the populations of Western countries. However, it was not a surprise to Western intelligence agencies. For years, the CIA, MI6 and the French secret service, DGSE, were monitoring its construction and progress, until their governments finally decided to declare its existence last week.
So are there more secret locations? Although we cannot be sure, the consensus amongst analysts is that there are. This is based on a number of factors.
First, after the exposure of the Qom facility, Iran’s credibility has been damaged severely. Fewer and fewer people are going to believe Iran’s statements that Tehran has declared all of its facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
President Ahmadinejad damaged his credibility even further by stating that Iran informed the IAEA about the site a year ago. In fact, the IAEA said it received the news only last Monday.
Second, the evidence from the new facility strongly suggests that Iran wants to build a bomb. According to its stated declarations, Iran wants to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, in order to produce fuel for its nuclear reactors (which are yet to be built). To do that Iran needs somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 centrifuges. Its current facility at Natanz has the capacity for 54,000 centrifuges. So why does Iran need another facility? And why did it hide it until now?
More importantly, why does the new facility at Qom have capacity for 3,000 centrifuges — which is enough to make a bomb, but not nuclear fuel?
These questions point to the real reasons Tehran hid the plant in Qom, and why it would want to hide more facilities.
For now, Mr Ahmadinejad is using the outcry over the new facility to his advantage domestically. It is a useful tool which he uses to portray Iran as the victim. After his disastrous trip to the UN, which even raised objections in Iran, he needs to divert public attention and this crisis has come at the right time.
He sees that he has nothing to lose from this affair. Should Iran become isolated internationally, it would provide him with a suitable atmosphere to crack down on demonstrators with even more vigour and strength.
On the other hand, the recent revelation has improved the West’s bargaining power, which it can use in negotiations for sanctions. But if the Iranian regime has realised that it is only a few years away from achieving its nuclear goals, then no amount of talks or sanctions would dissuade it. Perhaps not even a military attack.
A protester against Iranian nuclear weapons demonstrates in Washington DC. The Iranian president was forced to admit last week that his country was hiding a secret uranium enrichment facility