At­tack on Iran: the clock is tick­ing ‘un­til Pe­sach’

At­mos­phere in Is­rael’s cor­ri­dors of power ‘re­sem­bles run-up to Six-Day War’

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - Meir Javedan­far is co-au­thor of The Nu­clear Sphinx of Tehran

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

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