To bomb, or to bunker? Israel’s Iran choices narrow

To bomb, or to bunker? Israel’s Iran choices narrow

The orchestrated roar of air force exercises designed to signal Israel’s readiness to attack Iranian nuclear facilities are belied, perhaps, by a far quieter project deep beneath the western Jerusalem hills.

Dubbed “Nation’s Tunnel” by the media and screened from view by government guards, it is a bunker network that would shelter Israeli leaders in an atomic war — earth-bound repudiation of the Jewish state’s vow to deny its foes the bomb at all costs.
Aerial and naval manoeuvres, leaked to the media, have told of plans to reach Iran, though this time the targets are so distant, dispersed, and fortified that even Israel’s top brass admit they could deliver a short-term, disruptive blow at most.

Hence Israel’s discreet arrangements for living with the possibility of a nuclear-armed arch-enemy — the bunkers, the missile interceptors, the talk of a U.S. strategic shield and of Cold War-style deterrence based on mutually-assured destruction.

One government intelligence analyst suggested that Israel had passed a psychological threshold by “allowing” Iran to manufacture enough low-enriched uranium (LEU) for a bomb.

“We keep fretting about whether they will have a ‘break-out capacity’, but really they’re already there,” the analyst said.

The U.N. national intelligence director has assessed Iran will not be technically capable of producing high-enriched uranium (HEU) for the fissile core of an atom bomb before 2013. [continued…]

Israel defense chief: Iran not an existential threat

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted on Thursday as saying he does not view Iran as a threat to the existence of the Jewish state, a view that would seem to depart from Israeli statements of the recent past.

Israel’s mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily quoted Barak, the head of Israel’s center-left Labour party, as saying “Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel.”

In response to a question about Tehran’s nuclear programme which Israel has said it sees as destined to produce atomic weapons that could put its existence at risk, Barak said in an interview with the paper:

“I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel.” [continued…]

Intelligence agencies say no new nukes in Iran

The U.S. intelligence community is reporting to the White House that Iran has not restarted its nuclear-weapons development program, two counterproliferation officials tell Newsweek. U.S. agencies had previously said that Tehran halted the program in 2003.

The officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that U.S. intelligence agencies have informed policymakers at the White House and other agencies that the status of Iranian work on development and production of a nuclear bomb has not changed since the formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s “Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities” in November 2007. Public portions of that report stated that U.S. intelligence agencies had “high confidence” that, as of early 2003, Iranian military units were pursuing development of a nuclear bomb, but that in the fall of that year Iran “halted its nuclear weapons program.” The document said that while U.S. agencies believed the Iranian government “at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,” U.S. intelligence as of mid-2007 still had “moderate confidence” that it had not restarted weapons-development efforts. [continued…]

How to talk to Iran

The president is right [to enter talks with Iran] for many reasons. The 30-year American-Iranian psychosis is a dangerous, logic-lite hangover. When Obama gathered his Iran advisers after the June election to review intelligence, the slim pickings were slim enough to prompt a presidential “That all you got?” Ignorance breeds treacherous incomprehension.

The president is right because only creative diplomacy can head off the onrushing Iranian uranium enrichment (8,000 inefficient centrifuges and counting); because closer relations with the West represent the best long-term hope for reform in Iran; because Iran is negotiating from the relative weakness of post-June-12 revolutionary disunity; and because the strong U.S. interest lies in preventing an Israeli attack on Muslim Persia. (That’s also in Israel’s interest, by the way; the Arabs are already a handful.)

There’s a lot of verbiage — some that Orwell would have seized on — in the Iranian “package,” but that’s just the way of things in Iran. Like many much-conquered countries, not least Italy, Iran loves artifice, the dressing-up of truth in elaborate layers. It will always favor ambiguity over clarity. This is a nation whose conventions include the charming ceremonial insincerity known as “taarof” (hypocrisy dressed up as flattery), and one that is no stranger to “tagieh,” which amounts to the sacrifice of truth to higher religious imperative.

These traits are worth recalling. Gary Sick, the Carter administration official who negotiated the American hostages’ release, told me that immediately before the critical breakthrough he received a voluminous and preposterous Iranian “proposal” that almost led Carter to walk away. It proved a sideshow with a couple of useful nuggets buried in the outpourings. [continued…]

Iran bullish ahead of nuclear talks

Unless the US and its allies come up with new evidence to substantiate their allegations against Iran, their purported effort to pin on Iran the label of clandestine proliferator is destined to fall short. This is particularly so since there is as of yet no official US revision of the conclusions of its 2007 intelligence estimate. According to this, Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, shortly after the downfall of Iran’s chief nemesis, Saddam, who was also said to be aggressively pursuing a nuclear program.
Fourth, Iran’s confidence stems from Tehran’s reliance on a multi-faceted negotiation strategy, reflected in its recent “package” that states Iran’s preparedness to cooperate on the issues of “non-proliferation and disarmament” as well as on regional security, energy security, cultural and economic issues.

The advantage of this comprehensive linked approach is that it connects any US engagement with Iran to a host of issues that bind the two countries, such as drug trafficking and security in the region. This belies the contention of some US pundits that the “goal of engagement is not improved relations”, to paraphrase Chester Crocker, a former US diplomat, who in an opinion column in the New York Times under the title “Terms of Engagement” forgets that the Iranian side may also have its own ideas about engagement and that it takes two to have a diplomatic tango. [continued…]

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