BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Iran Watch Update

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog on Sunday said inspectors would be examining Iran’s recently revealed nuclear facility on October 25. Mohamed ElBaradei spoke in Teheran following talks with Iranian officials over a recently revealed uranium enrichment facility located near the Iranian city of Qom. “It is important for us to send our inspectors to have a comprehensive verification of the facility and to make sure that it is for peaceful purposes,” he said. “We agreed that our inspectors will inspect the site on the 25th of October.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s president claimed on Saturday that his country had not sought to hide its construction of a new nuclear site, arguing that Teheran reported the facility to the UN even earlier than required. Apparently, no one at the IAEA got the memo, Mr. Ahmadinejad. In a speech on Saturday, Ahmadinejad said that Iran voluntarily revealed the facility to the IAEA in a letter on September 21. By his interpretation, that was one year earlier than necessary under the agency’s rules.

In a meeting last Thursday, October 1st, Iran agreed to allow UN inspectors into the facility after the P5 + 1 group finally started putting serious pressure on the rogue regime at a meeting near Geneva. In a related development, the New York Times reported on Sunday, October 4th, that it had access to a secret report compiled by IAEA officials.

The report indicates that Teheran has acquired “sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device,” based on highly enriched uranium.

The discovery of the facility near Qom is the third time Iran has been caught red-handed deceiving the world about the extent of its nuclear ambitions. The first time was in 2002, when the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed in a press conference that Iran was building a massive uranium enrichment facility – filled with thousands of centrifuges – in an underground, heavily-fortified bunker in Natanz. Several years later, in the second case of deception, the CIA uncovered evidence that Iran had secretly tried designing a nuclear weapon and warhead.

It would appear that the stage is set for a show-down between Iran and the US and Europe by late-October. Will inspectors be allowed into the 2nd uranium enrichment facility? How much access will they have? What evidence – if any – will the Iranians be “sanitizing” between now and then? The UN Security Council has already levied three rounds of sanctions against Iran with apparently no impact on the Islamic regime’s nuclear program. And while US President Barack Obama has recently talked tougher on the issue, this might be his administration’s first true foreign policy test. Let’s hope he passes.

October 5, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

The September Deadline

Multiple deadlines are approaching our region, and they have the most dire consequences imaginable. President Obama has set September as the deadline for Iran to return to serious negotiations over its nuclear ambitions. In the last week, the Iranians have made some small gestures toward the IAEA, but their public statements are still combative. The G20 nations are meeting in Pittsburgh in late September; Obama intends to forge a unified position among the G20, but will he succeed? Military analysts have been carefully studying what Israel’s “non-diplomatic” options are. The following paragraphs summarize a number of approaches that have been discussed over the last two years.

The Targets
There are three prime targets south of Tehran which are believed to be involved in Iran’s nuclear program. The first is Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges are being installed for uranium enrichment. The second is Isfahan, where, according to the Iranians themselves, a uranium conversion facility has produced 250 tons of gas for the enrichment process. The third is a heavy water reactor at Arak, which may in future produce enough plutonium for nuclear weapons. Israeli officials believe that destroying all three sites would delay Iran’s nuclear program indefinitely.

The Limited Nuclear Option
One option ironically involves the Israeli use of tactical nuclear weapons. Israeli air force squadrons are training to attack Iranian facilities using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters,” according to several Israeli military sources. These weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the atomic bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in WWII. Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open “tunnels” into the targets. “Mini-nukes” would then immediately be fired into the tunnels, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

Missile Strikes
Israel has its own missile arsenal, consisting of Jericho I, II and III missiles. How many of these weapons does Israel possess? According to a report by the US Congressional Research Service, Israel had deployed, by the year 2000, fifty Jericho-I missiles on mobile launchers. The Jericho I has a range of 500 km and a CEP (Circular Area of Probability) of 1,000m, and it can carry a payload estimated at 400 kg. It was intended to carry a nuclear warhead. However, due to Israel’s ambiguity over its nuclear weapons program, the missile is classified as a ballistic missile.

The Congressional Research Service report also stated that Israel has one hundred Jericho-II missiles on underground, wheeled launchers. It is capable of carrying a considerable amount of high explosives (estimated at 1000kg) or a 1 megaton yield nuclear warhead. It uses a two-stage solid propellant engine, meaning it can be launched on a few minutes notice. Its accuracy is unknown, although it can be assumed as accurate as the Jericho I.

It is estimated that the Jericho III entered service sometime in 2008. The Jericho III is believed to have a three-stage solid propellant and a payload of 1,000 to 1,300 kg. It is possible for the missile to be equipped with a single 750 kg nuclear warhead or two or three low yield MIRV warheads. That means one missile can hit multiple targets. It is estimated that it has a range of 4,800 to 7,000 km (2,982 to 4,350 miles). It is believed that the Jericho 3 is inertial guided with a radar guided warhead and silo-based with mobile vehicle and railcar capabilities.

Conventional Attacks
There are three potential routes that Israeli aircraft could fly; each has its own logistical, military and political difficulties and ramifications. The first is up the coast of Lebanon and then through Turkish airspace. The second involves going through a combination of Jordanian and Iraqi airspace. Finally, the option that has received some attention recently, is through Jordanian and Saudi airspace. Israeli F15I squadrons have been reported flying to Gibraltar and back, roughly equivalent to the 2000-mile round trip to south-central Iran. Additional reports have spoken about the “heavy configuration,” consisting of maximum fuel and weapons loads.

Increasingly though, it appears that conventional strikes by aircraft will be unable to achieve the goal of eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat. It is questionable whether Israel has enough of the right kinds of planes to carry out such a mission and strike all three targets. It is further complicated by the hardened facilities they will be attacking – some of which lie under 70 or more feet of concrete and earth. Regardless of which route they might take, it is a mission that can only be flown once.

Red Lines
Anonymous sources in the Pentagon have identified two key “red lines” that could trigger an Israeli offensive. The first is tied to when Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility produces enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. According to the latest U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessments, this is likely to happen sometime in 2009. Obama’s September deadline for Iran to return to the negotiating table may in fact be linked to hard intelligence that has not yet been shared with the public. “The red line is not when they get to that point, but before they get to that point,” the official said. “We are in the window of vulnerability.” The second red line is connected to when and if Iran acquires the SA-20 air defense system it is trying to buy from Russia. The Israelis would want to strike before that system — which would make an air attack much more difficult — is put in place.

Something else?
Of course, there could be permutations on all of the above. Harpoon missiles launched from Israel’s Dolphin-class submarines strike command-and-control centers in the region as the opening blow. A large formation of fighter aircraft makes a feint toward the valuable nuclear facilities at Tabriz in northeastern Iran, drawing away Iranian fighter aircraft. At the same time, a parallel wave of F-15Is uses a combination of laser-guided bombs and “Mini-Nukes” to destroy Arak, Isfahan and Natanz. Jericho III missiles then pummel the Bushehr reactor, and possibly key oil facilities. Targeting oil facilities would put the West on notice: Israel will not allow regimes like Iran rebuild their arsenals with petrodollars.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | 2 Comments

Taking the Diplomatic Offensive

In military affairs, Israel has always succeeded when it takes the offensive.  It is time for Israel to take the offensive diplomatically. According to reports in the media, Israel is about to pull-out of the northern part of Ghajar and UNIFIL will police the town. Handing the town over to the UN is a poor choice when there is a much better option available. Israel should make an offer – very publicly – to cede southern Ghajar in exchange for Lebanon dropping its claims to Shebaa Farms.

The citizens of Ghajar will be given a choice: become Lebanese citizens or remain Israeli citizens. Those choosing to become Lebanese, would exchange their Israeli identity cards for Lebanese-issued ones. Those choosing to remain Israeli citizens would be offered a relocation package similar to those received by settlers in Gaza. A “national service” component could be added for the hard work of building a new community.

There are several arguments against taking this diplomatic initiative. Detractors will point out that Iran and Syria are likely to do everything in their power to prevent such a deal from ever occurring, let alone being given a serious hearing. Resolving the Ghajar / Shebaa Farms issue would eliminate all of Hezbollah’s claims as “protector of Lebanon.” Weaken Hezbollah weakens Iran and Syria. And weakening Iran and Syria further weakens Hezbollah.

However, both the current regime in Teheran and its Hizbullah proxies are in a certain degree of disarray due to elections in both countries. Have the internal protests and power-struggles weakened the regime? Absolutely not. Have the caused it to focus its attention inward? Absolutely, yes. Furthermore, with the Obama administration pressing Teheran to enter into negotiations over its nuclear program, now would be the wrong time for Ahmadinejad to stir-up trouble in Lebanon.

Syria is engaged in a slow, step-by-step process of re-engagement with the West. There has been a constant stream of European and American diplomats in and out of Damascus. The message to Assad has been clear: Iran or us. His country is impoverished and isolated from other Arab states. Allowing Lebanon to negotiate with Israel would, on the one hand, further isolate his regime. On the other hand, Assad would likely claim – and Washington would like deliver – substantial diplomatic, economic and political benefits if Syria were to take a benign role.

Detractors will also say that no Arab government will be willing to cede any land to Israel, period. They might be right. If they are, wouldn’t it be to Israel’s advantage to point this out now, over a square miles of valueless real estate, rather than get embroiled with the Palestinians? A Lebanese refusal would put those exerting pressure on Israel to make compromises elsewhere into an embarrassing position.

A third argument against doing this is the potential of the residents of Ghajar voting en masse to become Lebanese citizens. Polling in Israel over the last five years has shown an increasing number of Arab citizens do not want to live with Jews (and vice versa). This would certainly be a black eye for Israel, at a time when it is least needed. On the other hand, what if they decided to stay? Wouldn’t this be an equal or greater black eye for Arab nationalists and Islamists?

It is a long shot. However, it has enormous potential and very little downside risk. Obtaining a Lebanese concession on the Shebaa Farms area, aka, Har Dov, gives Israel a key route into the Golan and will bolster Israel’s bargaining position vis-à-vis Syria. Finally, the process of could conceivably serve as a template for the re-alignment of borders in the West Bank / Judea & Samaria. It’s time for Israel to take the diplomatic offensive!

August 7, 2009 Posted by | Israel, Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment

An Action-packed Spring

Key Dates to Watch

There are a number of key dates coming up on calendars throughout the Middle East in the upcoming months. American President Barack Obama will be hosting an official visit of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on May 18. Some time between now and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ May 28 official visit to Washington, D.C., the Palestinian leader will be forming a new government. It will most likely be without archrival Hamas. Elections will be held in Lebanon on June 7, followed shortly thereafter in Iran on June 12. Fun, Fun, Fun!

The likely winners of all this activity, both diplomatic and electoral, are likely to be the world new media. These talking heads will undoubtedly be racking up thousands upon thousands of airline miles from flights and hotel stays. Hotels and restaurants won’t due to badly, despite the fact that media-types are poor tippers. Despite the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of airline tickets sold, the world’s airlines will continue to struggle.

What?! Won’t there be any new diplomatic breakthroughs? How about some new treaties being signed? Certainly there will be at least one or two electoral upsets, right? Not likely, not likely and – wait for it – not likely.

Most likely Diplomatic Outcomes

Prime Minister Netanyahu will unveil his long-awaited plan for re-starting dialogue with the Palestinians, which will be received in Washington with some form of “cautious optimism.”  It will also be received with some form of “restored hope,” just as is everything that crosses the American President’s path is.   He will also ask President Obama to set a time-table for negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue, which the latter has already refused to do.  Finally, the Prime Minister will try to pick-up a few gadgets for the boys back home (KC-135 refueling tankers, more bunker-buster bombs, some B2s, etc.)

President Abbas will unveil his standard list of complaints against Israel and reject the latest Israeli peace plans as inadequate.  Palestinian diplomacy is more akin to Japanese kabuki theater than it is to diplomacy: everyone knows the story line, the choreography and the limited skills of the actor. Finally, the Palestinian President will ask for 1) more financial aid, 2) more training for his “army,” and 3) a guarantee of asylum should #1 and #2 be ineffective in staving off a Hamas takeover.

Expect Obama to take a vacation at Camp David sometime in early June.

Most likely Electoral Outcomes

The electoral campaign in Lebanon has been refreshingly non-violent, so far. This should end about 10 minutes after they finish counting the ballots.  If Hizbullah does as well or better than the last parliamentary election, they will claim that they deserve to be included in the ruling coalition with senior ministries going to their party. If Hizbullah does as well or worse than the last parliamentary election, they will claim that they deserve to be included in the ruling coalition with senior ministries going to their party.  Get the picture?  They’re like Israel’s Kadima Party, except they have guns and aren’t afraid to use them.

As for Iran, there’s not much polling data to go by.  There are two official candidates.  Supreme Leader (Ayatollah) Ali Khamene’i picked the Guardian Council (a select group of clergy), who approves all the presidential candidates and decides who is fit to run for office (sort of like the relationship between the Christian fundamentalists and the Republic Party). So, whoever wins is going to be “kosher” by the standards of the Islamic Republic.  If Hizbullah actually does do as well or better than last time in the Lebanese elections, this might be a boost for the Iranian incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Should Hizbullah “win” in Lebanon and Ahmadinejad win in Iran, Henry Kissinger will probably be getting a call from President Obama.  The President will explain to our dear old friend that the advice he’s been getting from Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and George Mitchell hasn’t really helped him all that much.  Henry is still working off the frequent flyer miles he earned in the Nixon adminstration.

May 2, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment