BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

The Palestinian Price Tag

For several years now, since the first sanctions were imposed on Iran for defying the International Atomic Energy Association’s rules, there has been an on-going discussion of military action. A variety of scenarios have been circulated regarding American and/or Israeli air strikes. Some analysts contend that Iran’s nuclear program is too advanced and too far-flung to destroy. Others contend that it hinges on just a few critical sites. Regardless of the level of success, pundits agree that if Israel attacks Iran, Iran will strike at Israel in response.

If the US is seen as involved, the Iranian response will include the various Gulf kingdoms aligned with the US using missiles, possibly armed with chemical or biological weapons. Others predict that Iran will unleash its puppets, Hamas and Hizbullah, and their arsenals of short-range missile. A regional war involving several countries has been forecast, as well as a global wave of terror. Any combination of these is also possible. The Iranian response will undoubtedly be violent, but it will be brief as it is ineffective.

Any solid military analysis of the situation leads to the conclusion that Israel, acting alone, is capable of inflicting enormous damage on Iran. Using just conventionally armed aircraft and missiles, Israel would be able to destroy at least six critical Iranian nuclear facilities in one blow. It could also inflict heavy damage of Iranian petroleum facilities, further delaying an Iranian rebuilding effort.

Having clearly demonstrated that it is militarily superior to every country in the region, and having destroyed the single existential threat that (currently) exists, Israeli leaders would be hard-pressed to claim any additional security concerns. The price tag of success will be a Palestinian state. And there will be intense international pressure for this to occur immediately.

Without American support, Israel would be diplomatically isolated. Traditionally anti-Israel bodies, such as the UNHRC, would be mobilized to condemn Israel. Claims would be brought to the International Court of Justice. UN Security Council resolution would pile up fast. Various treaties and pacts currently under discussion between Isreal and a host of nations would be shelved, if not scrapped outright. If Israel acts alone, it will need to have the diplomatic muscle of the United States behind it in order to deal with the aftermath.

The US and EU would not be overly concerned with the long-term consequences of either a Palestinian state or how such diplomatic pressure might effect Israel’s geo-strategic psychology. The conflict will have sent oil prices to the $150/barrel range – or higher. Energy shortages will cripple the already sluggish global economy. World financial markets will be in turmoil. The US and EU will act hastily to prevent further economic damage. It will not be a time to worry about demographics, Riparian water rights or political stability (Palestinian).

NATO, perhaps with a token Russian presence, would deploy troops over most of the West Bank as an interim measure, probably within a month of the UNSC imposing a ceasefire on all the belligerents. Israel would withdraw the bulk of its forces, probably over a period of 3 – 6 months. The smaller settlements would be dismantled and their occupants transferred to Israel proper or the so-called large settlement blocs. There may be a token exchange of territories and populations between Israel and the nascent Palestinian state.

What would happen to Jerusalem? That depends on how quickly and quietly Israeli leaders agree to the deployment of NATO troops, removal of settlements and the re-drawing of boundaries. Quick accession to these demands might assure continued Israeli sovereignty over most of Jerusalem, with a minimal international presence with very limited authority. Israeli delay could result in Jerusalem being partitioned.

Israeli leaders face an excruciating dilemma. It is universally agreed that sanctions will not dissuade the Iranians from developing a nuclear capability. Unless publicly forced to face the clearest evidence of Iranian intentions, the Obama administration will not act militarily. Thus, Israel must act on her own.
However, military success will also result in the creation of a Palestinian state that is economically and politically unstable, as well as violent. This is likely to remain the situation for at least a decade, meaning that there will be no “peace dividend” for Israel. The question now becomes, not will Israel act, but when? And have Israeli leaders considered how they – and the citizens of Israel – will contend with the aftermath?

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Diplomatic Offensive

15 May 2010

What Israel needs right now is a dramatic diplomatic offensive. The goals of this diplomatic offensive are two-fold. The first is to change dramatically the perception of Israel in world opinion. The second is to achieve a strategic breakthrough in the current stalemate vis-à-vis the Palestinians and Syrians. What is notable is that the first goal can be achieved without achieving the second goal; whereas achieving the second goal automatically assures achieving the first goal.

It may seem strange to state that the first goal is to achieve a dramatic change in world public opinion. However, given the recent tilt in world public opinion, this is desirable. Restoring Israel’s public image to its previous status would be a serious set-back to the radical Arab and Muslim states that have sought, and to a certain degree been successful, to de-legitimize Israel. In addition, the restoration of Israel’s public image to its previous status would fortify the country in terms of negotiations with the Palestinians and Syrians.

As for the second goal of achieving a strategic breakthrough in the current stalemate vis-à-vis the Palestinians and Syrians, we must remember that neither of them recognize Israel’s right to exist, Israel’s right to define itself as a Jewish State and the alliances that both the Palestinians and Syrians have forged with radical Arab and Muslim states. All of these factors point to the likely failure of any negotiations, unless there is an equally radical breakthrough in Arab cultural and political thinking.

So, how should this diplomatic offensive proceed? I propose the following steps.

  • Israel should meet Hamas’ demands and release all the prisoners on Hamas’ list without any preconditions regarding to where they will be released. In return, Gilad Shalit will be released and sent home. Israel should insist that the released prisoners not return to terrorist activities, but in reality, both Israel and the Palestinians know that this condition cannot be enforced. We all know that there are numerous precedents for this: Israel has agreed to lop-sided prisoner exchanges before.

Hamas would benefit from such a move instantly, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would be just as quickly undermined. In order to burnish his credentials, Abbas would be compelled to publicly and loudly demand Israeli acceptance on a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital and the right of return for refugees. All of these are obvious non-starters, as far as Israel is concerned. When Abbas makes these statements, as surely he must after a prisoner swap, Jerusalem would have proof that Abbas is not willing to negotiate in good faith.

  • Thirty days after this release, providing that there has been no escalation in Palestinian violence and terrorism, Israel should unconditionally release all remaining Palestinian prisoners.

At first, this may seem to be a radical change in Israeli policy. However, there is a precedent for this too. When the British Mandate ended in May 1948, the British released all Jewish prisoners. If we accept Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement made at Bar Ilan University in 2009, Israel accepts a two-state solution. It is inconceivable that Israel would continue to hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners after the successful conclusion of peace negotiations and the establishment of a Palestinian state. This would also undermine Abbas, as this second prisoner release would be announced shortly on the heels of the first.

  • Thirty days after this second prisoner release, Israel should state that it will send a delegation to negotiate unconditionally with the Palestinians and Syrians. It should be stated that this delegation will arrive in a specific city, probably some location in Switzerland, on a specific date. The government of Israel recognizes all previous pronouncements made by Palestinian and Syrian leaders as simply “public statements of intended negotiating positions.”

If this diplomatic offensive were put into action later this month, Israel would effectively change world public opinion by the end of August. However, there is more. Israel also needs to increase the heat in America, China, Europe and Russia regarding Iran. As I have noted in editorials posted here in the past, there are already signs that any successful diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear development program will inevitably involve Israel signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If this is inevitable, Israel should use this to its advantage. Here is how to do that:

Early in the month of August, Israel should invite the head of the IAEA to Israel for a “discussion.” This discussion should be treated with all seriousness and the head of the IEAE should be afforded all honors typically reserved for a Head of State. Israel should use this as an opportunity to impress upon him the unique historical position of our country. The agenda for this visit includes:

  • The Prime Minister, the Minister of Energy, the Minister of Science and a full military honor guard, receiving him at Ben Gurion Airport;
  • A tour of the Weizman Institute, particularly its Physics Department;
  • A tour of the Nahal Soreq nuclear research facility;
  • After this, the IEAE chief should be driven south and be given a tour of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, showing him how deeply the Egyptian army penetrated into Israel in 1948. After this, a tour of Sderot.
  • In the evening, the IEAE chief should have dinner with the President and the Prime Minister.
  • On the morning of the second day, the IEAE chief should be given a full tour of Yad Vashem and be invited to lay a memorial wreath.
  • After this, he should meet for several hours with the ministers of Science and Energy and provide them with a information regarding the process for applying for membership to the IEAE. While all of this is well known, it would be a tremendous public opinion coup.
  • Early in September, before the United Nation’s annual General Assembly meeting, Israel should announce that it is formally inviting an “advance team” from the IAEA to come to Israel to start preliminary preparations for Israel’s application for membership in the IEAE.

It should be clearly stated however, both publicly and in private meetings with the leaders of America, China, Europe and Russia, that any UN resolutions against Israel’s interests would be regarded with the utmost severity. Such resolutions would have a negative impact on both negotiations with the Arabs and signing the NPT. Examples of anti-Israel resolutions would include recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and further talk about alleged Israel war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. If the autumn UN General Assembly passes without incident, then in October the IAEA “advance team” would arrive in Israel for what will be the first of many meetings.

While all this is going on, the Israeli government should keep up a steady drumbeat pointing out how consistently America has supported Israel in the past, and how Israel has been a faithful ally. It should be pointed out that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and as such, it is the vanguard of Western civilization and values. It should be pointed out to every audience that peace with Egypt and peace with Jordan was achieved through direct negotiations and mutual recognition. It should be pointed out to every audience that the Jewish people have had a cultural, historical and religious connection to the Land of Israel for over 2000 years. It should be pointed out that Israel has the right to live in peace in secure and recognized borders, and that it has the right to use all means to defend itself and its citizens.

While all this has been said before, the message has not been articulated clearly, consistently and continuously. It is time to do that.
Talking points should be sent weekly, perhaps even daily to the Israeli embassy in Washington, as well as all consulates in the United States. The emissaries of the Jewish Agency should also be drafted into this campaign. Israeli ministers should visit Jewish communities throughout the United States, focusing their appearances in electoral districts held by the Republican Part and electoral districts that the Republic Party stands a god chance of winning in Congressional elections in November.

One hundred and twenty-eight Israeli corporations are listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Certainly, all 128 of these corporations have a vested interest in going to the United States and meeting with the officials of the NASDAQ stock exchange, as well as other corporate leaders and public officials. Equally, they have a vested interest in strengthening and improving commercial and diplomatic relations between Israel and the United States. These Israeli corporate leaders should be “drafted” into this campaign, and coached as to what they should say in all their public announcements while they are in the United States.

These diplomatic initiatives and the public relations “offensive” in the US, will dramatically improve Israel’s status in world public opinion and put the Obama administration on the defensive. And what of the second stated goal, achieving a strategic breakthrough in the current stalemate vis-à-vis the Palestinians and Syrians? A shift in Israel’s status would almost automatically entail a downgrading of the Arabs’ status. This might be enough to compel them to negotiate seriously. As was stated at the outset of this position paper, negotiations are likely to fail unless there is a radical breakthrough in Arab cultural and political thinking. However, Israel should not pay the price for Arab intransigence.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cordesman on Iran

What is missing from the current rhetoric on Iran’s nuclear development program – at least what is missing from the American media – is a sober analysis of the facts on the ground. Anthony H. Cordesman is one of America’s foremost experts on strategy and international affairs. He holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS and also acts as a national security analyst for ABC News. He is a recipient of the US Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal. He has completed a wide variety of studies on U.S. strategy and defense plans, NATO modernization, the lessons of modern warfare, nuclear proliferation, counterterrorism, and the Afghan and Iraq conflicts. In other words, when it comes to international security issues, he is no slouch.

The Israeli timeframe as to when Iran will have a Nuclear Weapon is between 2009 and 2012, whereas the U.S. time frame is after 2013. Israel states that Iran should not be allowed to obtain any nuclear capabilities that could eventually allow it to produce nuclear weapons. Israel views Iran as an Existential Threat and must be dealt with in the immediate future and its leaders have been repeating this for the last two years.

In 2005 Iranian officials told officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of A.Q. Khan’s 1987 offer of centrifuge enrichment technology. If Iran received the same nuclear weapon design that A.Q. Khan gave Libya then we are looking at the P1 and P2 centrifuges. The P1 centrifuges are based on the original 1970‘s URENCO design in the Netherlands that Khan acquired knowledge of while employed at the plant. Pakistan started with this technology to produce Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons. In 2004, Iranian officials admitted that Iran also possessed more advanced P2 centrifuges. Such advanced designs could double Iran‘s enrichment capabilities, shortening the time taken for the production of HEU for a nuclear weapon.

IISS in September 2005 determined that the earliest Iran could produce sufficient HEU is by 2010 (i.e., this year). Assembling the necessary 3000 centrifuges was completed in late 2006. With 3000 centrifuges, it would take 9 months at the earliest for Iran to produce 25 kg HEU deemed necessary for a simple implosion Device. (See Mark Fitzpatrick, Survival Vol 48 no.3 Autumn 2006. “Assessing Iran’s Nuclear program.”)

Iran “hasn’t really” added any further centrifuges to refine enriched uranium, which is required for use in nuclear reactors or weapons, IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei said in February 2007. El-Baradei said he thought the reason for this was political. The IAEA said in its latest report in November 2006 that Iran had not boosted the number of centrifuges regularly refining uranium since reaching a level of 3,800 in September. “They haven’t really been adding centrifuges, which is a good thing,” E-lBaradei told reporters. “Our assessment is that it’s a political decision.” (See Reuters, Tuesday, February 17, 2009.)

The problem with the rosy scenario El-Baradei paints of “only 3800 centrifuges” is that it could produce enough HEU for a minimum of one implosion weapon each year. Therefore, Iran has already produced enough enriched uranium to construct one nuclear weapon. That’s with the P1 type centrifuges. If the Iranians are using the P2 type centrifuges, then they have produced enough enriched uranium to construct 2 – 4 nuclear weapons. And they are steadily improving their missile technology to deliver these weapons.

The US NIE stated in 2007 “We assess centrifuge enrichment is how Iran probably could first produce enough fissile material for a weapon, if it decides to do so. Iran resumed its declared centrifuge enrichment activities in January 2006, despite the continued halt in the nuclear weapons program. Iran made significant progress in 2007 installing centrifuges at Natanz, but we judge with moderate confidence it still faces significant technical problems operating them. We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon is late 2009, but that this is very unlikely. We judge with moderate confidence Iran probably would be technically capable of producing enough HEU for a weapon sometime during the 2010-2015 time frame.” (See the US National Intelligence Estimate, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities” November 2007.)

There are multiple problems with the NIE’s report. First, it is based primarily on engineering analysis and only afterwards on the limited hard intelligence it can gather within Iran. Second, Western intelligence agencies often doubt the ability of “developing nations” to master the intricacies and difficulties of modern science and engineering. This is a cultural blindfold that the US has slipped on many times, to its own detriment. Third, the timelines it presents do not take into consideration concomitant development of Iran’s ballistic missile program or its conventional efforts to conceal, disguise and defend it nuclear program. Fourth, issued in the waning years of the Bush administration, political influence on the NIE’s report cannot be dismissed.

To-date, the US and its European allies have failed to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and have failed to bring Russia and China on-board for a fourth round of economic sanctions. Cordesman implies that linking Israeli nuclear and ballistic missile programs with those of Iran might be enough to engage the Iranian leadership. The US State Department dropped hints of this almost a year ago. President Obama might offer up Israel’s nuclear development program as a last ditch negotiating tactic. However, by the time that offer is made, Israeli Jericho III missiles and squadrons for F15s & F16s will be bringing their payloads to bear on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

With a bit of foresight, Israeli leaders might send a few missiles to target Iran’s key oil facilities, further reducing the country’s ability to re-build the facilities that Israel will have destroyed.

January 31, 2010 Posted by | Middle East | | 1 Comment

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

Nuclear Tap Dance

When will the other shoe drop?

In May of this year, one potential piece of Barack Obama’s “comprehensive” peace plan emerged.  It was given very little coverage outside of the Middle East.  On May 5, 2009, the US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty. One hundred eighty six nations have.  This includes Iran, which is flagrant violation; and Libya, which was “scared straight” by former President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

At that time Uzi Even, a former Knesset member and scientist at the nuclear reactor in Dimona, said the statement by the assistant secretary of state is indicative of a change in the US’ policy towards Israel regarding its nuclear capabilities.  “In the past there was an informal agreement between the US and Israel; the Americans knew Israel possessed nuclear arms but looked the other way,” he said, “now the US is breaching this agreement.”   This would not be the last time the Obama regime has unilaterally attempted to re-write its relationship with Israel.

Even suggests that Israel must change its deliberately vague nuclear policy and sign the NPT, which would place Dimona under international supervision.  This would also allow Israel to develop nuclear weapons, at least theoretically.  However, Israel declaring its nuclear program is unlikely to have a positive effect on the stability of the region.  Arab states would then argue that Israel must disarm before any other issues can be discussed – including the dismantling of the Iranian program.

The other shoe drops

This past week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit appealed to the UN Security Council to put Israel’s nuclear program under international supervision and set a timeframe for a nuclear-free Middle East.  In a letter to the 15-member council last week, Aboul Gheit highlighted that Israel has not signed onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) adding: “Israel’s nuclear capabilities cannot evade world attention.”

The resolution, passed at the end of the annual general assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on September 24, also demands that Israel open its nuclear reactor in Dimona to international inspectors.  Thus, the Egyptians have successfully put Israel’s nuclear program on the agenda.

In the first resolution, a majority of 49 countries passed.   The majority included all the members of the Arab League and the bloc of developing nations.  Opposing the resolution were 45 Western countries, including the European Union and the United States.  There were 16 abstentions.
Although the US and Europe attempted to back Israel, the result was a foregone conclusion.  The institutions the West created in the aftermath of the Second World War were hijacked years ago.  Gotemoeller’s little speech was picked up by Egypt and they ran with it.

Bargaining Chips

If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would theoretically open the door to IAEA inspections.  This means Dimona, the site of most of Israel’s nuclear research activities, as well as several smaller facilities, such as Nahal Sorek. The reasoning goes like this: if Israel were to sign and admit inspectors, it would put pressure on Iran to give IAEA inspectors access to Iranian facilities, and also put pressure on them to start abiding by previously agreed upon limitations.  However, reason and Iran seldom go together.

If it were reasonable, wouldn’t it have responded to the first round of sanctions? What about the second round and third rounds of sanctions, which it ignored?  Reason would also dictate that with 120,000+ US troops based in countries on its eastern and western borders, Iran would act cautiously.  That hasn’t fazed the Iranians, either.  In fact, America, weary of both wars, their costs and their casualties, would like nothing better than to leave both Iraq and Afghanistan.  It knows it cannot do either, as Iran is poised to fill the vacuum should America leave precipitously.

However, let’s get back to the dance.  Increasingly, the Americans and the moderate Arab camp are viewing the Israeli nuclear program as a bargaining chip.  Why not?  It’s a good one that the so-called moderate Arab states can collect on twice.   If Israel is compelled to “come clean” on its nuclear program and weapons, immense pressure could be brought to bear on Iran. While Israel would still retain a strategic advantage, the extent of its capabilities would become known, giving the moderate camp more leverage on a host of issues: weapon purchases, their own nuclear plans and a Palestinian state.

If there were a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, it would benefit Israel and all other nations as well.  If such a prohibition were coupled with a ban on the development of biological and chemical agents, along with missile technology, it would actually be to Israel’s advantage.  Unfortunately, the US and its European allies seem to have lost the testicular fortitude necessary to take action when even their most basic ideas and values are under attack. Obama only wags his finger at tyrants in Damascus and Teheran and mutters “tsk, tsk, tsk” under the chorus of change.

September 28, 2009 Posted by | Middle East, Obama | , , , | 1 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

American Weakness

The number of unemployed Americans has doubled since 2007 to 15 million.  About 9.5 million people are collecting unemployment benefits, up from about 2.5 million two years ago.  Spending on benefits is expected to reach nearly $100 billion this year; about triple what it was two years ago.  Of course, this is all paid for by communist China’s purchase of billions of dollars worth of  Treasury securities each month.  Explaining President Obama’s reluctance to get tough with North Korea over nuclear proliferation and ballistic missiles: China is North Korea’s primary trading partner.

The recovery act passed in February provided states an additional $500 million for administration, a drop in the bucket.  It also suspended interest payments through 2011 for states paying benefits with federal loans.  This is likewise cold comfort; when the recession “ends” and state tax revenues start to increase, states will immediately be called upon to pay the piper.  This will in effect mute any economic recovery by diverting revenues to debt payments, instead of allowing states to re-invest in civic projects or rebuild their Rainy Day funds.

Sixteen states, with exhausted funds, are now paying benefits with borrowed cash, and their number could double by the year’s end.  While the strained program still makes more than 80 percent of initial payments within three weeks, cases that require individual review are especially prone to delay.  Thirty-eight states are failing to make those decisions within the federal deadline.  Of the 12.8 million eligibility reviews that have occurred during the recession, 4.6 million took more than three weeks.  That is 2.1 million more than federal rules allow.  Appeals take even longer, with 28 states violating timeliness rules, many of them severely.

For workers who survive a paycheck at a time, even a week’s delay can mean a missed rent or mortgage payment (further imperiling banks) or foregone meals (impacting everyone from farmers to restaurateurs).  Meanwhile, adjectives to describe the increasing US federal debt have all but been exhausted. The phrase “full faith and credit” is stretched to incredulity when program after program costing hundreds of billions of dollars are paid for with promises.

This dire economic situation also explains President Obama’s near-frantic efforts to initiate some sort of peace process in the Middle East, and his fears regarding a confrontation with Iran.  Any large-scale conflict between Israel and its immediate neighbors (none of which actually have any significant oil reserves) will create a temporary spike in oil prices that American consumers will have to pay.

Machiavellian analysts suggest that creating a stable dialogue between Israel on the one hand, and Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians on the other hand, would allow the US to act more forcefully vis-à-vis Iran.  Thus, any conflict with the radical Islamist regime in Teheran would have minimal impact on oil prices.  However, President Obama’s oratorical brilliance does not translate and his lack of intestinal fortitude –along with American economic weakness – is an evident weak spot.  American economic weakness is exacerbating existing conflicts around the globe and creating new sources of destabilization.  Obama needs to get his own house in order first!

July 24, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The other shoe dropping

From the ‘I told you so files’

On May 15th I posted a column to this site entitled “When will the other shoe drop?”  It analyzed a little-covered diplomatic scuffle that occurred on May 5th, when the US Assistant Secretary of State of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty.  In his June 4th speech in Cairo, President Obama stated “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not.  No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons . . . And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Propaganda Victory? Not likely!

If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would theoretically open the door to IAEA inspections.  This means Dimona, the site of most of Israel’s nuclear research activities.  The reasoning goes like this: if Israel were to sign and admit inspectors, it would put pressure on Iran to give IAEA inspectors access to Iranian facilities, and also put pressure on them to start abiding by previously agreed upon limitations.  However, reason and Iran seldom go together.

Some would contend that signing the treaty Israel would score a major propaganda victory over Iran in the struggle to contain the latter’s nuclear development program.  This is shortsighted.

Israel has a well-documented public relations problem.  Even when it takes actions that are totally justified, it takes a beating in the court of world public opinion.  Signing the NPT would focus the non-proliferation spotlight on Israel.  Secondly, signing the NPT would cause Israel to incur many, many obligations vis-à-vis the treaty’s mandatory clauses.  Every time Israel hesitated to fully disclose its nuclear capabilities, failed to give IAEA inspectors full access or provide complete documentation, it would make front-page headlines.

Giving Away Bargaining Chips

Secondly, signing the NPT and fully living up to its commitments would be an intelligence bonanza for the Arab and Iranian governments.  They would know the exact extent of all of Israel’s nuclear development programs.  They would know what technologies were being used and how they are being used.  Israel’s nuclear program would then be a yardstick by which they could measure the need to accelerate their own domestic programs.
Israel has a range of options on this matter, but is going to find itself increasing constrained over the next several years.  The options are:
•  Not to sign NPT and continue the policy of deliberate ambiguity as far as its nuclear weapons program is concerned.  This policy probably has a shelf-life of two years, three years top.
•  Sign the NPT without any pre-conditions and regardless of the fact that Iran has dropped out of it.  This option is flawed for the reasons I stated above.
•  Attempt to cut a deal similar to the one India made with the Bush Administration.  President Obama is unlikely to be so generous, however, what if Israel were to sign a similar treaty with China, India or Russia?  Both China and Russia would benefit immensely in terms of their presence on the world stage, and both countries are quite resilient to international criticism. Israel already has deep military ties with India.
•  Make a bold diplomatic move by announcing its intent to sign the treaty, if India, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea do so.  Since Iran and North Korea are almost certainly going to be unwilling to sign the NPT, it would be any empty gesture.  However, it would put the proliferation question, at least in part, back into its global perspective.

There are probably several more options that are available – like conducting a nuclear test – which I haven’t discussed.  The fall out from that option – excuse the pun – would be too negative to imagine.  Regardless of which option it chooses, either Binyamin Netanyahu or his successor will have to deal with it. The other shoe has dropped, it just hasn’t hit the ground yet.

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

A Nuclear Iran? Get ready to Freeze!

What’s the problem with a Nuclear Iran?
It sounds like a set-up line for a joke in National Lampoon, but unfortunately it’s not. Simply stated, a nuclear-armed Iran means that eventually there will be a nuclear war between Iran and Israel. Then, we will all get to be in a science experiment called “Nuclear Winter.”

Nuclear Winter was the theory that if the US and the then USSR ever got into a nuclear exchange, the fall out wouldn’t exactly fall, but rather would stay suspended in the stratosphere for years and years. That would block-out the sun, leading to worldwide crop failures. Worldwide crop failures would lead to famine, disease, wars over dwindling resources, a collapse of living standards – you get the picture.

When the fall-out eventually did fall (everything that goes up, must come down), it would bring along with it all those wonderful heavy metals that reside deep in the periodic table. Things like Cobalt 60, Strontium 90, Cesium 135, plus the many wonderful derivatives of Uranium that the Iranians are playing with now, would poison the soil for generations (something like fifty generations) to come.

Is such a confrontation inevitable?
After all, the US and the USSR had a nuclear standoff for nearly fifty years. The contest between those two superpowers survived numerous crises without either resorting to the sue of nuclear weapons, albeit there were events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur War when the two sides drew dangerously close to using the weapon of last resort. However, that is just the point that most people involved in the discussion are missing: both sides looked at nukes as a weapon of last resort. The same cannot be said of Iran.

Israel, it is widely acknowledged, has somewhere around 200 nuclear weapons of at least a Hiroshima-scale. It also has the means to deliver these via F-15 or Jericho III ballistic missiles. Israel has never acknowledged its alleged nuclear arsenal, but then again, it has never denied it. Rather, they have let its indeterminate nature serve as a form of deterrence. This deterrent would be tested if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons.

The US, USSR, Israel and other acknowledged nuclear powers, China, France, Great Britain, India and Pakistan have all realized that nuclear war is not a zero-sum game; if the weapons were to be used, everyone would lose. All of these countries accept the current world system. They understand the consequences of their actions and are willing to accept constraints. Iran is not the same.

The regime has been isolated almost from its inception. This is due in large part to the stance that they have taken in the Middle East and in the World. Its government is a set of overlapping institutions dominated by sometimes competing religious oligarchs. The best of them only want to maintain their grip on power in Iran AND the surrounding region. The worst of them – led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – have adopted a messianic stance. While the former might be willing to consider game theory before deploying nuclear options, the latter group doesn’t even acknowledge it.

Game Theory
“What is game theory?” Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is used in the social sciences (most notably economics, political science and international relations). Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behavior in strategic situations, in which an individual’s (or a state’s) success in making choices depends on the choices of others. The term from game theory that you are most likely to be familiar with is “zero-sum game.”

A zero-sum game is one in which one of the players ends up with all the marbles. Someone like Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t believe in or care about the potential impact of nuclear winter. In a nuclear exchange with Israel, they believe they will win. Israel will be destroyed, Iran will suffer “only” a million or two million casualties. Its prestige in the region will be greatly enhanced. Syria, Sudan, Hezbollah and Hamas will enter into an even tighter orbit around Teheran, the nominally democratic regime in Lebanon will fall, Iraq and the Gulf States will have no choice but to acknowledge Iranian hegemony. Game over.

In their minds, even potentially being able to create such a situation works to Iran’s advantage.

What are the options?
There are, unfortunately, no easy options. The limited sanctions imposed to-date have had no effect on the Iranian regime. They have made day-to-day life marginally more difficult for its citizens, but authoritarian regimes seldom take into account the desires of their citizens until it is too late (consider Nicolae Ceauscu and Romania, if you have any doubts about that). Additional sanctions might work, if they were implemented immediately and forcefully.

These would have to include an embargo on Iran, preventing it from importing refined gasoline and diesel oil. Ironically, it has to import more than 50% of its needs because its refining capacity is insufficient and outmoded. Likewise, a complete embargo of all oil drilling and refining equipment. A complete ban on technology products, including all types of computers, components and software is necessary. Likewise, the embargo would have to include imports of weapons and weapon technology.

On the export side, the world would have to do without Iranian crude oil and natural gas. The economy is basically a two-trick pony. It exports petroleum products and terrorism. Deny it the revenues that the former provides, and the latter will soon stop.

These actions would most likely have to be backed up with a naval blockade of the Gulf of Iran, and land blockades of trade routes through Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. All of these are Muslim countries, and need to realize that they have as much to lose from a nuclear confrontation between Israel and Iran as the participants themselves. Countries like China and Russia, who have made a small fortune supplying the Iranians with weapons and nuclear technology, would have accept a loss of revenue and a complete reversal of their recent foreign policy.

I will leave the military option to a future column.

March 29, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , | Leave a comment