Friday, June 22, 2012

Dennis Ross, dummy or dhimmi?

Something has happened in Israel. People cannot take the nonsense of foreign "Middle East experts" any more. Last week it was Moshe Ya'alon with his interview in Ha'aretz ( see previous blog post), this week it is Martin Sherman with his article worthy of George Orwell. But how is this related to MAD?  It's not, except to show that Israelis have had enough, and that will determine how they will react to the death of MAD.

Here is an excerpt from Martin Sherman's piece:

Dummy or dhimmi?                

But Ross’s counsel on Turkey is if anything even more outrageous. Ross said that it was in Jerusalem’s long-term strategic interest to try to patch up the relationship, even at the cost of issuing an apology over the Mavi Marmara incident, as Ankara has demanded.

Quite apart from the fact that if any apology is forthcoming it should be from Ankara to Jerusalem, for allowing its citizens to create the violent confrontation with Israeli forces; quite apart from the fact that it is more than a little offensive to suggest that Israel should have to apologize for its soldiers’ use of deadly force to prevent themselves being disemboweled, the logic behind his suggestion is as impaired as the morality behind it.

Ross waxes delusional, stating: “Turkey and Israel have an enormous common stake in Syria. Is it difficult to make an apology? Yes, I don’t dismiss that. But how does that weigh against wider strategic interests you have in Syria and a region undergoing tremendous upheaval?” He goes on to claim that restoration of the relationship would have an impact on the whole region, and suggests imagining what a sobering affect this type of rapprochement would have on ascendant players such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

What planet does this guy inhabit? Can he really be unaware that Turkey has undergone a fundamental transformation, that it is no longer a Western-oriented secular state but a Islamic-oriented theocratic one, that its relations with Israel are a far more a function of what it has become, than of what Israel does – or doesn’t do.

Of might well wonder: If there are so many strategic interests in common between Turkey and Israel, why doesn’t Ross suggest that Ankara forgo its childish demand for an apology? Is that his “soft racism” of low expectations showing? Or is it the dhimmi in him that feels the need for submission to the Muslim demands? Or perhaps just the dummy?

Why now?  Why did it take so long? Why had it not happened at any time in the past during the series of previous blunders - Oslo I, Oslo II, Taba, Wye, Tenet, Mitchell, Zinni, Sharm El-Sheikh, Roadmap, Annapolis?

This time it is different. The threat of nuclear annihilation clears the mind. Israel cannot afford an error with regards to Iran. It will not follow absurd advice,  be it from Dennis Ross, Secretary Clinton or President Obama.  Americans will decide the future of the US this coming November.  We are deciding ours now, by ourselves.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Moshe Ya’alon: They are completely unlike the former Soviet Union

It seems that the Israeli government has finally decided to educate its own population. About time!  When the words of Moshe Ya’alon sound as if they were part of my blog it means things are moving  fast…

It is interesting to note that even Ari Shavit, whom I respect very much, does not seem to understand why Iran is so different from the USSR during the Cold War.  And  Ari Shavit is not alone. Most of US  and Israeli journalists just do not get it. They do not get it for the simple reason because they have not done their homework on Islam in general and Shia eschatology in particular. Fortunately for Israel and the world, the Israeli government has.

By Ari Shavit | Jun.14, 2012 | 2:44 PM

Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, could a war erupt this year?

“I hope not. I hope that in regard to Iran it will be possible to say, as the old saw goes, that the work of the just is done by others. But obviously we are preparing for every possibility. If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

If you had to provide a comprehensive intelligence assessment today, would you say that the probability of a war in the year ahead is negligible, low, middling or high?

“The probability of an initiated attack on Israel is low. I do not see an Arab coalition armed from head to foot deploying on our borders − not this year, not in the year after and not in the foreseeable future. Despite the trend toward Islamization in the Middle East, we enjoy security and relative quiet along the borders. But the No. 1 challenge is that of Iran. If anyone attacks Iran, it’s clear that Iran will take action against us. If anyone, no matter who, decides to take military action against Iran’s nuclear project, there is a high probability that Iran will react against us, too, and will fire missiles at Israel. There is also a high probability that Hezbollah and Islamist elements in the Gaza Strip will operate against us. That possibility exists, and it’s with a view to that possibility that we have to deploy.”

What the vice premier is telling me is that we are close to the moment of truth regarding Iran.

“Definitely. When I was director of Military Intelligence, in the 1990s, Iran did not possess one kilogram of enriched uranium. Today it has 6,300 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level of 3.5 percent and about 150 kilograms enriched to a level of 20 percent. When I was chief of staff, in the first decade of this century, Iran had a few hundred centrifuges, most of which were substandard.

“At present there are about 10,000 centrifuges in Natanz and in Kom, which are enriching about eight kilograms of uranium a day. Since this government took office in 2009, the number of centrifuges in Iran has almost doubled and the amount of enriched uranium has increased sixfold. The meaning of these data is that Iran already today has enough enriched uranium to manufacture five atomic bombs. If Iran is not stopped, within a year it will have enough uranium for seven or eight atomic bombs.

“In addition, the Iranians apparently possess a weapons development system which they are hiding from the international supervisory apparatus. The Iranians also have 400 missiles of different types, which can reach the whole area of Israel and certain parts of Europe. Those missiles were built from the outset with the ability to carry nuclear warheads. So the picture is clear. Five years ago, even three years ago, Iran was not within the zone of the nuclear threshold. Today it is. Before our eyes Iran is becoming a nuclear-threshold power.”

But to build a nuclear bomb Iran needs uranium enriched to a level of 90 percent and above. At the moment it is still not there.

“True, but if Iran goes confrontational and goes nuclear, it has the capability to enrich uranium to above 90 percent within two or three months. Even if it does not build a standard nuclear bomb, within less than six months it will be in possession of at least one primitive nuclear device: a dirty bomb.”

If so, maybe it’s already too late. The Iranians won and we lost and we have to resign ourselves to Iran’s being in possession of nuclear weapons in the near future.

Absolutely not. It will be disastrous if we or the international community become resigned to the idea of a nuclear Iran. The regime of the ayatollahs is apocalyptic-messianic in character. It poses a challenge to Western culture and to the world order. Its scale of values and its religious beliefs are different, and its ambition is to foist them on everyone. Accordingly, it is an obligation to prevent this nonconventional regime from acquiring nonconventional weapons. Neither we nor the West is at liberty to accept an Iranian nuclear bomb. What I am telling you is not rhetoric and it is not propaganda. A nuclear Iran is a true threat to world peace.”

But you yourself are telling me that the Iranians have already crossed most of the red lines. They have swept past the points of no return. Doesn’t that mean that we are now facing the cruel dilemma of bomb or be bombed? [The Ha'aretz English translation has 'bomb or bombing'  which is confusing]  

“We are not there yet. I hope we will not get there. The international community can still act aggressively and with determination. Other developments are also feasible. But if the question is bomb or be bombed, the answer is clear: bomb. [The Ha'aretz English translation has 'bomb or bombing'  which is confusing]  

The answer is clear to you but not to me. We survived the Cold War. We also survived the nuclearization of Pakistan and North Korea. Israel is said to possess strategic capability that is able to create decisive deterrence against Iran. Would it not be right to say that just as Europe lived with the Soviet bomb, we will be able to live in the future with the Shiite bomb?

“No and no and again no. The first answer to your question is that if Iran goes nuclear, four or five more countries in the Middle East are liable to go nuclear, too. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and other Arab states will say that if Iran has a bomb they also need a bomb. The result will be a nuclear Middle East. A nuclear Middle East will not be stable and therefore the world will not be stable. Iranian nuclearization will bring in its wake nuclear chaos.

“The second answer to your question is that a nuclear umbrella will allow Iran to achieve regional hegemony. The Gulf states, finding themselves under that umbrella, will ask themselves which they prefer: distant Washington or nearby Tehran. In my view, they will opt for nearby Tehran. A nuclear Iran is liable to take control of the energy sources in the Persian Gulf and of a very large slice of the world’s oil supply. That will have far-reaching international implications. But a nuclear Iran will also challenge Israel and bring about a series of brutal conventional confrontations on our borders. That will have serious consequences for Israel.

The third answer to your question is that one day the Iranian regime is liable to use its nuclear capability. That does not mean that the day after the Iranians acquire a bomb they will load it on a plane or a missile and drop it on a Western city. But there is a danger of the use of nuclear weapons by means of proxies. A terrorist organization could smuggle a dirty bomb into the port of New York or the port of London or the port of Haifa. I also do not rule out the possibility of the direct use of nuclear weapons by means of missiles. That risk is low, but it exists. That extreme scenario is not impossible.”

But the Iranians are rational, and the use of nuclear weapons is an irrational act. Like the Soviets, they will never do that.

“A Western individual observing the fantastic ambitions of the Iranian leadership scoffs: ‘What do they think, that they will Islamize us?’ The surprising answer is: Yes, they think they will Islamize us: The ambition of the present regime in Tehran is for the Western world to become Muslim at the end of a lengthy process. Accordingly, we have to understand that their rationality is completely different from our rationality. Their concepts are different and their considerations are different. They are completely unlike the former Soviet Union. They are not even like Pakistan or North Korea. If Iran enjoys a nuclear umbrella and the feeling of strength of a nuclear power, there is no knowing how it will behave. It will be impossible to accommodate a nuclear Iran and it will be impossible to attain stability. The consequences of a nuclear Iran will be catastrophic.”

Bombing too will have catastrophic consequences: a regional war, a religious war, thousands of civilians killed.

“Anyone who has experienced war, as I have, does not want war. War is a dire event. But the question is: What is the alternative? What is the other option to war? I told you once and will tell you again: If it is bomb or bombing, from my point of view it is bombing. True, bombing will have a price. We must not underestimate or overestimate that price. We have to assume that Israel will be attacked by Iranian missiles, many of which will be intercepted by the Arrow system. We have to assume that Hezbollah will join the confrontation and fire thousands of rockets at us. Rockets will also be fired from the Gaza Strip. The probability of Syria entering the fray is low, but we have to deploy for that possibility, too. I am not saying it will be easy. But when you pit all of that against the alternative of a nuclear Iran, there is no hesitation at all. It is preferable to pay the steep price of war than to allow Iran to acquire military nuclear capability. That’s as clear as day, as far as I am concerned.”

How many casualties will we have? Hundreds? Thousands?

“I cannot estimate how many will be killed, but I suggest that we not terrify ourselves. Every person killed is great sorrow. But we have to be ready to pay the price that is required so that Iran does not go nuclear. Again: I hope it does not come to that. I hope that it will be done by others. In the Iranians’ eyes, Israel is only the Little Satan, and the United States is the Great Satan. But as I told you: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? “

Hezbollah can hit every place in Israel today: population centers, army bases, strategic targets. Doesn’t the scenario of a massive missile attack make you lose sleep?

“My assessment is that Hezbollah will enter the fray. But what happened in the Second Lebanon War will not be repeated. The way to stop the rockets is to exact from the other side a price that will oblige it to ask for a cease-fire. We have the ability to hit Hezbollah with 150 times the explosives that it can hit us with. We can also do it a lot more accurately. If we are attacked from inside Lebanon, the government of Lebanon will bear very great responsibility.”

You answered my question about the home front. But what about the argument that bombing will spark a permanent religious war and will unify the Iranian people around the regime? What about the argument that bombing will in fact cause the collapse of the sanctions and allow Iran to go confrontational and hurtle openly toward nuclear capability?

“First things first and last things last. In regard to a religious war, isn’t the regime in Iran waging a religious war against us today? In regard to the people unifying behind the regime: I do not accept that. I think that an operation could even destabilize the regime. In my estimation, 70 percent of the Iranians will be happy to be rid of the regime of the ayatollahs.

“Let me reply in greater detail to the argument that Iran will hurtle toward nuclearization on the day after the bombing. Those who focus the debate on the narrow technological aspect of the problem can argue that all that will be achieved is a delay of a year or two, not much more. If so, they will say, ‘What did we accomplish? What did we gain?’ But the question is far broader. One of the important elements here is to convince the Iranian regime that the West is determined to prevent its acquisition of nuclear capability. And what demonstrates greater determination than the use of force?

“Therefore, it is wrong for us to view a military operation and its results only from an engineering point of view. I want to remind you that in the discussions of the security cabinet before the Israeli attack on [the nuclear reactor in] Iraq, the experts claimed that Saddam Hussein would acquire a new reactor with a year. They were right from the engineering aspect but mistaken historically. If Iran does go confrontational and tries openly to manufacture nuclear weapons, it will find itself in a head-on confrontation with the international community. The president of the United States has undertaken that Iran will not be a nuclear power. If Iran defies him directly, it will have to deal with him and will embark upon a collision course with the West.”

But the Americans are with us. The Americans will rescue us. Why jump in head-first?

“There is agreement between the United States and us on the goal, and agreement on intelligence and close cooperation. But we are in disagreement about the red line. For the Americans, the red line is an order by [Ayatollah] Khamenei to build a nuclear bomb. For us, the red line is Iranian ability to build a nuclear bomb.

“We do not accept the American approach for three reasons. First, because it implies that Iran can be a threshold-power which, as long as it does not manufacture nuclear weapons in practice is allowed to possess the ability to manufacture them. Second, because in our assessment there is no certainty that it will be possible to intercept in time the precious report that Khamenei finally gave the order to build a bomb . Third, there is a disparity between the sense of threat and urgency in Jerusalem and the sense of threat and urgency in Washington.”

Yet, Israel is not believed either internationally or domestically. The feeling is that Israel is crying wolf and playing a sophisticated game of ‘Hold me back.’

“Let me say one thing to you in English, because it is very important for English speakers to understand it: ‘We are not bluffing.’ If the political-economic pressure is played out and the other alternatives are played out, and Iran continues to hurtle toward a bomb, decisions will have to be made.”

Is there a danger that the Iranian crisis will reach its peak already in the year ahead?
“There was a time when we talked about a decade. Afterward we talked about years. Now we are talking about months. It is possible that the sanctions will suddenly work. But presently we are in a situation that necessitates a daily check. I am not exaggerating: daily. From our point of view, Iranian ability to manufacture nuclear weapons is a sword held over our throat. The sword is getting closer and closer. Under no circumstances will Israel agree to let the sword touch its throat.”

Friday, June 8, 2012

Center for a New American Security’s report and its weakest link

The Center for a New American Security has come up with a detailed report on the consequences of Iranian nuclearization  titled Risk and Rivalry  - Iran Israel and the Bomb

On page 13 the report cites the famous Bernard Lewis quote:

 According to Middle East scholar Bernard  Lewis, “in this context, mutual assured destruction, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, would have no meaning.”

But it seems that the report does not consider this statement valid since on the same page it states:

Despite the abhorrent and inexcusable rhetoric of Iranian leaders, the actual behavior of the Islamic Republic over the past three decades suggests that the regime is rational. Consequently, there is a high probability that nuclear deterrence between  Israel and Iran would operate much as it did for the  superpowers during the Cold War.

As the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s  Michael Eisenstadt notes, the perception of Iran as  irrational and undeterrable is “both anachronistic  and wrong.”

 While Iran’s revolutionary leadership has repeatedly supported Islamic militancy and used violence abroad to promote its ideological agenda, Iran has also demonstrated a degree of caution, sensitivity to costs and the ability to make  strategic calculations when the regime’s survival is  at risk.

There is no evidence for the claim that Iran  is a suicidal state that would be willing to incur the  massive retaliation that would inevitably result from the use of nuclear weapons. This is unsurprising since the continued survival of the Islamic Republic  is necessary to achieve every one of the regime’s material and ideological objectives, including the success of the revolution at home and the spread of Iran’s Islamist model abroad.

Even assuming that the threat of annihilating Israel by Iranian religious leaders is rhetoric, the Bernard Lewis quote still applies to Ahmadinejad and his group, as acknowledged by the authors of the report themselves (page 17):

Apocalyptic Cults and a Collapsing Regime

Even if Iran’s current regime is rational, the regime could change in ways that make deterrence less viable.

Some fear that leaders embracing an apocalyptic variant of Shiism (sometimes referred to as the “cult of the Mahdi”) might eventually seize control of the regime. On the surface, this seems plausible because President Mahmoud  Ahmadinejad and some individuals within the  IRGC appear to subscribe to these beliefs.

 Such  messianic leaders might nihilistically welcome  destruction to usher the return of the Twelfth  Imam and the “day of judgment.”

Although it is impossible to predict the precise course of future events in Iran, this scenario seems  unlikely  Adherents to the cult of the Mahdi are a distinct and increasingly marginalized minority  in Iran, largely composed of ultraconservative lay people who are reviled by the traditional clerical establishment (including Khamenei).

 The  entire notion that nonclerics could have contact  with the Mahdi is so inherently threatening to the  clerical establishment and the institution of the  supreme leader that it is hard to see how they could  come to dominate the Islamic Republic. Indeed,  the 2011 power struggle between Khamenei and  Ahmadinejad, in which Khamenei emerged the  victor and the IRGC leadership overwhelmingly  sided with the supreme leader, included a prominent crackdown against Ahmadinejad’s allies for  their supposedly “deviant” views.

So essentially, the conclusions and recommendations of the report hinge on the assumption that the possibility that the apocalyptic variant of Shiism (sometimes referred to as the “cult of the Mahdi”) might eventually seize control of the regime is unlikely. ( At this moment Khamenai and the clerics are in power, although Ahmadinejad is the president).

What is the probability of the worst case scenario? That the apocalyptic variant of Shiism does take control? Five percent? Ten percent?  Considering the catastrophic consequences of such a scenario should not Israeli and US policy be mostly focused  towards preventing  such an outcome?   

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review of Israel vs Iran: The Shadow War by Yaakov Katz and Yoaz Hendel

The Shadow War is an excellent and broad compilation of info on the war Iran has been waging against Israel and the US on multiple fronts for the last twenty years, and Israel's and US reaction.  It is the result of a collaborative effort of a military correspondent and a military historian, men who are familiar with the ins and outs of Israeli society and therefore some of the bits and pieces of info are not necessarily the result of their journalist/historian inquiry but may well be their personal experiences as well.  

The emphasis is on the lessons Israel had learned from the Second Lebanon War and how the IDF had already applied them during Operation Cast Lead in December 20008 which was much more successful than the Second Lebanon War,  and the successful bombing  of the Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007. It becomes clear that Iran is the mastermind behind all these conflicts, with North Korean involvement in the Syrian nuclear reactor case. 
Most of the information in the book is available in open sources or declassified from interviews with different IDF officers, particularly from Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin who used to be the chief of Aman  (military intelligence) and one of the 8 fighter pilots who participated in the  bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. (First row, left, in the famous photo of the 8 pilots in the Rodger W. Claire's Raid on the Sun).  Skillfully put together the book is very readable, informative and a page turner. I read it in two days.
However, the one aspect which is important but remains unclear is the magnitude of the Iranian threat.  The crux of the issue is - can Iran be deterred?
The book mentions Prof. Rene Beres and his involvement in Project Daniel:
"After two years of meetings, mostly in conference rooms in New York and Washington, the team had completed its report and submitted it o Prime Minister Sharon in 2003. A grand strategy on how Israel should defend itself and prevent its enemies from obtaining nuclear weapons, the report's basic conclusion was that a policy of mutual assured destruction , which had prevailed between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War, would never work between Israel and Iran."
and  …
"Professor Rene Beres, and expert on nuclear policy who chaired Project Daniel ( see  chapter 7) says Israel would likely need to alter its policy of ambiguity in the event that Iran obtains a nuclear weapon.  Beres stresses that Israel would not necessarily need to open its nuclear facilities to inspectors from the International  Atomic Energy Agency, but it could succeed in bolstering its deterrence by revealing more about the weapons  it possesses.  "Israel does not need to start disclosing secrets ,"  he said . "it could be enough to lift the ambiguity by indicating the availability and capability of the weapon" 
The question that immediately comes to mind is  - what deterrence?  If Iran cannot be deterred and  MAD does not work ( conclusion of Project Daniel), it becomes irrelevant whether a policy of nuclear ambiguity or a policy of nuclear transparency is pursued. 
The opinion that Iran cannot be deterred is being  voiced by the leading scholars of Islam Prof. Bernard Lewis of Princeton University and Prof. Raphael Israeli of Hebrew University.   Bernard Lewis in his just published book  Notes on a Century  - Reflections of a Middle East Historian, page 333,  in an email to President Bush's  National Security Adviser  Stephen Hadley, writes :
              " Particular importance should be attached to the policies, and perhaps still more the attitudes, of the present rulers of Iran, who seem to be preparing for a final apocalyptic battle between the forces of God [themselves] and of the Devil [ the Great Satan--the United States].  They see this as the final struggle of the End of Time and are therefore undeterred by any level of slaughter and destruction even among their own people . "Allah will know his own" is the phase commonly used, meaning that among the multiple victims God will recognize the Muslims and give them a quick pass to heaven.

                In this context, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, namely M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) , would have no meaning.  At the End of Time, there will be general destruction  anyway.  What will matter is the final destination of the dead-- hell for the infidels, and the delights of heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement...

Prof.  Raphael Israeli in his article in the Jerusalem Post  MAD deterrence is being foiled by mad leaders, wrote:
"This brings us back to our original discussion of nuclear weaponry and the resulting MAD formula that prevented nuclear annihilation during the Cold War: So long as the possibility to hasten the return of the Imam exists, someone as clinically mad as Ahmadinejad may very well decide to use his nuclear program to this end - regardless of the costs or the global consequences. After all, in the post-apocalyptic world, only the omnipotent Imam will have the power to redress the errors made by human leaders."
I believe that opinions of these scholars should have been taken into account in the analysis of the options Israel has in facing Iran.