Monday, June 29, 2015

Dry Bones: Story Time

The President Against the Historian

Michael Oren’s candid account of Obama’s Mideast policy has won him the right enemies.


Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, has written the smartest and juiciest diplomatic memoir that I’ve read in years, and I’ve read my share. The book, called “Ally,” has the added virtues of being politically relevant and historically important. This has the Obama administration—which doesn’t come out looking too good in Mr. Oren’s account—in an epic snit.

The tantrum began two weeks ago, when Mr. Oren penned an op-ed in this newspaper undiplomatically titled “How Obama Abandoned Israel.” The article did not acquit Israel of making mistakes in its relations with the White House, but pointed out that most of those mistakes were bungles of execution. The administration’s slights toward Israel were usually premeditated.

Like, for instance, keeping Jerusalem in the dark about Washington’s back-channel negotiations with Tehran, which is why Israel appears to be spying on the nuclear talks in Switzerland. Or leaking news of secret Israeli military operations against Hezbollah in Syria.

Mr. Oren’s op-ed prompted Dan Shapiro, U.S. ambassador in Tel Aviv, to call Mr. Netanyahu and demand he publicly denounce the op-ed. The prime minister demurred on grounds that Mr. Oren, now a member of the Knesset, no longer works for him. The former ambassador, also one of Israel’s most celebrated historians, isn’t even a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party, which makes him hard to typecast as a right-wing apparatchik.

But it’s typical of the administration that no Israeli slight is too minor not to be met with overreaction—and not only because Mr. Obama and his entourage have thin skins. One of the revelations of “Ally” is how eager the administration was to fabricate crises with Israel, apparently on the theory that strained relations would mollify Palestinians and extract concessions from Mr. Netanyahu.

To some extent, it worked: In 2009, Mr. Netanyahu endorsed a Palestinian state, an unprecedented step for a Likud leader, and he later imposed a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction, a step not even Labor Party leaders like Yitzhak Rabinever took.

But no Israeli concession could ever appease Mr. Obama, who had the habit of demanding heroic political risks from Mr. Netanyahu while expecting heroic deference in return. In 2010, during a visit from Joe Biden, an Israeli functionary approved permits for the housing construction in a neighborhood of Jerusalem that Israel considers an integral part of the municipality but Palestinians consider a settlement.

The administration took the Palestinian side. Hillary Clinton spent 45 minutes berating Mr. Netanyahu over the phone. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg “summoned” Mr. Oren to Foggy Bottom and read out his list of administration demands. What follows is one of the more memorable scenes in “Ally.”

“Steinberg added his own furious comments—department staffers, I later heard, listened in on our conversation and cheered—about Israel’s insult to the president and the pride of the United States. Then came my turn to respond.

“ ‘Let me get this straight,’ I began. ‘We inadvertently slight the vice president and apologize, and I become the first foreign ambassador summoned by this administration to the State Department. Bashar al-Assad hosts Iranian president Ahmadinejad, who calls for murdering seven million Israelis, but do you summon Syria’s ambassador? No, you send your ambassador back to Damascus.’ ”

“Ally” is filled with such scenes, which helps explain why it infuriates the administration. Truth hurts. President Obama constantly boasts that he’s the best friend Israel has ever had. After reading Mr. Oren’s book, a fairer assessment is that Mr. Obama is a great friend when the decisions are easy—rushing firefighting equipment to Israel during a forest fire—a grudging friend when the decisions are uncomfortable—opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N.—and no friend at all when the decisions are hard—stopping Iran from getting a bomb.

Best friends are with you when the decisions are hard.
Since “Ally” was published, Mr. Oren has been denounced in near-hysterical terms in the media, Israeli and American. In Israel the carping is politics as usual and in the U.S. it’s sucking-up-to-the-president as usual. The nastiest comments came from Leon Wieseltier, the gray eminence of minor magazines, and the most tedious ones came from the Anti-Defamation League, that factory of moral pronouncement. When these are the people yelling at you, you’ve likely done something right.

Mr. Oren has. His memoir is the best contribution yet to a growing literature—from Vali Nasr’s “Dispensable Nation” to Leon Panetta’s “Worthy Fights”—describing how foreign policy is made in the Age of Obama: lofty in its pronouncements and rich in its self-regard, but incompetent in its execution and dismal in its results. Good for Mr. Oren for providing such comprehensive evidence of the facts as he lived them.


It is interesting that Michael Oren managed to do what Bret Stephens never did – quote Bernard Lewis’s opinion on MAD and Iran! 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Michael Oren vs Martin Indyk showdown

“CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS”



FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN GPS: In the last few years, the U.S.-Israeli relationship has been brought to the lowest point that many observers can remember. There are deep disagreements between President Obama and PM Netanyahu on everything from a two-state solution to the nuclear talks with Iran. And, by most accounts, the two men just don't like each other.

My next guest, Michael Oren, was Israel's Amb. to the U.S. under Netanyahu. He has written a very controversial new book called Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide. In the book, and in subsequent articles, he explains all the ways he thinks the Obama administration lost the trust of Israel - from allowing public "daylight" on disagreement between the two nations, to the President making speeches about the Middle East that the White House didn't clear with the PM first, and much more.

I asked Martin Indyk to join me, as well. He was President Obama's Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In that job, he was on the other side of many of the issues that Oren brings up. He was also U.S. Amb. to Israel under Bill Clinton.

We began by talking about the "daylight" and the speeches. But I want to pick up the conversation where I asked about one other criticism that Oren made of the Obama administration. Listen in.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you, Michael, about another decision that you seem - you seem to have certain - some problems with, which was the decision to appoint Martin Indyk Special Envoy.  You say in the book you thought it was counter-productive because Bibi Netanyahu didn't like him. Now…
MICHAEL OREN, FORMER ISRAELI AMB. TO THE U.S.: I thought - I thought it was odd appointment…

ZAKARIA: Just - but…

OREN: Martin and I have discussed this.

ZAKARIA: Well, -

OREN: Certainly.

ZAKARIA: - it says "It was counter-productive and it made me think, if Kerry was serious about the peace process, why did he seem intent on shaking Israel's faith?" And my only question to you is, do you think that the United States government, when appointing special envoys, should, you know, worry about the sensibilities of a country - of Israel?

OREN: Martin I've known for many years and appreciate his knowledge and his experience in diplomacy. But, and I think - I think Martin would not disagree with me, he had a famously strained relationship with Netanyahu, and his appointment was, I thought, an unusual one, to say the least, if you're trying to establish trust.

My mantra, if you will, to the administration from the - from day one was that Israelis respond to feeling secure. They do not respond to threats. They do not respond to pressure. It - I always would say try love, try love. If you embrace us, make us feel secure, we will go that extra mile.
And it seemed to me from pretty much on, early on, in 2009, that that message was not being - was not being internalized…

ZAKARIA: Martin?

OREN: –not by everybody. With Martin's appointment, I think we discussed ways that he could build that trust and, in the end, I don't think that Martin would disagree that that trust was not established and that the relations ended up being famously strained.

ZAKARIA: Martin?

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY FOR ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Well, famously strained is Michael's characterization. I simply don't agree with that at all. My relationship with Netanyahu had its ups and downs, but I would say something which Michael doesn't know, and this - this goes to a lot of the things that are in his book. He relates something where he has partial knowledge. Amb. Shapiro has criticized him for not knowing everything that was going on.

In this case, he clearly did not know that my appointment as Special Envoy was cleared by Secretary of State Kerry with PM Netanyahu. He assented to my appointment.

As for building trust, Michael doesn't know that - the extent to which I went to build that trust with the PM, indeed following Michael's advice on this. And we did work closely together during those negotiations, and I followed certain understandings that the PM and I reached about what I would and wouldn't do and, during those negotiations, I think we had a relationship of trust.

When those relations broke down, I criticized both sides for the failure of those negotiations. I actually praised the PM publicly for his efforts to go the extra mile. So I just think that this is another case in which Michael - in the - in the process of trying to build a case against President Obama, has misconstrued what actually happened.

OREN: I think it's an odd response for ambassadors, whether Amb. Shapiro or Amb. Indyk, to say that another ambassador doesn't have a full picture but they do. Of course ambassadors don't have the full picture. We have our - we have our insights, our perceptions, and that’s what this book is about. The book does not claim even to know the entire picture. It know - the book is about what the, the situation looked, the unfolding events, how they seemed from the perspective of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. So there's no claim - there's no claim to omnipotence here. There's none whatsoever.
But, but, but at the end of this process - and now we're talking about a process that at the end it actually was - took place for the most part after my term in Washington. In Israel the only blame, the only blame that is really heard was the blame that both Martin and Secretary of State Kerry put on Israel for settlement building in areas which are not considered settlements by the people of Israel. They are considered the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem that no Israelis think of as settlements. And that the PM of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, specifically chose to release Palestinian terrorist prisoners, who had killed hundreds of Israelis, to keep the settlement issue off the table.
And then to turn around and condemn Israel for building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem which nobody considers settlements was simply unfair and under - it just - for my mind was another example of under –

INDYK: That's not what happened, Michael…

OREN: - of undermining…

INDYK: That's simply not what happened…

OREN: - of under the trust…

INDYK: As a historian, you're not giving an accurate account of what happened…

OREN: As a historian and, and an Israeli…

INDYK: I don't understand why - why - why… When both of us…

ZAKARIA: Let's give Martin a chance, Michael.

OREN: Please.
INDYK: When both of us care deeply about the U.S.-Israel relationship and both of us can at least agree that the relationship is in crisis, why you would want to come out and pour flames on the fire in this way, in this incendiary way, is really something that I find quite incomprehensible.

OREN: It's interesting, you know. One of the points I make in the book is that the administration was very, very disciplined - I actually said this with respect. You know, in Israel we have a rather rambunctious diploma - democracy where every member of the cabinet is a potential PM and everybody has their own messaging. But the Obama administration was exceedingly disciplined in its messaging.
That line that you just heard, Fareed, “why would you want to pour a bucket of fuel on a fire,” I have now heard from four different people who have been briefed by the administration. So I'm glad that my - your guest has been appropriately briefed by the administration.

INDYK: But what is the point?  I mean that…

OREN: The point is very simple.

INDYK: First of all, Michael, that is simply not true.

OREN: Here - here…

INDYK: I've spoken to nobody in the administration.

OREN: You just chose - you just chose those words randomly?

INDYK: I've spoken to nobody in the administration…

OREN: Of course you have.

INDYK: I'm talking about what you're actually…

OREN: But of course you have.

INDYK: I have not, Michael.

OREN: But of course you –

INDYK: - not one person about this.

OREN: - you couldn't have chosen those words randomly. They’ve come - they actually appear in pa - in the front-page of Haaretz today…

INDYK: Because that’s exactly what you're doing. It doesn't require anybody to be told what to say to know that that's what you're doing.

OREN: Well I think you're well-briefed. But let's get to the heart of this. Why now?

INDYK: I’m not - how can you make an accusation like that - ?

OREN: You raised a question. Let's - you raised a question.

INDYK: - that is based on nothing?

OREN: Let’s, let’s get to the heart of the issue.

INDYK: There’s no fact in that.

OREN: We are missing, we are missing the huge forest for the trees right now. This book was scheduled to come out in October. And it would have been much easier for me. I'd be on break from the Knesset then, but I pressured my publisher, Random House, to bring it out now, before the fateful vote on Iran. This is not about books. It's not about fires. It's not about pouring - it's not about pouring fuel on fires. It's about the security and the future survival of the Jewish State.  It's not about legacy. It's not about diplomacy. It's about my children's lives, my grandchildren's lives, and I am not speaking as anybody's spokesman here, except for myself. But I'm telling you this is a very bad deal that endangers our future security and survival. That's what it's about.

ZAKARIA: All right, Michael, you got the first word. I'm going to give Martin the last.

INDYK: Look, I think that the issue of the Iran deal is being exaggerated in a way that distorts what is happening here. The purpose of the deal is to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons - to be meaningful curbs on its nuclear program, and should be assessed in that way.

Instead, the way that Michael portrays it is that it's going to produce an Iranian nuclear weapon that's going to be used to destroy Israel. And I think that's a vastly emotional and a historical approach to the problem that's being focused on here.

And, if that is in fact the case, then it behooves Israel's leadership and it behooves Michael to find a way to work with the administration, which the President is willing to do. I think that the critical, the critical issue here is that the United States is Israel's second line of defense, its most important strategic ally, and the relationship needs to be repaired, not further damaged. And what Michael is doing is causing it further damage for no good purpose.

ZAKARIA: Gentlemen, a spirited conversation. I thank you both for being frank and honest.
OREN: Good day.

 ###WEB EXTRA###
 FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: Michael, let me begin with you and ask you about the op-ed that you wrote in the Wall Street Journal, which was titled "How Obama Abandoned Israel," and in some ways it distills, I suppose, some of the core arguments in the book. And you say that Obama violated two core principles that undergirded U.S.-Israeli relations: to have no public daylight between Israel and the United States, and to have no surprises.

Now, a number of people have criticized that essay, pointing out - this is now Peter Beinart in the Atlantic, who says the Obama administration is hardly unique in criticizing Israel publicly. Reagan criticized Israel publicly during the invasion of Lebanon. Bush Sr. criticized Israel, in fact, threatened to withdraw loan guarantees. The Bush Jr. had some criticisms of Israel on the settlements policy, in fact abstained in a U.N. resolution. And, he says, by the way, if no public disagreement is the principle, surely the man who violated it most strenuously was Bibi Netanyahu by going and scheduling a speech to Congress behind the administration's back.

So what is your response to that argument - that the United States has often criticized Israel publicly, Obama is not, in fact, has not done anything like Reagan or Bush Sr., and that Bibi Netanyahu really is the guy who's been making all the public disagreements?

MICHAEL OREN, FORMER ISRAELI AMB. TO THE U.S.: First of all, again, good to be with you, Fareed. Thank you for having me on the show. I'm an historian by training and I can lay claim to probably out-quoting instances in history where the United States and Israel have disagreed publicly. Eisenhower threatened to put sanctions on Israel for the 1956 Suez campaign. John Kennedy openly disagreed with Israel's construction of the Dimona nuclear reactor. There are many instances.

This is the one case, which, to my mind as an historian - not just as a diplomat - where there was a policy decision made to put daylight between Israel and the United States publicly, and it was made well in advance of Netanyahu's speech last March before the joint meeting of Congress. It was made in the first months of the Obama administration, back in 2009. I was serving at the time. I knew it was a policy decision to put daylight. And the President explained it by saying that if you do not have daylight, then the Israelis won't move toward peace.

ZAKARIA: But I don't understand, Michael. Are you saying that when Ronald Reagan said to his diplomats, I want you to publicly criticize the invasion of Lebanon by Israel, when George W. Bush said, I want to withhold loan guarantees, those were not policy decisions?
I'm trying to understand.

OREN: There were policy decisions about specific instances. I'm talking about a policy decision about the relationship between the United States and Israel. And that relationship had always been founded on two core principles. One was no daylight. We have disagreements, but those disagreements, when we can, we will keep them behind closed doors.
Perhaps one of the greatest crises…

ZAKARIA: And - can I…

OREN: Let me finish this one last point.

One of the greatest crises we've had in recent years was just before I came on board in 2009, was the proposed sale of Israeli military equipment to China. And that was a huge crisis. But it was kept largely out of the press because George Bush preserved the notion of no daylight.

The other core principle was no surprises. You do not go to Cairo, as the President did in June 2009, and give a very long speech, in fact twice as long as his first inaugural address, and - which deals with issues which are of vital security importance to the State of Israel - not just on the Palestinian issue, but particularly on the Iranian issue - without ever consulting the State of Israel. That was a departure from long-standing American policy.

ZAKARIA: Martin, how do you respond to those charges?

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER SPECIAL ENVOY FOR ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Well, I don't think there was any policy decisions Michael claims. I think there's a theory of the case that President Obama had - I believe it was the wrong theory of the case, and I'm on the record about that for many years now - that by distancing the United States from Israel, he could curry favor in the Arab world and that would help Israel because it would improve America's ability to influence the Arabs in Israel's favor. And that was the approach that he was pursuing.

It was the wrong theory of the case, but, for instance, he went to Saudi Arabia on that first trip, in coordination with PM Netanyahu, to try to get the Saudis to be more forthcoming towards Israel, in pursuit of the theory of the case.

What was wrong with the theory of the case was that it lost the trust of the Israeli people. He made a mistake by not going to Israel after the Cairo speech.

As for coordinating the Cairo speech with Israel in advance, that's not something any administration would have done. And to single out Obama for not doing that and somehow surprising Israel because of that, I think just misrepresents the reality.

For sure there were places where the relationship between PM Netanyahu and President Obama went sour. And Michael was witness to that. But I believe that the heart of the problem, and this is something where I know that Michael agrees with me on this, is that the PM was not prepared to engage the Prime - the President with an initiative on the Palestinians that would have given them a common cause. And it's at heart the differences of how to deal with the Palestinian issue that caused a great rupture in the relationship.

OREN: Oh, I would, I would beg to disagree. I mean, Martin, you served under President Clinton as his ambassador to Israel and certainly any major policy declaration by the Clinton administration which dealt with issues that were vital to Israel's national security, Israel had a chance to submit its comments to that with advance copies.

INDYK: That’s not true.

OREN: And with the - with the Obama administration, this was a consistent policy. There was no time that I can recall in the nearly five years in Washington where I was given a heads up.

And in one case, which I cite in the book, which is in May of 2011, where the President was about to give a major speech on the Arab Spring, I was ensured by the White House the previous day that the speech would not have an Israeli-Palestinian component. And of course the major thrust of the speech was the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Now this goes to the issue - this goes to the matter of trust. We are at a crucial juncture right now. We are several weeks away, at most, from the possible signing of an agreement between the United States and other international organizations, the P5+1, and Iran.

This is not Benjamin Netanyahu's view. It's the view of the State of Israel. I'm a Knesset member and I tell you we - the various parties in Knesset agree on virtually nothing, but there's close to a national consensus that this is a very bad deal that endangers the future of the State of Israel. And one of the cardinal questions is whether there is trust of the United States. The President is coming to the people of Israel and saying trust me.

So we have to address the question of whether that trust has been built up over the course of the last five plus years of the Obama administration. And having lived through that period, I have to say emphatically no.

ZAKARIA: Martin, when you look - think about the issue of trust and of surprises, looking at it from the Obama administration's point of view, I assume that they were surprised and regarded it as a breach of trust that PM Netanyahu would schedule a speech to the - to a joint session of Congress without consulting with them.

INDYK: Yes, well that was - that was certainly the extreme case, and Michael and I, again, we’re in agreement that that was a mistake on Netanyahu's part…

OREN: We did.

INDYK: - to do that. But I think it was symptomatic of the breakdown in trust, and I think from the Obama point of view, and Michael has this in his book, PM Netanyahu was coming to the administration on a - on a daily, weekly basis asking the administration to help Israel, help protect Israel from the horrendous efforts to isolate it in international forums. There isn't a day that goes past in the United Nations when the United States isn't helping to protect Israel against the anti-Israel onslaught there.
And the feeling in the administration just built up over time that the PM would come to them for everything. And they would respond as best they could in every case. But whenever the administration came to the PM to try to get him to do something, particularly on the Palestinian issue, the answer was no, I can't do it, because of my politics won't let me.

OREN: Except in…

INDYK: And that I think is at heart the problem with the breakdown in trust.

OREN: May - if I may, Fareed. May 2009, when the President - after the President comes to PM Netanyahu and says I need you to come out in favor of the two-state solution. Now, keep in mind, Netanyahu is not Yitzhak Rabin, he's not Ehud Olmert, he's not even Ariel Sharon. He's the head of the Likud party. And the Likud party now for over a generation has rejected the notion of a two-state solution. Netanyahu becomes the first head of the Likud to come out publicly at the Bar Ilan speech in favor of the two-state solution.

That was - that was what we call in diplomacy very heavy lifting. Then Netanyahu turns around the following fall and orders the first 10-month moratorium on new Israel construction in the West Bank. It's never been done before. It wasn't even done by Rabin. Very heavy lifting. And the question was, did he get credit for it? Did it put the relationship on a different basis?

Now Martin knows that I was - I was strongly in favor of both of those measures. I was not in favor of the Congress speech - not where it was given; I'm very much in favor of the content of the speech, the way that the PM depicted the very bad deal that is - that is approaching with Iran.
But even those times where Netanyahu went out on a limb, and a very dangerous extensive limb, to try to get onto a different footing with the President, it didn't succeed. And, as an ambassador who was advocating for that type of going the extra mile, it didn't help my position any.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Iran Deal’s Fatal Flaw

 JUNE 23, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S main pitch for the pending nuclear deal with Iranis that it would extend the “breakout time” necessary for Iran to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. In a recent interview with NPR, he said that the current breakout time is “about two to three months by our intelligence estimates.” By contrast, he claimed, the pending deal would shrink Iran’s nuclear program, so that if Iran later “decided to break the deal, kick out all the inspectors, break the seals and go for a bomb, we’d have over a year to respond.”
Unfortunately, that claim is false, as can be demonstrated with basic science and math. By my calculations, Iran’s actual breakout time under the deal would be approximately three months — not over a year. Thus, the deal would be unlikely to improve the world’s ability to react to a sudden effort by Iran to build a bomb.
Breakout time is determined by three primary factors: the number and type of centrifuges; the enrichment of the starting material; and the amount of enriched uranium required for a nuclear weapon. Mr. Obama seems to make rosy assumptions about all three.
Most important, in the event of an overt attempt by Iran to build a bomb, Mr. Obama’s argument assumes that Iran would employ only the 5,060 centrifuges that the deal would allow for uranium enrichment, not the roughly 14,000 additional centrifuges that Iran would be permitted to keep mainly for spare parts. Such an assumption is laughable. In a real-world breakout, Iran would race, not crawl, to the bomb.
These additional centrifuges would need to be connected, brought up to speed and equilibrated with the already operating ones. But at that point, Iran’s enrichment capacity could exceed three times what Mr. Obama assumes. This flaw could be addressed by amending the deal to require Iran to destroy or export the additional centrifuges, but Iran refuses.
Second, since the deal would permit Iran to keep only a small amount of enriched uranium in the gaseous form used in centrifuges, Mr. Obama assumes that a dash for the bomb would start mainly from unenriched uranium, thereby lengthening the breakout time. But the deal would appear to also permit Iran to keep large amounts of enriched uranium in solid form (as opposed to gas), which could be reconverted to gas within weeks, thus providing a substantial head-start to producing weapons-grade uranium.
Third, Mr. Obama’s argument assumes that Iran would require 59 pounds of weapons-grade uranium to make an atomic bomb. In reality, nuclear weapons can be made from much smaller amounts of uranium (as experts assume North Korea does in its rudimentary arsenal). A 1995 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that even a “low technical capability” nuclear weapon could produce an explosion with a force approaching that of the Hiroshima bomb — using just 29 pounds of weapons-grade uranium.
Based on such realistic assumptions, Iran’s breakout time under the pending deal actually would be around three months, while its current breakout time is a little under two months. Thus, the deal would increase the breakout time by just over a month, too little to matter. Mr. Obama’s main argument for the agreement — extending Iran’s breakout time — turns out to be effectively worthless.
By contrast, Iran stands to gain enormously. The deal would lift nuclear-related sanctions, thereby infusing Iran’s economy with billions of dollars annually. In addition, the deal could release frozen Iranian assets, reportedly giving Tehran a $30 billion to $50 billion “signing bonus.”
Showering Iran with rewards for making illusory concessions poses grave risks. It would entrench the ruling mullahs, who could claim credit for Iran’s economic resurgence. The extra resources would also enable Iran to amplify the havoc it is fostering in neighboring countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Worst of all, lifting sanctions would facilitate a huge expansion of Iran’s nuclear program. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, says that he wants 190,000 centrifuges eventually, or 10 times the current amount, as would appear to be permissible under the deal after just 10 years. Such enormous enrichment capacity would shrink the breakout time to mere days, so that Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb before we even knew it was trying — thus eliminating any hope of our taking preventive action.
Nothing in the pending deal is worth such risks. Unless President Obama can extract significantly greater concessions at the negotiating table, Congress should refuse to lift sanctions, thereby blocking implementation of a deal that would provide Iran billions of dollars to pursue nuclear weapons and regional hegemony.
Alan J. Kuperman is an associate professor and the coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin

How Michael Oren Got Blasted by Inside-the-Beltway Noise Machine

More than two years after moving back from Israel, I still feel like a newbie in weird Washington. Feel the air: so hot and humid that when it rains, it feels more like an ancient marsh rising up from the earth. Thirsty? There’s the innovative use of alcohol, at all times of day, as a replacement for caffeine. Now taste the food: Even the fancy restaurants serve up bland fat-and-carb fare that’s more wonk-fuel than cuisine.

There are special sounds, too. Listen closely, and you will hear the noise machine.

What is the noise machine? It’s a big, organized collection of individuals and groups that actively promotes whatever policy the White House is pushing on a given day, creating the impression of public support — kind of like a sailboat tugging a huge electric fan, humming day and night, pushing the boat forward. Now, I know that every political party and corporation on earth has its own noise machine. But no PR effort is as well funded and sophisticatedly spun as those of the great centers of executive political power. And with the possible exception of the Kremlin, none is as impressive as that of the White House, under any administration. Most people working for that noise machine are not on the payroll of the federal government. Many are paid by supporting organizations. Others volunteer. But you can tell who they are by their uncharacteristic fluidity of speech — it’s easier to rehearse arguments from a talking-points memo—and by the quickness of their outrage at seemingly trivial things.

Right now, the urgent efforts of the noise machine are promoting a historic nuclear deal with Iran. This makes sense: This is the signature policy effort of the past few years (Ben Rhodes called it “The ObamaCare of the second term”). The deadline is very soon, and it’s an obviously tough sell: Talks initiated with the stated aim of dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons program have morphed into a deal that feels more like “Iran agrees to put off building its bomb until the next administration, and in exchange they get to keep their bomb-building capabilities, have sanctions removed, and implicitly legitimize their expansionism, their terror support, their ballistic missiles and their human rights abuses.” Bait, meet switch.

When somebody comes along who threatens to seriously harm the noise machine’s efforts at such a crucial moment, you can bet that the machine’s vast appalled galvanized chromium umbrage will focus on them. Like when the prime minister of Israel had the gall to accept a congressional invitation to give a speech that called for a different approach on the Iran deal than that of the administration. Or this year, when Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, releases a book telling of his time in Washington (“Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide”) and does it just when the talks are coming to a head. In it we see an insider’s account of the dramatic change of America’s behind-the-scenes policy toward the Iranian regime, dating all the way back to the administration’s first year: from its tepid response to the democratic protests in 2009, to harsh warnings against an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, to actions that contradicted the official White House line that “all options are on the table” with Iran. Without ever slipping into hyperbole, the book’s measured narrative seems to confirm a lot of what the administration’s critics have been accusing it of: enabling the Iranian regime rather than really trying to stop it, while putting a vice grip on the increasingly alarmed Israelis.

Now, like about half the people writing about this book, I have known the author personally. I worked with him years ago, when we were both connected to the same research institute in Jerusalem, when I edited his occasional essays at the journal Azure. We have stayed in touch. We disagree on Israeli politics, and it’s safe to say that he’s no Likudnik. He is also a decent person, a meticulous historian and, as everybody knows by now, a masterful storyteller.

In his new book he tells an incredible story that has been largely drowned out by the noise machine. This has happened because he also does a few things that, from the White House’s perspective, hurt a lot. None of them are unreasonable for a professional historian who had a close-up view of history unfolding. None of them violate codes or red lines in journalism or public debate. He analyzed not just the policies, but also the possible motives of President Obama against his biographical background. He gave his impressions of the uses of Jewish identity among people defending the White House. In the interviews and columns leading up to the launch, he repeated these themes.

This is all pretty standard stuff, and probably wouldn’t have raised much of a storm if they had been published at a different time. Analyzing a leader’s motivations against the backdrop of his upbringing is no different from David Remnick of The New Yorker analyzing the motives of Benjamin Netanyahu in light of his own father. And risking accusations of stereotyping in order to hold a mirror to some American Jews may be uncomfortable, but it is legitimate: Many Israelis, like myself, react the same way when trying to understand some American Jews. Nobody seriously worried about our collective Jewish future should want to silence that perspective. Why, then, the freakout? The noise machine, that’s why.

Oren’s book fell into the noise machine like a clock into a clothes dryer. There is no other way to explain why, for example, the State Department felt that alongside its pretty busy schedule, it should send officials to attack the book — unless they are attacking it for the same reason that they Twitter-bombed a recent New York Times report about the amount of nuclear fuel the Iranians are stockpiling. When faced with a serious threat to its messaging, the noise machine goes into action, like antibodies against a virus. But anyone without skin in the game can see that those involved are overreacting — just as they did when Netanyahu came to Washington, or when he said things he shouldn’t have said in the run-up to an election and then apologized. Politicians in every democracy run for office, say stupid things, walk them back, and everyone moves on when it’s over. I recall Obama saying a few stupid things when he ran for president as well.

Oren has been accused of being a politician. True — though the noise machine had no problem when the same politician spoke critically of Netanyahu’s Washington speech during the Israeli election campaign. He has also been accused of trying to boost book sales — which, last I heard, are how authors make a living. But none of this actually addresses the substance of the story he is telling, or justifies all those well-orchestrated displays of outrage. That’s why David Rothkopf, editor of the FP Group, who despite knowing Oren for decades still finds some of his remarks “offensively wrong,” nonetheless argues that the reaction to the book has been “disproportionate” and that Oren’s “views demand to be published because they are a vital piece of evidence as to why the rift in the U.S.-Israel relationship has become what it is.”

The most important goal of a well-oiled noise machine, you see, is to change the subject. Instead of addressing the criticism, it makes the messenger into the story.

But sophisticated readers should be able to see through it. The book, you will find, is an irreplaceable trove of insight into what will one day be seen as a momentous historical turn. And we will be forever grateful to Oren for having written it.

David Hazony is the editor of The Tower Magazine and is a contributing editor to the Forward.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Iran Deal, Then and Now

JUL 6, 2015, VOL. 20, NO. 41 • BY STEPHEN F. HAYES

One week before the June 30 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a series of demands about the final terms. Among them: He called for an immediate end to all United Nations Security Council and U.S. economic sanctions on Iran; he said Iranian military sites would not be subject to international inspections; he declared that Iran would not abide a long-term freeze on nuclear research; and he ruled out interviews with individuals associated with Iran’s nuclear program as part of any enforcement plan.

The New York Times headline read “Iran’s Supreme Leader, Khamenei, Seems to Pull Back on Nuclear Talks.” That’s one explanation. The more likely one: Khamenei understands that Barack Obama is desperate for this deal and will agree to just about anything to make it a reality. In private remarks caught on tape, top White House foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes likened the Iran deal to Obamacare in its importance to the administration. And on April 2, the president held a press conference to celebrate the preliminary “historic understanding with Iran” that, he said, was “a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives.”

But the impending deal is not a good one. It legitimizes a rogue state, shifts regional power to the world’s most aggressive state sponsor of terror, strengthens the mullahs’ hold on power, and guides Iran to nuclear threshold status. Those are not our “core objectives.” They are Iran’s.

A steady stream of news reports in the weeks before the deadline has brought into sharp focus the extent of the administration’s capitulation. Among the most disturbing new developments: the administration’s decision to offer relief on sanctions not directly related to Iran’s nuclear program and its abandonment of hard requirements that Iran disclose previous nuclear activity, without which the international community cannot establish a baseline for future inspections.

From the beginning of the talks, the Obama administration has chosen to “decouple” negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program from the many other troubling aspects of Tehran’s behavior. It was bit of self-deception that allowed the United States and its negotiating partners to pretend that concerns about the Iranian regime’s possessing nuclear weapons had everything to do with nuclear weapons and nothing at all to do with the nature of the Iranian regime; it was an approach that treated Iran as if it were, say, Luxembourg. The Obama administration simply set aside Iran’s targeting of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, its brutal repression of internal dissent, its provision of safe haven and operational freedom for al Qaeda leadership, and its support for terrorists sowing discord throughout the region and beyond.

Now we learn that the administration is effectively ending this decision to “decouple” nuclear talks from broader regime behavior, not in order to hold Iran to account for its many offenses but as something of a reward for its supporting a nuclear deal. It is a swift and stunning -reversal. In his Rose Garden statement less than three months ago, the president declared that under the terms of any agreement, sanctions on Iran “for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.” But the Associated Press reported earlier this month that “the Obama administration may have to backtrack on its promise that it will suspend only nuclear-related economic sanctions” and will do so by redefining what it means to be “nuclear-related.” Under the new interpretation, sanctions -unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program may be deemed “nuclear-related” if they helped push Iran into nuclear talks or if they overlap with “previous actions conceived as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.” 

Likewise, the U.S. capitulation on Iranian disclosure of previous nuclear activity is both hasty and alarming. As recently as April, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Iranian disclosure of past activity was a red line for U.S. negotiators. “They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done. It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be.” 

But on June 16, Kerry cast aside those demands. “We’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in. What we’re concerned about is going forward.” 

We can’t yet know all the concessions the United States has made in order to secure a deal, but the list of those that are known is long and embarrassing. 

On decoupling nuclear negotiations and sanctions relief on nonnuclear items

Then: “We have made very clear that the nuclear negotiations are focused exclusively on the nuclear issue and do not include discussions of regional issues.”

March 10, 2015, Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokesman,
email to
 The Weekly Standard

“Other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.”

April 2, 2015, Barack Obama, statement in the Rose Garden

“Iran knows that our array of sanctions focused on its efforts to support terrorism and destabilize the region will continue after any nuclear agreement.” 

June 7, 2015, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, remarks to Jerusalem Post conference, New York City

Now: “Administration officials say they’re examining a range of options that include suspending both nuclear and some non-nuclear sanctions.” 
June 9, 2015, Associated Press

On the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program and disclosure of past activities

Then: “They have to do it. It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done. .  .  . It will be part of a final agreement. It has to be.” 

April 8, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry interview with The NewsHour

“The set of understandings also includes an acknowledgment by Iran that it must address all United Nations Security Council resolutions—which Iran has long claimed are illegal—as well as past and present issues with Iran’s nuclear program that have been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This would include resolution of questions concerning the possible military dimension of Iran’s nuclear program, including Iran’s activities at Parchin.” 

November 23, 2013, White House fact sheet, First Step: Understandings Regarding
the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program

Now: “World powers are prepared to accept a nuclear agreement with Iran that doesn’t immediately answer questions about past atomic weapons work. .  .  . Instead of resolving such questions this month, officials said the U.S. and its negotiating partners are working on a list of future commitments Iran must fulfill.” 

June 11, 2015, Associated Press

“We’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in. What we’re concerned about is going forward.”
 June 24, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry, remarks at a press availability

On shuttering the secret nuclear facility at Fordo

Then: The Obama administration and its partners are “demanding the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling” of the nuclear facilities at Fordo. 
April 7, 2012, New York Times

“We know they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful program.” 

December 6, 2013, Barack Obama, remarks at the Saban Forum

Now: “Under the preliminary accord, Fordo would become a research center, but not for any element that could potentially be used in nuclear weapons.”
April 22, 2015, New York Times

“The 1044 centrifuges [at Fordo] designated only for non-nuclear enrichment will remain installed, so they could potentially be reconverted to enriching uranium in a short time regardless of technical or monitoring arrangements.” 

June 17, 2015, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Olli Heinonen, former IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards, and Simon Henderson, director
of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at WINEP 

A draft copy of the final agreement allows Fordo to remain open, “saying it will be used for isotope production instead of uranium enrichment.” 
June 24, 2015, Associated Press

On suspension of enrichment

Then: “Our position is clear: Iran must live up to its international obligations, including full suspension of uranium enrichment as required by multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.” 
April 7, 2012, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, New York Times

Now: “Agreement on Iran’s uranium enrichment program could signal a breakthrough for a larger deal aimed at containing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities.” The tentative deal imposes “limits on the number of centrifuges Iran can operate to enrich uranium” but allows Iran to continue enrichment. 
March 19, 2015, Associated Press

On ballistic missile development

Then: Iran’s ballistic missile program “is indeed -something that has to be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement.”
February 4, 2014, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

“They have to deal with matters related to their ballistic missile program that are included in the United Nations Security Council resolution that is part of, explicitly, according to the Joint Plan of Action, the comprehensive resolution negotiation.” 
February 18, 2014, White House spokesman Jay Carney, White House press briefing

Now: “We must address long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. So, it’s not about ballistic missiles per se. It’s about when a missile is combined with a nuclear warhead.” 
July 29, 2014, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman,  testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee

These specific concessions matter. So do the ones we’ll learn about in coming days. Together they make the path to an Iranian nuclear weapon easier and the prospect of preventing one ever more remote.

But we don’t have to wait until Iran’s first nuclear test to see the damage done by the negotiations. Last week, the New York Times reported that the administration resisted confronting China on its authorship of the hacking of sensitive U.S. personnel information partly out of concern about China’s role as a negotiating partner on the Iran deal. No doubt the Iran negotiations contributed to Obama’s reluctance to confront Vladimir Putin’s -aggression in Ukraine. And to Obama’s tacit acceptance of continued Iranian support for the Taliban and al Qaeda; his passivity as he watched the unfolding -slaughter in Syria; his acquiescence in Qassem -Suleimani’s expansive role in Syria, Iraq, and beyond; and his refusal to provide arms directly to the Kurds and to the Sunnis. 

The impending deal is an embarrassment: the world’s greatest power prostrate before the world’s most patiently expansionist, terror-sponsoring, anti-American theocracy.

Is the Obama Administration Forfeiting IAEA Inspections of Iranian Military Sites?

The Iranian nuclear program’s heavy-water reactor at Arak. 

Author: Yaakov Lappin, JUNE 26, 2015

The coming days represent a fateful stage in U.S.-led attempts to reach a diplomatic solution with Iran over its nuclear program -and disturbing signs are emerging that the Obama Administration is prepared to relinquish demands by the international community for Iranian transparency.
Negotiators from the five permanent United Nations Security Council countries, plus Germany (known as the P5+1 countries) had hoped for a smooth final round of talks leading to a comprehensive agreement.
Instead, they find themselves facing a firm Iranian refusal to allow international inspectors to visit military installations in Iran where suspected work had been carried out on a military nuclear weapons program.
Iran is also refusing to back down from its refusal to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to question Iranian nuclear scientists about possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program.
As crunch time looms ahead of the June 30 deadline, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has clearly signaled that he will not budge on his refusal to let the IAEA gain access to suspicious sites and to key nuclear research personnel. If negotiators cave to these demands, the damage to global arms control efforts, and to international security as a whole, will be significant.

“We will never yield to pressure … We will not accept unreasonable demands … Iran will not give access to its (nuclear) scientists. We will not allow the privacy of our nuclear scientists or any other important issue to be violated,” Khamenei recently told Iranian state TV.

“I will not let foreigners talk to our scientists and to interrogate our dear children … who brought us this extensive (nuclear) knowledge,” he said.
Massoud Jazzayeri, deputy chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, echoed the Supreme Leader’s position, saying that that permission “will definitely never be issued for any kind of access to the military centers, even if it runs counter to the acceptance of the additional protocol (to the NPT) … Foreigners’ visits to defense and military centers as well as obtaining information about the related equipment and tactics are against the orders (of the commander-in-chief Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei) and also the demands of the entire Iranian nation.”

“Everyone should know that in our view, visiting the military centers is completely impossible since it is among our redlines and we will not allow anyone to opine on such issues,” the deputy Iranian chief of staff added.
If the international community accepts Khamenei’s stance, it means it will effectively force the IAEA to close the case on previous Iranian attempts to gain information on how to build a nuclear warhead.
The signs from Washington indicate that the Obama Administration may be prepared to acquiesce.
“We’re not fixated on Iran accounting for what they did at some point. We know what they did. We’re concerned about going forward,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in recent remarks, revealing just show just how far the Administration is prepared to go to reach a deal.

The State Department then tried to walk back Kerry’s remarks, insisting that the U.S. has not shifted its stance and continues to demand that Iran addresses IAEA concerns. But these efforts to play down a shift in the White House’s stance are not particularly convincing.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported about a letter sent to President Obama by five former advisers expressing their concern that Administration concessions put it on a path toward a deal that “may fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement,” and laying out a series of minimum requirements that Iran must agree to in coming days for them to support a final deal.

Others who remain skeptical include the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General (ret.) Michael T. Flynn, who on June 10 told the Joint House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Subcommittees that the would-be agreement “suffers from severe deficiencies.”

The deficiencies, Flynn, said, included “the matter of incomplete verification. Iran’s leaders made it clear the furthest they will go is to allow international inspectors (IAEA) only ‘managed access’ to nuclear facilities, and only with significant prior notification. This makes it nearly impossible, as a matter of full transparency, to have real ‘eyes on’ the state of Iranian nuclear development to include their missile program….Iran’s nuclear program has significant – and not fully disclosed – military dimensions. The P5+1 dialogue with Iran has glossed over a number of such programs (including warhead miniaturization blueprints) in pursuit of an agreement.”
The former DIA director warned that “it is prudent to conclude that there are elements of Iran’s nuclear program that still remain hidden from view… Giving Iran a pass on these issues would send a deeply troubling signal to the nuclear Non-Proliferations of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT).”
Such a willingness to forgo any semblance of Iranian transparency will surely set off alarm bells in Middle Eastern capitals threatened by Iran, from Jerusalem to Riyadh to Cairo. In fact, the European Union has reportedly indicated that it would reject any proposal for a deal that omits IAEA inspections of Iranian sites and the questioning of nuclear scientists.

The EU has pressed Iran on the need to cooperate with IAEA monitoring. It publicly voiced its disappointment last year when an IAEA report said Tehran refused to answer questions about PMDs, and called on Iran to cooperate with the UN agency.
Although the U.S. is by far the most influential member of the P5+1, and is the lead negotiator within the group, Washington would still require a consensus agreement from the other members in order to conclude any deal.
In order to try to allay concerns, CIA Director John Brennan came to Israel this month with a message, saying that the IAEA’s supervision would have been symbolic, and that monitoring by state intelligence agencies provides the real guarantee against future Iranian attempts to break out to the bomb, not IAEA inspections.

According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Brennan had hoped to convince Israel – and through it, the EU – of the adequacy of intelligence monitoring for keeping tabs on Iran’s nuclear program, and the lack of any real need for IAEA inspections at military sites.
Whether or not that claim is true, it still fails to deal with the fallout such an arrangement would trigger in the region, with its casual abandonment of past breaches of the NPT, and the ease with which arms control enforcement is dropped.
Such a development could easily be interpreted by Sunni Arab states, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as a green light to violate the NPT, too.
These states and others, which are not very stable and face challenges from radical Islamists, could begin work on their own nuclear program, to provide a counter to their threatening Shi’ite rival.
Should a nuclear arms race in the world’s most unstable region break out, it would pose an enormous challenge to international security. It was supposed to be one of the things an agreement with Iran would avoid.

Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post’s military and national security affairs correspondent, and author ofThe Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.