US Rejects Israel’s Demand to Set Red Lines for Iran
Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu has openly condemned the refusal of the Obama administration to set firm red lines or deadlines for Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program, in the sharpest public disagreement between the two leaders since their dispute over a West Bank construction freeze. Netanyahu’s criticism was prompted by Secretary of State Clinton’s rejection of his increasingly insistent public calls for the US and its allies set “a clear red line” for Iran beyond which it would trigger a US military response.
Asked in a radio interview if the Obama administration would explicitly state the consequences for Iran failing to negotiate a deal with world powers on its nuclear program by a certain date, Clinton said, “We’re not setting deadlines. We’re watching very carefully about what they do, because it’s always been more about their actions than their words.”
Netanyahu responded that “those in the international community who refuse to put red lines in front of Iran don’t have a moral right to put a red light in front of Israel. They [Iran] must understand that there is a red line so they stop.
“The world is telling Israel to wait on Iran because there is time and I ask, ‘Wait for what? Wait for when?’ Clearly, diplomacy and sanctions didn’t work. Every day that passes brings Iran closer to a nuclear bomb and that’s a fact,” Netanyahu declared.
Netanyahu also told visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that one of the red lines must stop Iran from continuing to enrich uranium beyond 20 percent because using that material Iran could build a nuclear weapon in just six weeks.
Israeli officials have suggested that in addition to warning Iran to stop moving its nuclear facilities underground, halting the production of 20% enriched uranium, it should stop preparations to test a nuclear device, or designing a nuclear warhead.
Clinton rejected Netanyahu’s call for setting deadlines on Iran during a visit to Russia and China. She said that the US and European economic sanctions are building pressure on Iran, contradicting Netanyahu’s position that the sanctions have failed to slow Iran’s nuclear advances “because it doesn’t see a clear red line from the international community.”
An Israeli official responded that Clinton’s refusal to set a deadline “will not stop Iran’s centrifuges from spinning. Unfortunately the opposite could be true: [US] statements will not serve to deter Iran, but will put it at ease.”
Clinton has acknowledged that Israel sees Iran’s nuclear weapons as a mortal danger to its existence, and that “no nation can abdicate their self-defense if they feel that they’re facing such a threat.”
She also admits that the US and Israel have different perspectives over the time available for talks with Iran to succeed.
“They’re more anxious about a quick response because they feel that they’re right in the bull’s-eye, so to speak,” Clinton said. “But we’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good-faith negotiation.”
US STILL TRYING TO STOP IRAN WITH SANCTIONS
The Secretary of State said that the world powers involved with the US in negotiations with Iran – Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – will be meeting over the next month “to pin Iran down on what exactly they are willing to do, and we will be having some meetings in the next month in New York and elsewhere to take stock of where we are. It’s a very challenging effort to get them to move in a way that complies with their international obligations,” Clinton said of the Iranians. “But we believe that is still by far the best approach to take at this time.”
Clinton insisted that the sanctions on Iran “are having an effect.” It has been losing billions of dollars from lost oil sales due to US and European sanctions, and is under increasing pressure to comply with international demands that it halt its nuclear program.
Iran’s oil exports fell by 66 percent in July from a year earlier, to 940,000 barrels a day, compared to 1.7 million barrels a day in June and 2.8 million in July 2011.
In response to questions about the US policy towards Iran, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “The president has said, again and again, unequivocally, that we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. So we are absolutely firm about the president’s commitment here, but it is not useful to be parsing it, to be setting deadlines one way or the other, or red lines.”
NETANYAHU SAYS THAT A RED LINE COULD PREVENT A WAR
Earlier, in an interview with Canadian television, Netanyahu reiterated, “I think what is important to realize is that Iran will not stop unless it sees clear determination by the democratic countries of the world and a clear red line, and I think the sooner we establish one, the greater the chances that we won’t need other types of action.” He also indicated that Israel is still in discussions with the US over the Iran problem, but gave no further details about the progress of the talks.
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have indicated that soon Israel may have no choice but to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, in self-defense. Netanyahu, in particular has always been skeptical of the ability to resolve Iran’s nuclear threat through negotiations. In explaining why he is asking the US to draw a “red line,” the prime minister has said that Iran’s leaders need to see “a clear delineation of a line which Iran cannot cross in its pursuit of the development of nuclear weapons capability. If Iran saw that, there’s a chance, I won’t say it’s guaranteed, but there’s a chance they might pause before they cross that line.”
Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations who now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and serves as an advisor to Netanyahu, said that the failure of international efforts to halt the Iranian nuclear program means that “there is a need to clarify what happens next.” He added that the problem is more complicated because of the “differences in approach” to the problem between the US and Israel, “and they are deep.”
ROMNEY’S CRITICISM OF OBAMA’S IRAN POLICY
The divisions between Israel and the Obama administration have become an issue in November’s presidential elections. In a broadcast interview, Mitt Romney criticized America’s efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program as Obama’s “biggest failure.”
“The president has not drawn us further away from a nuclear Iran and, in fact, Iran is closer to having a weapon, closer to having nuclear capability than when he took office,” Romney said.
“President Obama had a policy of engagement with (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad. That policy has not worked, and we’re closer to a nuclear weapon as a result of that.
“I will have a very different approach with regards to Iran. And it’s an approach which, by the way, the president’s finally getting closer to. It begins with crippling sanctions. That should have been put in place long ago,” Romney said.
The tension between the Obama administration and Netanyahu over Iran could play out to Romney’s advantage in battleground states like Florida with large numbers of Jewish voters.
NETANYAHU’S FRUSTRATION BOILS OVER
The growing frustration of Netanyahu with the Obama Administration’s refusal to confront Iran came to a head on August 24 when the prime minister got into a shouting match with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro during an intelligence cooperation meeting with visiting Congressman Mike Rogers.
Rogers said that the meeting was supposed to have been a discussion of intelligence and technical issues, but it spun out of control when Netanyahu began complaining to Shapiro about the US policy toward Iran.
At the end of the meeting, Rogers said he felt that Israel’s leaders were at “wit’s end” over their frustration with the US refusal to confront Iran.
Rogers said he believes that neither Israel nor Iran think that Obama would use military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program. As a result, he also believes that Israel will “probably” attack Iran, unless it gets the declaration of “red lines” that it wants from the United States.
OBAMA’S MAN IN ISRAEL
Shapiro initially denied Israeli media reports that there had been a heated confrontation between him and Netanyahu, and insisted that relations between himself and the prime minister remained “professional” at all times. But Rogers, who was present at the meeting, confirmed in a Michigan radio interview, that the meeting became extremely heated on both sides.
Shapiro had served during the 2008 campaign as Obama’s liaison to the Jewish community. He had previously worked for the National Security Council in the Clinton White House, and as a Capitol Hill staff member. He also served on Obama’s National Security Council before the president appointed him the ambassador to Israel last year.
Rogers was reluctant to call the meeting a shouting match between Shapiro and Netanyahu, but did say that it was “very tense” with ”some very sharp exchanges” which made it “very clear the Israelis had lost their patience with the (Obama) Administration.” He also admitted that it was the first time he had ever seen such a high level confrontation between people who “were clearly that agitated.”
Rogers supports the idea of imposing sanctions on Iran, but believes that if they are going to be effective in stopping Iran’s nuclear program, “you have to have at least a credible threat of a military option.”
OBAMA’S CREDIBILITY GAP WITH IRAN AND ISRAEL
According to Rogers, the source of Israel’s “frustration is that while the Administration has made it very clear to Israel in a public way that they shouldn’t do it, it hasn’t made it very clear to Iran in a public way that there will be tougher action” which could include military force.
Rogers says that Obama’s refusal to make such a public statement is why “right now the Israelis don’t’ believe that the Administration is serious when they say that all options are on the table, and more importantly neither do the Iranians. That’s why [Iran’s nuclear] program is progressing.”
Israel was also upset by a recent public statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, that he would not want to be complicit in an Israeli attack on Israel, which contradicts the White House claims that security and defense cooperation between Israel and the US has never been closer.
CAN ISRAEL CARRY OUT A SUCCESSFUL ATTACK?
There has been widespread speculation in the media that the Israeli air force does not have sufficient capability to destroy the Iranian nuclear installation at Qom which was built under a mountain. At best, some military analysts say, an Israeli air attack could block the entrances to the facility, but that it could then be quickly be dug out and put back into operation. However, the US military, which has more aircraft at its disposal and bigger “bunker-buster” bombs in its arsenal, is believed to have the ability to take out the underground facility at Qom.
Amos Yadlin, the former commander of Israeli military intelligence, said in a radio interview that those who doubt that Israel has the military capability to launch a successful strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities are wrong. “We are much more powerful than it seems.”
WOULD ISRAEL USE AN EMP ATTACK?
This has led to further media speculation that Israel might choose some other form of attack to disable the Iranian nuclear program. One suggestion by Dr. Joe Tuzara, first published by Arutz Sheva and then reported by the London Sunday Times, is that Israel might use one of its Jericho III ballistic missiles to detonate a nuclear explosion at high altitude over Iran in order to generate a powerful electro-magnetic pulse, or EMP, capable of knocking out any unshielded electronic equipment in its vicinity. An EMP is generated when an intense burst of gamma radiation interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field and ionizes the upper atmosphere to produce a powerful electrical current that could “fry” unprotected electronic devices from the inside. In addition to damaging Iran’s nuclear installations, an EMP pulse could also harm Iran’s power and communications grids, along with unshielded computer networks.
The idea is not a new one, which is why designs for critical military electronic devices often include shielding to help protect them against damage by an EMP.
The generation of an EMP was first observed during high-altitude nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s and 60s. An EMP pulse can also be produced by powerful non-nuclear devices such as microwave generators.
IAEA CHIEF FRUSTRATED AT “GOING AROUND IN CIRCLES”
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, the nuclear watchdog’s director general, Yukiya Amano expressed his frustration with Iran, declaring, “we need to stop going around in circles,”with regard to his attempts to gain access for his inspectors at more suspected Iranian sites. He added that “it is Iran that should proactively cooperate with us to restore international confidence.”
The IAEA reported last month that Iran had doubled its uranium enrichment capacity at its underground facility. It also said that it “is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”
The Associated Press reports that the IAEA has received new evidence over the past month that Iran has been moving forward with other elements of nuclear weapons development. Specifically, it has been doing advanced work with computer models to calculate the destructive potential of the nuclear warhead designs which it has been developing.
According to nuclear weapons expert David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, the computer modeling is necessary to gain an “understanding of the working of a nuclear weapon that is then related to the experiments you do on the various components.” Such modeling is another indication that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is active and advancing on multiple fronts.
The new evidence was reportedly supplied to the IAEA by the US, Israel and two other Western countries.
A SECURITY BREECH IN THE CABINET
Meanwhile, in Israel, Netanyahu’s security cabinet continues to debate whether Israel should launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran. According to a report in Yediot Acharonot, a disagreement emerged at a recent security cabinet meeting between Israel’s intelligence agencies over when the Israeli military would lose the ability to carry out an effective strike.
When the report was published, Netanyahu responded by cancelling the next scheduled security cabinet meeting during which the discussion was supposed to continue because of the serious security breech.
Netanyahu then issued a statement saying that, “the security of Israel and its citizens depends on the ability to hold confidential and in-depth discussions in the security cabinet. Yesterday, someone violated the most basic rules regarding the conduct of security cabinet discussions.
MORE IRANIAN SABRE RATTLING
Iran’s Fars News Agency reported that General Hossein Salami, a deputy chief commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned that Iran “is ready to rub the face of its enemies’ into the dust and send thousands of coffins to their cities. Any aggression against Iran will expand the war into the borders of the enemies. They know our power, and we won’t allow any aggression against our land.”
Fars also reported a statement by General Hassan Firoozabadi, head of the Iranian military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, who accused the US and its European allies of supporting al Qaeda “terrorists” in Syria, and warned them to expect major attacks by terrorist groups in their homelands.
The warning plays on other reports that Hezbollah, with Iran’s support, has organized thousands of terrorist cells in countries around the world, particularly in Latin America, which can be activated at any time upon orders from Iran.
Iranian strategist Hassan Abassi has stated that Iran has identified several hundred targets inside the US for a possible attack, and warned that, “if America dares to destabilize Iran, it should have no doubt that we will destabilize America.”
OBAMA REFUSES NETANYAHU REQUEST FOR MEETING
On Tuesday, there were reports that Netanyahu requested to meet Obama during the upcoming UN conference in New York at the end of the month.
Reportedly, the prime minister’s office sent the White House a message stating that although Netanyahu will spend only two and a half days on U.S. soil, he is interested in meeting Obama and is willing to travel to the Washington specifically for that purpose.
According to the widely circulated report, the White House rejected the request.
As we were going to press, the White House issued a statement that “there was never a request... nor was a request for a meeting ever denied.”
The Washington Post contributed to this story.