Friday, August 03, 2012

Arlene Kushner On Netanyahu vs Panetta On Iran: The "C" Word

From Arlene Kushner:
August 2, 2012

Still on the Subject

Additional comments to provide clarification regarding an attack on Iran are in order.  By way of background:
  • My information -- I received this from a key general in the Ministry of Security Affairs -- is that Israel possesses the capacity to take back Iran's nuclear development by three to five  years.
  • The United States, on the other hand -- with its 3,000 pound bunker busters, the strategic proximity of American forces to Iran, and more -- has the capacity to take out Iran's nuclear development capacity.  Period. To hit it so hard that they cannot recover.

  • No one is talking about a ground war with the aim of achieving a full regime change, similar to what was done by the US in Iraq.  This is an important issue to understand.  The goal is not taking out the mullahs or the Revolutionary Guards.  It is taking out Iran's capacity to go nuclear.  A big differentiation with regard to what would transpire.  The military operation, as I understand it, would be exclusively or primarily an air operation of relatively short term: bombing and missile attacks on significant nuclear operational sites, and, necessarily, missile storage and launching sites, airfields, etc. (to reduce effective retaliation).  We're not looking at thousands of troops fighting guerillas for years.
But will there be repercussions? Absolutely.  Including, without question, but not limited to, rockets and missiles aimed at Israel from Lebanon and Gaza.  Preparing a response to this is part of what Israel must do to be ready to hit Iran. It is clear we'd hit back hard -- considerably harder than has been the case in the last wars -- and quickly.  And I am certain that an assessment of the situation in this regard will also have to be factored in to a decision-making process (see following).               
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I posed the question as to what factors might be underlying Netanyahu's comment that he has not yet decided whether to attack Iran.  And this merits a brief elaboration.
Yesterday I quoted him as saying that the political echelon and not the military will decide whether to hit Iran.  This is so. However, what the political echelon will want from the military before making a final decision is its latest and best assessment of our military capabilities and our chances of success in such an operation.  And so, while I was told what Israel is considered capable of achieving, a deep and cutting edge analysis would be required before an attack.
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Also yesterday, I alluded to the possibility that this might be a (perhaps politically motivated) statement for American ears.  Indeed it might. But we must keep in mind other factors, also connected to the US:
When push comes to shove, the Israeli government would much prefer an American operation or a joint operation to an exclusively Israeli one.  The reason is obvious -- the Americans can do it better.
And so, Netanyahu is in a position not to be envied.  Does he go ahead, risking American ire, and do it before the election because waiting longer is neither wise nor acceptable?  Or does he gamble on the fact that the US might take on Iran after the election, thereby doing it more effectively?
Many feel that the US will never do it, and that waiting on the Americans would be an exercise in self-deception. But Panetta has spent many hours here telling Netanyahu and Barak that the US will not let Iran go nuclear.  That Israel can trust the Obama administration on this.
Trust? What reason does Israel have to "trust" the current American government?
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I offer two observations:
Yesterday I expressed distress with Panetta's very qualified comment: "Iran must either negotiate acceptable limits on its nuclear program or face the possibility of U.S. military action to stop it..."  Possibility, I asked? What sort of "tough" message is this?
I have since read that it may have been qualified because of the elections.  Obama doesn't want to sound too tough because then the electorate might be afraid he's considering going to war.  If this is true, it is reprehensible in the extreme.  A truly tough stance, which convinced the Iranians he was serious, might have shifted the dynamic.  If Obama won't even take an unqualified stance, what chance is there that he might actually go to war -- even after the election?
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And lastly, this, which is of considerable significance.  Herb Keinon, writing in the JPost, put it extremely well (emphasis added):            
...And it [the difference between the approaches of Netanyahu and Panetta] all has to do with one word: capability.

Listen to what the two men said: 'Today we’ll have the opportunity to discuss the many challenges facing our region and no challenge is greater than stopping Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,' Netanyahu said, welcoming his guest.

This is a line we think we have heard a million times before.

And, indeed, we have. But pay attention to the word capability.

There is a need, Netanyahu said, to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

Now listen to Panetta, when it is his turn to speak: 'I want to reassert again the position of the United States that with regards to Iran, we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period,' he said in an unequivocal statement that sounded like a read-my-lips-moment. 'We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that does not happen.'

The US won’t allow Tehran to get a nuclear weapon. But Panetta did not say anything about keeping the Iranians from gaining nuclear weapons capability.

And that is a world of difference.

In Netanyahu’s view, Tehran must be kept from accumulating all the different components needed for a nuclear weapon, meaning it cannot have the sufficient quantities of enriched uranium, triggers and missiles. It must be stopped before it has all the technical pieces in place and just needs to make the decision to put them together.

In Panetta’s view, Iran cannot get a weapon. Apparently meaning, if his words are parsed, that the US has no intention of preventing the Iranians from achieving the capabilities, only from actually putting all the capabilities they accumulate into a nuclear bomb.

In layman’s terms, that means that in America’s view it may be okay if the Iranians have a missile in one room, and all the enriched uranium for a bomb in another, as long as they do not make the decision to put it all together in the same room and emerge with a nuclear-tipped missile. Israel’s view is that Iran must be stopped before it has sufficient uranium in any one room.

This difference – between keeping Iran from nuclear capability and keeping Tehran from a nuclear weapon – has huge operational ramifications affecting the decision when military action might need to be taken...."
Read: US, Israel Differ on Iran Over Only 1 Word

I would add here that there are experts who say it may be impossible to know when Iran may have crossed the line and actually built a nuclear weapon.  This means that allowing them to have the capability would be all too risky. What is more, once there is capability, it might be shared with renegade forces, even if the Iranians do not move on building that weapon.
All this said, Panetta's "trust us" may be exceedingly moot.
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I have dealt with this at length because this issue is of such critical importance. But I hope when I return to post again, I will turn to other matters. 
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© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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