Sunday, September 30, 2012

Arlene Kushner On Impressions After Netanyahu's UN Speech

From Arlene Kushner
September 29, 2012

The Season of Our Gladness

Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
That gladness does not, in any way, refer to the current political situation (it should only be).  It is, rather, a reference to the holiday of Sukkot, which begins tomorrow night and lasts for a week.  It is, truly, a joyous time, with gathering of family and friends to eat within the temporary walls of the festively decorated sukkah, and, most properly, sleeping there as well.  (More easily done in Israel than in colder climes, I know.)

 A time, as well, for blessings said daily over the lulav and etrog, which are rich in symbolism and meaning.
Credit: nnhs65
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Sukkot is my very favorite holiday, and I will be posting, at most, intermittently, in the week ahead.
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I pick up here with an apology (and thanks to Buddy): in my rush to post about Prime Minister's speech at the UN last week, immediately after he spoke, I inadvertently picked up a URL for an old speech of his and not the one he had just given.
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I will mention here, as well, that, for reasons not clear, transmission of my last post failed to just a handful of my recipients.  If you did not receive my posting about the speeches at the UN, you can find it here: The Speeches
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Now I would like to return to that speech by Netanyahu.  First, to restate my original response, that it was an excellent speech.
I am seeing criticism that it was too simplistic, that the chart was silly, etc.  And I most respectfully disagree. A clear and straightforward message has been delivered and this is what the world needed to hear.  There has been too much double talk on the issue.
Consensus has it that the single most important point the prime minister made was with regard to the US position that waiting until components of a bomb were about to be assembled would be acceptable, because US Intelligence would pick this up.  Netanyahu, I believe, demolished the credibility of such a position -- and this is critical.  The Iranians have been operating under the assumption that they had a free hand to proceed.
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It is important to be clear, conceptually, as to what Netanyahu was requesting with that "red line."  He was not asking the US to commit to bombing Iran once the Iranians had proceeded in their nuclear development past that line (although ultimately that might be what happens).
Netanyahu's position is, rather, that once the Iranians understand that they would be bombed if they crossed that line -- that is, it finally becomes clear that the US is serious and will not let them get to the point of assembly -- then they will stop before reaching that point.  His intention in having the US state the red line is to prevent and not provoke war.
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What follows from this, of course, is that the US has to mean it, and would have to truly be prepared to attack should the Iranians move past that line -- and the Iranians would have to know that the US is prepared to do so.  It is believed that this dynamic would change the equation. 
We have the example of what happened when Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormouz, earlier this  year. As Netanyahu noted in his speech, once "the United States drew a clear red line [indicating this would not be tolerated]...Iran backed off."
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I've heard questions raised regarding the timing implied by the red line Netanyahu has requested: that it be established before the second stage of enrichment is completed. This, he said, would be a year or less from now -- bringing us at a maximum to next spring or early summer. Well, some commentators are saying, this takes us past the time that Netanyahu said was the deadline for acting against Iran.
Well, yes and no -- and some clarification is necessary here, as well.  Israel has been saying that we only have a few more months because our capacity to hit Iran is limited by the equipment we have and the fact that Iran is progressing with moving its facilities into deep underground bunkers.  Once that process is completed, it would be very difficult for us to successfully bomb those Iranian facilities with our current bombs.
But what is implied with the request for red lines is US involvement.  The US has 30,000 pound bunker busters that could take out Iranian installations in those bunkers, for example, as well as battleships close to Iran.  Should their use become necessary. 
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So, where are we?  It would be nice to be able to say there was a definitive resolution, one way or the other, but we cannot.  Matters are rarely as simple and straight-forward as we'd like them to be.
I do believe, however, that progress has been made on the issue, and potentially a great deal of progress -- but I am not able to state this with certainty. It's more a question of sensing what's going on, picking up the scuttlebutt.
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Since I wrote, right after the speech, Netanyahu met face-to-face for a 75-minute period with Hillary Clinton and then, yesterday, had a 20 minute phone discussion with Obama. 
This is the sort of press I'm picking up now from different sources with regard to that phone conversation:
"'The two leaders underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,' the White House said in a summary of their 20-minute phone conversation."

"'It was a good conversation. They discussed all the issues,' said a senior Israeli official."

"'I think we are moving in a direction where the differences that were there, which were always tactical and not strategic, are in fact being managed at this point,' said Dennis Ross, former Mid-East advisor." 
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Presidential candidate Mitt Romney also spoke with Netanyahu by phone.  He then spoke with reporters and this is what I've picked up regarding his comments:
"'...there is a strategy that would lead us to preventing Iran from developing nuclear capability.'"

"'I do not believe that in the final analysis we will have to use military action...'"

"He then said Obama had 'moved over time' regarding his position on Iran..."
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Well now... Is all of this just blather, a cover for nothing happening?  I do not think so, and from what I'm hearing there are others who also don't think so.
There is no reason I can think of why Romney would want to cover for Obama on this, if there were not real movement.
What is more, I remain convinced of Netanyahu's determination to prevent Iran from going nuclear.  I don't think this is just a political game for him -- he understands the consequences all too well.
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The question, then, is what is happening, and that is a great deal more difficult to answer.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that we cannot necessary expect Obama to come forward publicly on a red line.  What matters is that he communicate it with firm determination directly to the Iranians via proper channels --  go this far and no further because we will not accept it. Actually, he doesn't even have to spell out what would happen if the line is crossed, other than to say his country will not accept it. And that line would have to be roughly consistent with the Netanyahu position, i.e., intended to stop the Iranians before they approach the assembly stage. 
So it is conceivable that Obama might be moving towards doing this, even though we do not and may not have particulars.  He might well have his own reasons --  most likely the election -- for not going public on this.
Or there might be another sort of understanding between Obama and Netanyahu that satisfies the prime minister.  For example, Obama -- feeling squeezed on the issue and knowing he could not sustain his status quo -- might have conceded that if Netanyahu waits until after the election, the US will back an Israeli attack on Iran, provide cover, supply equipment, etc.  I don't KNOW this, it's one speculation.
My message here is that somehow the Netanyahu speech may have shifted the dynamic.    
It's possible that we'll know more in coming days, and if this is the case, I will do my best to share what I've learned.   
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Then, of course, there is one last question, which cannot be answered now either: If there truly is no progress, will Netanyahu decide to hit Iran in the next few weeks?
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I had thought I might take apart Abbas's speech at the UN. But after thinking again I've decided not to.  His entire talk is a litany of vile and, yes, libelous, accusations against Israel. 
Undoubtedly I will return to some of the issues he touches upon in due course. But the only thing to note of importance now is that, while he speaks about working on the issue, he did not request a change of status in the UN.  Now he is saying he will not do this until after the US election.
If you really want to see his speech, you can find it here: Text: Statement by Mahmoud Abbas to UN GA 27 September 2012
And I believe you should be able to see Khaled Abu Toameh's analysis -- "PA leader's charge sheet against Israel" -- here (the JPost website is down as I write): 
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Hag Sameach to all celebrating Sukkot!
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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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