Though Syria in Spotlight, Israel’s Strategists & Intelligence Focus on Iran — Middle East on Edge

yossi melman, israel spy, spies against armageddon

Yossi Melman

by YOSSI MELMAN

[This post is adapted from a recent article by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, in an Israeli English-language magazine, The Jerusalem Report.]

The hot and humid Israeli summer has brought a feeling of déjà vu. Once again, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beating the drums of war about a need to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons program. And the U.S. once again is showing signs of concern about Iran — or at least trying to create the impression that it is concerned by Israel’s renewed rhetoric.

And once again, the U.S. dispatched its most senior military officer to test and evaluate Israel’s true intentions. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, arrived August 12 as the guest of Israel’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz. Dempsey met Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

A few days before that, Gen. Mark A. Welsh, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, completed a secretive week-long visit to Israel.

Western government analysts believe that Israel may (again) be planning a strike on Iran’s nuclear program — partially out of fear that the Obama Administration will enter into prolonged negotiations with  Iran, thus perhaps forgetting Barack Obama’s promise not to allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.

In the background is the inauguration of Iran’s new president Hasan Rouhani, who is touted by some international experts as a relative moderate who may attempt to open a window to the West.

Netanyahu believes that there is nothing new on the Iranian front and that Rouhani is a wolf in sheepskin who will continue the nuclear policy of his hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranian actions anyway are determined by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Netanyahu’s red line in New York (Sept. 2012)

In the last four years – though in different seasons – Netanyahu embarked on the same path, creating the impression that he is going to unleash the Israeli Air Force to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites. In September 2012, nearly a year ago, he stood on the podium at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City and drew his “red line” and timetable. Netanyahu warned the world that by Spring or early Summer 2013, Iran might reach the threshold enabling it to produce sufficient fissile materials to assemble its first nuclear bombs.

Well, we are already in mid-summer 2013 and nothing has happened. Whether out of fear of an Israeli or American attack or for its own policy timings, Iran did not cross the red lines.  Iran also does not have, to the best knowledge and estimate of Israeli and American intelligence, the amount of fissile material it would need.

Yet, instead of sitting on his laurels and taking credit for the developments, Netanyahu continues to be restless. Some, including this writer, would say the prime minister is self-obsessed or even self-possessed by Iran.

At every opportunity – be it the open-for-TV-coverage start of the regular Sunday cabinet sessions, or meetings with U.S. congressmen or other foreign dignitaries — Netanyahu emphasizes the need for the world to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu, in the midst of the world’s crisis around Syria and the horrible use of chemical weapons on civilians, made a point of saying that Syria is a kind of grisly rehearsal: demonstrating the danger of its patron — Iran — acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Netanyahu intends to raise the Iran nuclear issue again next month, in a new speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

But unlike last year, when he mainly talked about Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities, this year he will focus on Arak.

Arak is the site where Iran is completing the construction of a nuclear research reactor, which will be capable — in a matter of between one and two years — of producing plutonium which could be used to manufacture nuclear bombs.

[More on Arak, and Israel’s perception of it as a significant danger — in our next blog post.]

August 27, 2013

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