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Israel-U.S. Mistrust on Iran Paves Way to Attack

As U.S. drops signals of dissuasion, Netanyahu, Israeli leaders press on

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The two leaders last Monday.(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

A consistent premise in the dizzying game-theory construct that is the run-up to a potential attack on Iran is that the closer the Israeli leadership feels to the U.S. leadership, the less likely Israel is to strike; the farther it feels, the more likely it is to strike. If Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, and the rest feel that President Obama truly “has Israel’s back” and would use military force—as he said he would as early as 2004—to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon (and is able to do so), then there is a good chance they will hold back; if they don’t trust Obama, they will almost certainly move ahead with action.

Two weeks ago, during the AIPAC Conference, the signs tended toward a renewed closeness and renewed hope for peace. Today, indications point toward war.

Communicating through their organ of choice, the New York Times, over the past few days U.S. military officials—and perhaps civilian ones as well—have sent the message that a military strike is not demanded by Iran’s nuclear situation and that one by Israel could have negative consequences, including loss of life, for the United States. On Sunday, it was a long article detailing the doubts U.S. and Israeli intelligence have over whether Iran ever restarted its weaponization program, which it reportedly suspended in 2003. While Iran has, it seems, continued to progress on fuel (enriching uranium) and weapon design, if it hasn’t decided to go ahead with weaponization, it could continue to do so and not become a nuclear power. And an article in today’s paper reports a U.S. military war game’s finding that an Israeli strike might prompt an Iranian counterstrike against a U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf, in turn provoking a U.S. strike on Iranian facilities.

Message from the U.S.: Don’t attack.

And the message from Israel, particularly following Sunday’s article, was: We may still attack. Among the things reporter James Risen reported Sunday was that Israeli intelligence, as opposed to its civilian leadership, broadly agrees with U.S. estimates of Iran’s current status. “Their people ask very hard questions, but Mossad does not disagree with the U.S. on the weapons program,” said one source. “There is not a lot of dispute between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities on the facts.” This jibes with former Mossad head Meir Dagan’s strident opposition to an attack, as well as with other reports.

Israel’s leaders proceeded to open the gap. Netanyahu said that Israel’s “clock” is shorter than the United States’. Barak repeated the fear that Iran’s program will soon become advanced enough as to be immune to the effects of an attack, or at least an Israeli one. Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—who for all his hawkishness on the Palestinians has not been prominent in clamoring for action on Iran—got in the game, explicitly dismissing the Times’ reporting on U.S.-Mossad consensus.

No wonder Jeff Goldberg could report last week that, to some intentional level, Obama and Bibi were engaged in a good cop/bad cop routine, while this week, he finds as much evidence as ever that Israel is preparing for an attack. After these new reports, which are just as much messages, Israel no longer fully trusts Obama; and no trust will mean an attack.

Now, if the United States causes Israel to hold back, it will be because of the opposite of trust: It will be because it is much better for Israel if it has U.S. support.

Oh, and about that war game: The scenario in which retaliation against a U.S. ship prompts a counterattack could be designed to dissuade Iran from directly attacking the United States. Such restraint would seem to be in Iran’s interest: In the war game, the effect of the Israeli attack alone would be to postpone Iran’s nuclear development by all of one year.

U.S. Faces a Tricky Task in Assessment of Data on Iran [NYT]
U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran [NYT]
Netanyahu Says U.S. and Israeli ‘Clocks’ Differ on Iran’s Threat [NYT]
Israelis Grow Confident Strike on Iran’s Nukes Can Work [Bloomberg View]
Earlier: Dennis Ross on Iran: The Message is the Medium

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Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

For a far better understanding of the intelligence debate than the Tabletarians are able or willing to give, I suggest reading Bret Stephens in today’s WSJ.

To get a better handle on time frames, Stephens actually asked someone who built a nuke, how difficult it is to do so. To wit:

“How hard is it, [Bret Stephens] asked Mr. Reed when he visited the Journal last week, to build a crude nuclear weapon on the model of the bomb that leveled Hiroshima? “Anyone can build it,” he said flatly, provided they have about 141 lbs. of uranium enriched to an 80% grade. After that, he says, it’s not especially hard to master the technologies of weaponization, provided you’re not doing something fancy like implosion or miniaturization.”

So as has been stated repeatedly but assiduously ignored by MT, the hard part is not “weaponizing”; the hard part is making enough U235. And the Iranians are making great progress. As Stephens notes, at least five tons to a 5% and > 100 Kg. 20%.

Some simple math: natural uranium is about 0.7% U235. Enriching to 20% means enriching it by a factor of ~30. Hard but clearly they have mastered that. Further enrichment to the 80% needed for a Hiroshima type bomb is only a factor of 4X. Translation for the math challenged: Once you have enriched to 20%, going to 80% is trivial.

And if you prefer to go to 90% (the post-Hiroshima preferred level of enrichment), that is only a factor of 4.5X starting from 20%, i.e., also trivial.

Also Risen good mouthpiece that he is, gets his queues from the Obamanoids & maybe the CIA. Do not assume what he is reporting is an accurate reflection of any supposed consensus in the Mossad. Also absent from the Times’ “revelations” are the views of the other intelligence agency that has its independent assessments of Iran – IDF Military Intelligence, which includes the Israeli equivalent the US NSA. They seem to differ.

J’lem / Efrata

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

Someone who seems to have a better grasp than most of Israel’s position is the WashPost’s Richard Cohen. In his column he explains why even a relatively short delay is worth the effort for Israel. Definitely worth the read:

BTW, when Begin decided to hit the Osirak reactor (a controversial decision which was strongly opposed by Shimon Peres, both before and after – in contrast to MT’s mangling of history), the assumption was that it would delay the Iraqis by only one year. Sound familiar? And there was much disagreement within the Israeli intelligence communities (note the plural) about Iraq’s intentions, abilities, plans etc. Sound familiar? And there was a lot of disagreement within the air force brass as to whether it was doable. Sound familiar? Indeed the first question the Pentagon asked the Israeli military attache at the time was not WHY did the do it (US was opposed) but HOW did they do it. The strike was supposed to be beyond Israeli range and abilities, as dictated by their F-16s.


J’lem / Efrata

P.S. In his telling of the talking dog parable, Cohen omits a fourth option: the dog may die.

Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

For a nice dissection of the NY Times’ dissimulation (and intellectual dishonesty for that matter) on Iran, see here:

Caution: NOT to be read by anyone who views the Times as Valhalla, and whose Editorial Board & Columnist opinions are the ultimate jusge of what is valid & truthful and in Israel’s best interest (that means Alana Newhouse; see the last paragraph of her piece on Ron Dermer).


Here is a very interesting exploration by Jeff Goldberg which significantly contradicts important parts of what Tracy says:


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Israel-U.S. Mistrust on Iran Paves Way to Attack

As U.S. drops signals of dissuasion, Netanyahu, Israeli leaders press on

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