Netanyahu hailed visiting French President Francois Hollande as a hero over the weekend because France was the only one of the six allies which demanded that Iran halt four key aspects of its nuclear program before being granted any form of sanctions relief during talks in Geneva earlier this month. Netanyahu told Hollande “your support and your friendship is real. It’s sincere.” He urged him to remain firm in France’s demands on Iran when the talks resumed in Geneva on November 20.
Secretary of State Kerry cut short his most recent visit to Israel on November 8 to fly to Geneva when it appeared that a deal with Iran was imminent. France’s insistence on Iran’s agreement to those demands caused the Iranians to break off the talks without an agreement.
The freeze is intended to provide time for talks on a broader agreement with Iran to end its nuclear program. Netanyahu warned that if the freeze deal is approved, and then fails to result in an agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program, Israel and Arab states which also fear Iran’s nuclear ambitions, would have no choice but to halt Iran’s nuclear program with military force.
In a CNN interview Sunday, Netanyahu said that he was not only speaking for Israel, but also for unnamed Arab states who fear a nuclear-armed Shiite Iran almost as much as Israel does. “When Israelis and Arabs are saying the same thing, that doesn’t happen very often,” Netanyahu said.
The Saudis have never recognized Israel as a legitimate state, and have been at war with it since Israel’s creation in 1948. But following the pragmatic principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the Saudis and Israelis have apparently come to the conclusion that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is great enough to justify putting aside their differences to defeat their common enemy. Other Sunni-ruled Persian Gulf oil states are also deeply concerned about the threat from Iran’s nuclear program.
According to a report in the British Sunday Times, the Saudis have given Israel permission to use their airspace, and agreed to provide rescue helicopters, tanker planes and other forms of support for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The report cites a diplomatic source as saying, “Once the Geneva agreement [to relax sanctions on Iran] is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs.”
ISRAEL PREPARED TO ATTACK NOW
Yaakov Amidror, who stepped down last month as Netanyahu’s national security adviser, told the British Financial Times that Israel’s Air Force has fully rehearsed plans for an attack on Iran. Israel has been conducting “very long-range flights…all around the world.” He also said that an attack on Iran would set back its nuclear program “for a very long time,” Amidror said. He added that there is “no question” that the prime minister is prepared to launch an attack unilaterally. “We don’t need permission from anyone — we are an independent state. We have our own sovereignty. If Israel is in a position in which it must defend itself, Israel will do it.”
Netanyahu said that Israel would welcome a verifiable agreement with Iran to end its nuclear weapons program, because it is directly “on the firing line,” and would have the most to gain.
WHY THE GENEVA PROPOSAL IS A BAD DEAL
The problem, Netanyahu said, is that the Geneva proposal is an “exceedingly bad deal” because it relaxes pressure on Iran when the sanctions have finally put its economy “on the ropes” and “close to paralysis.” He suggested that, “if you continue to pressure now, you can get Iran to cease and desist.”
The talks involve Iran and the countries that make up the P5+1 group, consisting of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China – plus Germany.
The latest round of talks began between Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. They were scheduled to continue through November 23. If the talks make sufficient progress, Secretary of State John Kerry and European foreign ministers would fly to Geneva to finalize the deal.
WHITE HOUSE EAGER TO SIGN A DEAL
Administration officials say they are optimistic about chances for reaching a deal this time. “For the first time in nearly a decade, we are getting close to a first step … that would stop the Iranian nuclear program from advancing and roll it back in key areas,” one of them told reporters last week.
President Obama responded to critics of the Geneva proposal by saying that if the freeze on Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t work, or talks to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran over the next 6 months fail, “we can dial those sanctions right back up.”
Netanyahu and friends of Israel are concerned about the deal at Geneva because they do not believe that it will “freeze” Iran’s nuclear development at all. Instead, they fear that it will just give Iran the diplomatic cover it needs to finally reach its goal of becoming a member of the world’s nuclear-armed club of nations. Netanyahu also doesn’t believe that once the sanctions are relaxed, even slightly, that they could be easily restored.
In his CNN interview, Netanyahu acknowledged “differences of opinion” with the White House over the best way to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but sought to avoid an open breach with Obama. He said that even “the best of friends” can have differences.
In response, Kerry said Monday that while he respects Netanyahu’s right to “express his concerns” about the impact of the Geneva deal on Israel’s security, he does not believe that it “will put Israel at any additional risk.” In fact Kerry claims a deal in Geneva would make Israel more secure.
A Kuwaiti newspaper reported that Obama has been refusing to take phone calls from Netanyahu about Iran, and has been turning them over to Kerry instead. Both Israeli and US government officials denied the report.
MORE THAN A DIFFERENCE OVER TACTICS
Nevertheless, it is clear that the disagreement between the US and Israel over the deal being proposed in Geneva with Iran is over something more than tactics to reach a shared goal, preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear armed power. Netanyahu is insisting that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure which it has been building up for more than two decades, first in secret, and then against the will of the international community, must be dismantled.
While the US has accepted that goal as an ideal, it believes that it is no longer achievable, because the Iranians have invested too much into their nuclear program to give it up now. They believe that in order to get the Iranians to slow down their nuclear program at all, they must be given at least a taste of significant sanctions relief to convince them of the sincerity of intentions by the US and its allies. The Obama administration would be satisfied if Iran agrees to put enough limits and constraints on its nuclear program so that if and when Iran’s leaders decide to use their nuclear infrastructure to start building bombs, the US would know in time to react.
However, that is no longer acceptable to Israel’s leaders because they have lost their faith and trust in Obama to react with the necessary military force to prevent Iran from acquiring those weapons when that time comes.
FRANCE’S FOUR DEMANDS
French leaders have decided that after spending the last decade in failed negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, they no longer have patience for further delay and deception.
French President Hollande, on his first official visit to Israel Sunday, repeated France’s four demands for approving an interim deal in Geneva.
“The first demand: put all the Iranian nuclear installations under international supervision, right now. Second point: suspend uranium enrichment to 20 percent. Thirdly: reduce the existing enriched uranium stockpile, and finally, halt construction of the Arak (heavy water) plutonium reactor plant. These are the points which for us are essential to guarantee any agreement,” Hollande declared. He said, “for France, as long as we don’t have certainty Iran will renounce nuclear weapons, we will maintain all our demands and the sanctions.”
The French were the only major power willing to join with the US in launching a strike against Syria for its use of chemical weapons in August, before Obama got cold feet and accepted a Russian proposal to get the Assad regime to disarm its chemical weapons in exchange for escaping a US-led military strike.
AN UNEXPECTED ALLY
France’s recent strong support for Israel’s opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapons program was as unexpected as it was welcome.
Immediately after the Six Day War in 1967, French President Charles DeGaulle imposed an arms embargo on Israel. France even refused to deliver 50 aircraft that Israel had already paid for. This caused Israel to turn to the US for its major weapons purchases ever since.
However, during the first 20 years of Israel’s existence, France was its primary weapons supplier. It also supplied the technology for Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.
France joined with Israel and the British in attacking Egypt in October, 1956 after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal. Eventually the US forced Israel and its allies to withdraw from the canal and the Sinai desert. In 1967, Israeli air force pilots flying French-built Mirage III and Super Mystere fighters destroyed the Egyptian air force on the ground at the beginning of the miraculous Six Day War victory.
France’s policies are not totally in sync with Israel. On Monday, Hollande called for Israel to halt all new construction in the West Bank, and to share Yerushalayim with the Palestinians and allow them to use it as their capital.
NETANYAHU CALLING FOR PATIENCE AND MORE PRESSURE
Speaking at the news conference with Hollande, Netanyahu said, “I’m gravely concerned that this deal will go through and in one stroke of the pen. It will reduce the sanctions on Iran — sanctions that took years to put in place — and in return for this, Iran gives up practically nothing. It’s clear that this agreement is good only for Iran and that it’s really bad for the rest of the world. Iran’s dream deal is the world’s nightmare.”
Netanyahu said there is no need for the US and its allies to rush into a Geneva agreement. He pointed out that Iran’s leaders are under tremendous pressure to obtain relief from the sanctions. “The choice today is not between a bad deal or war. With patience and determination, you can get a good deal. This means maintaining pressure and increasing it, to achieve a deal that would peacefully dismantle Iran’s military nuclear program, and the centrifuges and the plutonium producing heavy water reactor.”
WHAT DOES THE US REALLY WANT?
Kerry has sought to publicly reassure Israel that the US understands that a bad deal with Iran would be worse than no deal at all, as long as the sanctions remain in place. But it now appears that this is not really the administration’s view. For diplomatic and domestic political reasons, the White House would now much prefer to conclude a “reasonable” deal with Iran, even if it is flawed, than to walk away from the negotiating table in Geneva empty-handed.
Netanyahu said that he would not consider himself bound by any deal signed with Iran that would endanger Israel’s security. When a country like Iran threatens to destroy Israel, “we have learned in our Jewish history to take them seriously.” He added that by attacking Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear Israel would also be fulfilling a “common obligation for the sake of mankind [and] for the sake of our common future.”
Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday, “I hope that we will be able to persuade our friends during this week and in the days that follow to get a much better agreement.” He traveled to Moscow to discuss Iran’s nuclear threat with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and had expected to return to Israel in time to greet Kerry on Friday, but then Kerry canceled the visit.
ISRAEL’S FRIENDS IN CONGRESS BACKING MORE SANCTIONS
Netanyahu’s call to tighten rather than loosen the sanctions on Iran has found support in Congress. Legislation to impose tough new sanctions on Iran has already passed the House of Representatives, and is expected to move out of committee and come onto the Senate floor for a vote within the next few weeks. Kerry pleaded with senators last week to delay further action on the sanctions bill for fear that it would doom chances for reaching an agreement with Iran in Geneva. Kerry told skeptical senators to “calm down” about Iran and give the Geneva talks a chance to succeed. His spokesman said that Israeli criticism of the Geneva proposal was “inaccurate, exaggerated and not based on reality.”
Republican Senators Ted Cruz and John McCain have spoken out against the deal and recommended that the Senate pass the bill immediately to increase the pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program.
Cruz accused Obama of degrading the US-Israel relationship by grasping for “any deal” it can achieve with Iran in Geneva to avoid the necessity of using the military option.
McCain also blasted Kerry and Obama for seeking a deal with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani even as the “centrifuges spin,” enriching more uranium. “This is the same guy we are frantic to make a phone call with,” McCain said. He was referring to Obama’s phone conversation with Rouhani in September after the Iranian president avoided him when they were both attending the annual General Assembly meeting in New York City. McCain also said that, despite Rouhani’s soothing reassurances to the contrary, he is determined to keep Iran on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons.
SENATOR KIRK HAS A SANCTIONS “PLAN B”
If Democrat Senate leaders heed calls by Obama and Kerry to stall the sanctions bill, Republican Senator Mark Kirk, of Illinois, has threatened to attach it as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, an omnibus bill funding the Pentagon that Congress must pass for the newly stated fiscal year.
Kirk agrees with Netanyahu’s view that the Geneva proposal is “a deal that undermines sanctions and doesn’t stop a future with Iranian nuclear weapons [and] is the deal of the century for Iran.” Kirk has been highly critical of Iran’s record on human rights and its sponsorship of international terrorism. He recently asked, facetiously, “How do you define an Iranian moderate? That’s an Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.”
In a letter Kirk wrote to Obama last week, which was also signed by Republican Senators Marco Rubio, John Cornyn and Kelly Ayotte, he wrote, “rather than forfeiting our diplomatic leverage, we should increase it by intensifying sanctions until Iran suspends its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
Kirk also said that he was disappointed when Kerry told him to “discount what the Israelis say” about Iran. He added that he thinks, “the Israelis have a very good intelligence service.” Kirk said that the Israelis believe that the concessions being demanded of Iran in Geneva would delay its nuclear program by only 24 days.
HOW WILL THE DEAL BE VERIFIED?
At the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California last week, there was a lot of skepticism by prominent participants about the deal being negotiated with Iran in Geneva. Former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed concern about what will happen with Iran’s enriched uranium, thousands of centrifuges, and the heavy water reactor under construction in Arak. “How is all of this going to be inspected and verified?” Panetta asked.
During a panel session, Democrat Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “I love the [Reagan] slogan ‘Trust but verify,’ but I’ve never understood it. Because I think the right slogan is ‘Don’t trust.’ I don’t trust the Iranians — and by the way, they don’t trust us.”
Meanwhile, the White House is making a new effort this week to persuade members of Congress to support the effort to reach a deal in Geneva. On Monday, two former White House national security advisers, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, issued a joint statement supporting the White House position, and warning that failing to reach an agreement in Geneva would risk “losing the support of allies and friends while increasing the probability of war.” They also argue that the passage of new sanctions against Iran by Congress now “will risk undermining or even shutting down the negotiations.”
Not coincidentally, both Brzenzinski and Scowcroft have been outspoken critics of the influence of Israel’s supporters on US policy.
GIVING IRAN ACCESS TO ITS OIL CASH
Administration officials say that the “core” financial and banking sanctions which have inflicted the heaviest toll on Iran’s economy would remain in place during the freeze period. Instead, Iran would be given partial access to about $100 billion in foreign currency reserves currently frozen in its overseas accounts.
How much of that cash would be made available to Iran over the next six months is not clear. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister said that the benefit to the Iranian economy could be $20 billion. A State Department spokesman called that estimate much too high, but declined to offer a specific figure. Senator Kirk also said Iran would gain as much as $20 billion from the sanctions relief. Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that as much as $50 billion in frozen oil export revenues would be released.
Netanyahu warns that releasing so much cash to Iran would undermine the sanctions effort. He said it would send “companies and countries scrambling” to invest there, while leaving Tehran’s nuclear weapons capability in place. I think a lot is being offered by the P5 + 1 for Iran. It’s getting just an enormous deal, from their point of view, and it’s giving practically nothing in return. They’re keeping their infrastructure to make nuclear bombs.”
The embargo on Iran’s oil has shrunk its exports to a million barrels a day, from about two and a half million barrels a day in 2011, costing Iran up to $5 billion a month. Administration officials estimate that the sanctions have cost Iran’s economy a total of about $120 billion so far. Most of Iran’s remaining oil exports are going to China and other Asian countries which have been granted temporary waivers by the White House.
The White House is only offering Iran access to frozen assets because the other bans on its oil exports and financial transactions were imposed by acts of Congress, and can not be lifted without congressional approval.
OBAMA AND NETANYAHU DISAGREE OVER ENRICHMENT
One of Netanyahu’s key objections to the Geneva proposal is that it would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium to 3.5%. Iran says it needs this enriched uranium to use as fuel for civilian power reactors, even though oil-rich Iran doesn’t need nuclear power to generate electricity.
Netanyahu says that Iran’s huge stockpile of enriched uranium makes it very dangerous to permit them to retain their new, high efficiency centrifuges. Using them, Iran could, within a few weeks, enrich enough of that stockpile to weapons grade to achieve a nuclear “breakout” before it could be detected and stopped by Israel or the US. That is why it is vital that all Iranian enrichment activity be halted, and its new centrifuges dismantled.
In an interview with the German publication Bild, Netanyahu said Tuesday that Iran already has enough enriched uranium in its stockpile to quickly build 5 nuclear weapons using its 18,500 centrifuges.
There also appears to be a fundamental difference between US and Israeli demands concerning Iran’s heavy-water reactor in Arak. The US would be satisfied with assurances and safeguards that the reactor will not be ready to be fueled and start operations until at least some months from now, while Israel wants it to be fully dismantled to make sure that it will never be able to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
IRAN DROPS ITS DEMAND FOR THE “RIGHT” TO ENRICHMENT
Iran had previously insisted that any agreement with the international community must acknowledge its “right” to enrich uranium. The US and its allies insist that there is no such right in the language of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
However the US and its allies appeared ready to informally allow Iran to continue enriching uranium to the 3.5 percent level during the six month freeze period. US officials also say they will insist that Iran accept stringent verification measures during the freeze to ensure that Iran does not further enrich its uranium to weapons-grade.
However, on Tuesday, the day before talks were set to resume in Geneva, Iran dropped its demand for formal recognition of its “right” to uranium enrichment. It was seen as an attempt by Iran to take what is largely a symbolic issue off the table in an effort to focus on Iran’s main goal of getting more relief from the sanctions that are crippling its economy.
A report issued last week by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran had slowed down some elements of its nuclear program, which administration officials said was an encouraging sign.
On Monday, an Iranian dissident group reported the location of a secret Iranian nuclear site, and called for an immediate IAEA inspection. The site was built inside an 1,800 foot long tunnel in a mountainous area six miles from the town of Mobarekeh. Iran’s military nuclear research organization began construction on the site in 2005, and recently completed the facility. The exact nature of its nuclear work is still unknown.
EARLY ATTEMPTS TO BLOCK IRAN’S NUCLEAR AMBITIONS
Israeli officials have been trying to get the US to attack Iran, or support an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, since before Obama took office.
After the US intelligence community downgraded the immediacy of Iran’s nuclear threat in a controversial National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, the Bush administration denied an Israeli request to buy the weapons and equipment it needed to carry out an air strike on Iran at the time.
After Obama became president, the US and Israel delayed Iran’s nuclear program through covert means, such as using the Stuxnet computer virus to disable many of Iran’s enrichment centrifuges. Iran also accused Israel of assassinating its top nuclear scientists. Israel has never officially confirmed or denied these accusations.
SANCTIONS KICKED IN WHEN TIME BEGAN TO RUN OUT
However, after the IAEA submitted a report in late 2011 citing evidence found by its inspectors of Iranian nuclear weapons activity, Netanyahu publicly warned the administration that time was running out to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and that Israel was prepared to use military force to do so, if the US would not.
Obama put extreme public pressure on Netanyahu not to launch such an attack before the 2012 presidential election. Part of that effort was the imposition of much tougher sanctions on Iran by the US and the EU which have had a crippling effect on its economy. Obama also made a public commitment to use US military force if all other efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program failed. He famously promised to “have Israel’s back.”
Netanyahu reluctantly backed down from his threat to attack Iran, but only after it became apparent that the latest round of sanctions was pressuring Iran’s leaders to return to the negotiating table.
However, Obama’s failure to carry out his promise to attack Syria to punish it for crossing his self-declared “red line” against using chemical weapons undermined the credibility of his public threats to do the same to Iran if all else fails to prevent it from crossing the nuclear weapons threshold.
Obama is apparently unwilling to keep up the pressure of sanctions on Iran. It seems he will do almost anything to avoid using US military force to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Since Israeli leaders fears that Obama is unwilling to keep his promises to protect them from Iran’s nuclear threat, they are now reportedly consulting with Iran’s Arab enemies in the region to come up with their own plan of attack.
Netanyahu and friends of Israel have heard Iran’s leaders threaten to erase Israel from the map too many times not to take them seriously. They also know that Iran’s hatred of Jews and Israel is not based on logic. Their greatest fear is that an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel may not be deterred even by the prospect of certain destruction of Iran in retaliation. May Hashem protect Am Yisroel from the designs of our enemies.