Opinion: A ‘nightmarish’ scenario for the Jewish State


When I visited Israel in the summer of 2012 and the American Presidential campaign was in full swing, my group met with an anonymous source who told us that the highest levels of the Netanyahu government, possibly including the Prime Minister himself, considered an Obama victory to be “a nightmarish scenario” for the Jewish State. Now, that nightmare has become a reality.

The P5 + 1 reached an interim agreement last week with the Iranian government, whose leader Khameini recently said, “Zionist officials cannot be called humans, they are like animals, some of them…the Israeli regime is doomed to failure and annihilation.” This deal will not dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and will only slow down its race to the bomb by a couple months, according to most estimates, as the Mullah’s will maintain their capability to enrich uranium. In return, the Iranians are getting major sanctions relief in the form of at least $13 billion now available to them. The tough sanctions regime, which took decades of tough diplomacy to build up, will now be shattered.

The Mullah’s in Iran are rejoicing. Iranian President Rouhani has proclaimed: “The results of these talks is that the 5+1…have officially recognized Iran's nuclear rights… the right to enrich [uranium] on Iranian soil is the right of the Iranian nation, and everyone can interpret it as they wish… The text states explicitly that Iran will continue to enrich [uranium], and for this reason I say to the Iranian nation that the uranium enrichment activity in Iran will continue as in the past… In this six-month agreement, our [uranium enrichment] facilities at Natanz, Fordo, the Arak [plutonium reactor], [the uranium conversion facility at] Isfahan, and Bandar Abbas [i.e. the Bushehr reactor] will continue their activity.” Supreme Leader Khameini added, “The absolute achievements of this initial agreement are official recognition of Iran's nuclear rights, and preservation of the nuclear achievements of the sons of this nation.” It has just come to light that Iran is planning to construct a second nuclear reactor in the province of Bushehr.

Former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton calls this deal an “abject surrender” for the United States. Wall Street Journal writer Bret Stephens calls it, “Worse Than Munich.” Prime Minister Netanyahu calls it “an historic mistake…this agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place.” Naftali Bennett, Chairman of the Jewish Home Party in Israel warns, “If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal signed this morning.” Even Israeli left-leaning Tzipi Livni said, “This is a terrible deal that will threaten not only us [Israel], but the entire world.” At ZOA, we believe this deal is our eras “Munich” and Obama and Kerry the new “Chamberlain.”

It is important to note that an Iranian nuclear weapon is not just a threat to Israel, but to the United States and the rest of the world. U.S. intelligence states Iran will have ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) that can reach our homeland by 2015. Furthermore, Iran already has operational missile sites in Venezuela, virtually in the United State’s backyard.

For those of us who are politically sober and realistic, we saw this day coming, the capitulation of America to Iran. The Obama administration has proven time and again that it is not serious about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. As ZOA National President Morton Klein stated: “President Obama has not laid down any red lines beyond which the U.S. will not permit Iran to advance in its quest for nuclear weapons. This open-ended policy suggests that there is in fact no point at which President Obama would act militarily to stop Iran developing a weapon. Such suspicions can only be compounded by President Obama’s recent failure to act militarily on a red line that he actually did lay down, that is, the use of chemical or biological weapons by Syria against its own people.”

There are many Jewish and pro-Israel groups who are expressing dismay at the Iranian nuclear deal, but frankly, they are a little late to the party. The ZOA has been warning about this administration’s weakness for years.

Where were the myriad Jewish and pro-Israel organizations when the President chose notorious Israel hater and proponent of containing Iran, Chuck Hagel, to be Secretary of Defense? After all, Hagel’s selection, and subsequent confirmation by the Senate, and the Jewish communities general apathy, laid the groundwork for America’s appeasement of the Mullahs in Iran last week. The overwhelming silence of the Jewish community at the Hagel pick gave tacit approval to his anti-Israel, pro-containment views on Iran, which gave the administration an opening to pursue the disastrous deal reached last week.

Secretary of State John Kerry still maintains that there is “no daylight” between the United States and Israel. Who is he kidding?

In light of last week's news, American Jews should ask themselves if the Jewish and pro-Israel groups they belong to are truly serving their interests.


Sam Levine is the Executive Director of ZOA West Coast.

Steinitz to U.S.: Israel’s ‘minimum’ is no enrichment


Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told his American counterparts in the Israel-U.S. strategic dialogue that Israel’s “minimum” in any deal with Iran was no uranium enrichment.

Steinitz described his meeting Wednesday with a U.S. team led by William Burns, the deputy secretary of state, as long and productive. Such meetings take place about twice a year.

Steinitz, speaking Thursday to Israeli journalists, said his message to the Americans was that the Iranians must be stripped of any enrichment capacity, describing that as “the minimal agreement for Israel to live with it in peace.”

Israeli officials have not said what the country would do should the United States and Iran strike a deal short of Israel’s demands, but Netanyahu has not ruled out a military strike to keep Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capacity.

The United States led major powers in renewing talks with Iran this month aimed at making more transparent that country’s nuclear program.

The talks were launched after the election this summer of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who campaigned on outreach to the West, partly as a means of relieving crippling sanctions.

Rouhani says he is ready to make more transparent a nuclear program he insists is for peaceful purposes, but he has ruled out any permanent end to enrichment.

The Obama administration has not publicly said whether it would accept continued enrichment, but reports have said that Western diplomats may accept uranium enrichment at 3.5-5 percent, well short of the 90 percent needed for weaponization.

Steinitz said that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is such that even at 3.5 percent enrichment, it could break out to weaponization within months and would be able in its first year to manufacture 5-7 bombs.

Steinitz, who also met with lawmakers in Congress and Vice President Joe Biden during his stay, said he backed intensifying sanctions as a means of increasing leverage. Some leading congressional lawmakers back such an intensification; the Obama administration says that such a step now could scuttle the renewed talks.

The next round of talks between the major powers and Iran is set for next month.

Iran reportedly to upgrade nuclear enrichment centrifuges


Iran will upgrade the nuclear enrichment equipment at its Natanz nuclear plant.

Iran informed the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that it will use a new model of centrifuge in a unit at its underground facility located southeast of Tehran, according to the New York Times.

The upgraded equipment will allow Iran to refine uranium faster. Natanz currently enriches uranium to 4 percent purity. Another plant, Fordow, takes the uranium from Natanz and enriches it to 20 percent purity, which can be used to fuel a research reactor in Tehran.

One unit at a nuclear plant can house up to 3,000 centrifuges.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful, domestic uses, while Western countries believe it is working to create a nuclear weapon.

As Iran achieves nuclear weapons capability, a red line is passed


The debate about red lines on Iran appears to be over.

With its massive increase of operative centrifuges at a secured uranium enrichment site, Iran appears to have moved beyond the question of whether capability to build a nuclear weapon or actual acquisition of a nuclear weapon is the appropriate red line.

Iran already has achieved nuclear weapons capability, according to Michael Adler, an Iran expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Adler studied the latest report of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran, which was leaked last week. It said that Iran soon could double the number of operating centrifuges at its underground Fordo nuclear site from 700 to 1,400. In all, the site has nearly 2,800 centrifuges in place, according to the report.

Fordo, near the holy city of Qom, is built into a mountainside. Israeli and Western officials say the site has been fortified against attack.

“As always with Iran, as time goes on they increase the facts on the ground,” Adler said. “Let's see what they do with the facts on the ground. What they do with their capability will determine whether they intend to be more threatening or reassuring.

“They’ve built up capacity — let's see whether they use it or not,” Adler said.

The notion of  what constitutes capability to produce a nuclear weapon long has been controversial. Groups that oppose military engagement with Iran charge that the term itself is unclear and the aim of those promoting it as a red line was to encourage a military strike. Others argued that with evidence of uranium enriched to “medium” levels — just a step or two short of weapons grade — Iran already had capability.

A Gallup poll published Monday found that Americans cited keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon as among the top three priorities of President Obama's second term, with 79 percent of respondents ranking the issue as “extremely” or “very” important.

For years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had led calls to set nuclear capability as the red line. Both parties in Congress backed that language, inserting it into a number of laws. The Obama administration resisted, instead seeking through diplomatic and economic pressures to persuade Iran to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Netanyahu appeared to back down in September following months of pressure from Obama administration officials seeking to head off an Israeli strike on Iran. In a U.N. speech, Netanyahu set the Israeli red line at the point where Iran has made the decision to manufacture a bomb – essentially the position Obama had staked out.

In that speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Netanyahu said that point might come as soon as spring, and Obama appears to agree. Last week, Obama said the window for diplomacy is several months.

“I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue between Iran, and not just us but the international community, to see if we can get this thing resolved,” the U.S. leader said. “I can't promise that Iran will walk through the door that they need to walk through, but that would be very much the preferable option.”

Western diplomats have told JTA that such a dynamic likely would culminate in one-on-one talks between the United States and Iran. The New York Times last week reported that the Obama administration was seeking such talks, though the White House denied it.

Heather Hurlburt, a speechwriter during the Clinton administration who now directs the National Security Network, a liberal/realist foreign policy think tank, noted that administration officials did not reject outright the prospect of one-on-one talks.

“There’s this interesting dance about one-on-one talks,” she said. “It's clear both sides are looking forward to having one on one.”

Obama, after his decisive election victory this month, has the mandate for such talks, Hurlburt said, partly because his challenger, Mitt Romney, toward the end of the campaign aligned his Iran policy with Obama’s, emphasizing diplomacy as the best way forward.

“There are a number of areas where Romney adopted the president’s foreign policy, and Iran was one,” she said, adding that polling shows the public prefers a diplomatic option.

Polling also shows that the public sees Iran as a priority, which could spur forward Obama administration urgency toward securing a deal.

Stephen Rademaker, a nuclear arms negotiator for the George W. Bush administration, said Obama deserves breathing space to explore such a deal – but that negotiations should be subject to close scrutiny.

“I would never fault the U.S. government for exploring whether Iran is prepared to reach a diplomatic settlement to suspend the enrichment program. Now is a good a time as any to test them on that,” said Rademaker, now a principal at a lobbying outfit, the Podesta Group. “My larger concern about negotiations with Iran is that the Iranians may say yes to what we see is a good deal, but the reverse is also true.”

One positive outcome, Rademaker said, would be a verifiable reduction in readily available enriched uranium, either through export or dedicated use in non-weapon capacities.

Michael Makovksy, a Bush administration Pentagon official who focused on Iraq and now directs the Bipartisan Policy Center’s foreign policy projects, said pressure should increase at least until a deal is achieved.

“You could increase those chances” of a deal “if you have much tougher sanctions, a much tougher embargo on Iran, but it's unclear whether other countries will go along with that,” Makovsky said.

Another option is to ratchet up pressure by sharing with Israel advanced weapons, including the latest generation of bunker-busting bombs, and increasing the U.S. profile in the Persian Gulf, he said.

“The element we need to be focusing on is boosting the credibility of the U.S. military option and of Israel's,” Makovsky said.

Iran further expanding enrichment capacity, Western diplomats say


Iran is believed to be further increasing its uranium enrichment capacity at its Fordow plant buried deep underground, Western diplomats say, in another sign of Tehran defying international demands to curb its disputed nuclear program.

But they said the Islamic Republic did not yet appear to have started up the newly-installed centrifuges to boost production of material which Iran says is for reactor fuel but which can also have military uses if processed more.

“Iran continues to build up enrichment capacity,” one Western official said.

A diplomat accredited to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said: “We think that they have continued installing centrifuges at Fordow. We think that their pace has continued the same as it was, which was pretty rapid.”

If confirmed in the next IAEA report on Iran's atomic activities, expected in mid-November, it would suggest Iran is steadily moving towards completing installment of centrifuges at the Fordow subterranean centrifuge site.

The work may be “near complete,” the Vienna-based diplomat said, in remarks echoed by another envoy.

There was no immediate comment from Iran or the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear agency based in the Austrian capital.

Fordow – which Tehran only disclosed the existence of in 2009 after learning that Western spy services had detected it – is of particular concern for the United States and its allies as Iran uses it for its higher-grade enrichment.

Iran says it needs uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, compared with the level of up to 5 percent it produces at its main enrichment facility at Natanz, to make fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

STALLED DIPLOMACY

But it also takes Iran a significant technical step closer to the 90 percent concentration needed for bombs, explaining the West's growing concern about the Islamic state's stockpile of the material.

A U.S.-based think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), this month said Iran would currently need at least two to four months to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb, and additional time to make the device itself.

Last week, Iranian officials said Tehran would negotiate on halting higher-grade enrichment if given fuel for the research reactor, in a possible attempt to show flexibility in stalled nuclear talks with world powers.

The IAEA said in its last report on Iran in late August that the country had doubled the number of centrifuges to 2,140 at Fordow since the previous report in May. More than 600 remained to be installed, the report showed.

Since then, diplomats said they thought Iran had put in place more centrifuges at the site near the holy Shi'ite Muslim city of Qom, about 130 km (80 miles) from Tehran and located deep under soil and rock for protection against any attack.

“They continue sort of unabated,” one envoy said.

But they said Iran was still operating the same number of machines as it has been since early this year, nearly 700 centrifuges.

It was not clear when the new equipment would be launched or whether Iran was holding back for technical or political reasons. It is also not known whether the centrifuges which are not yet operating will be used for 5 or 20 percent enrichment, or both, the diplomats say.

Any move by Iran to increase the number of working centrifuges – and the production rate – would be swiftly condemned by its foes in the West and Israel and may further complicate diplomacy aimed at resolving the dispute.

Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful project to generate electricity but its refusal to limit the work and lack of transparency with U.N. inspectors have been met with increasingly tough Western sanctions targeting its oil exports.

European Union governments imposed sanctions on Tuesday against major Iranian state companies in the oil and gas industry, and strengthened restrictions on the central bank, cranking up financial pressure on Tehran.

Editing by Jon Hemming

Iran to enrich uranium to 60 percent if nuclear talks fail


Iran would enrich uranium up to 60 percent purity if negotiations with major powers over its nuclear program fail, an Iranian lawmaker said on Tuesday, in comments that may add to Western alarm about Iranian intentions.

Mansour Haqiqatpour, deputy head of parliament's Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said 60 percent enrichment would be to yield fuel for nuclear submarines, which often require uranium refined to high levels.

But it would also take Iran another significant step closer to the 90 percent enrichment level needed to make atomic bombs, which the West suspects is the Islamic state's ultimate aim. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy only.

Even though it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and not the parliament – who decides foreign policy issues, Haqiqatpour's remarks were a sign of Iranian defiance in the face of Western demands to curb sensitive nuclear activity.

Iran now enriches uranium to a 3.5 percent concentration of the fissile isotope U-235 – suitable for nuclear power plants – as well as 20 percent, which it says it needs for a medical research reactor.

Israel, Iran's arch foe, says Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability and last week warned the Islamic state will be on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon by mid-2013, referring to its growing stock of 20 percent material.

But Western experts believe Iran is still a few years away from being able to assemble a nuclear-armed missile.

Haqiqatpour's comments, carried by Iran's English-language Press TV, appeared to be an attempt to show the six world powers involved in diplomacy with Tehran that it has no intention of backing down in the long-running nuclear dispute.

The powers – including the United States, Russia, China and six European heavyweights – want Iran to halt 20 percent enrichment, shut down the underground facility where this is done and ship out the stockpile.

Iran wants the powers to recognize its “right” to refine uranium and also ease sanctions on it. Three rounds of talks since April have failed to make any breakthrough.

“In case our talks with the (six powers) fail to pay off, Iranian youth will master (the technology for) enrichment up to 60 percent to fuel submarines and ocean-going ships,” Haqiqatpour said.

The powers should know that “if these talks continue into next year, Iran cannot guarantee it would keep its enrichment limited to 20 percent. This enrichment is likely to increase to 40 or 50 percent,” he said.

Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Israelis see no Iran war this year after Netanyahu’s speech


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's U.N. speech about Iranian nuclear advances has dampened speculation in Israel that he could order a war this year.

Analyzing Thursday's address in which Netanyahu literally drew a “red line” on a cartoon bomb to show how close Iran was to building nuclear weaponry, commentators saw his deadline for any military action falling in early or mid-2013, well after U.S. elections in November and a possible snap Israeli poll.

“The 'decisive year' of 2012 will pass without decisiveness,” wrote Ofer Shelah of Maariv newspaper on Friday.

Without explicitly saying so, Netanyahu implied Israel would attack Iran's uranium enrichment facilities if they were allowed to process potential weapons-grade material beyond his red line.

Maariv and another mass-circulation Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, said spring 2013 now looked like Netanyahu's target date, given his prediction that by then Iran may have amassed enough 20 percent-enriched uranium for a first bomb, if purified further.

But the front pages of the liberal Haaretz and pro-government Israel Hayom newspapers cited mid-2013 – Netanyahu's outside estimate for when the Iranians would be ready to embark on the last stage of building such a weapon, which could take only “a few months, possibly a few weeks”.

Iran, which denies it is seeking nuclear arms, said Netanyahu's speech made “baseless and absurd allegations” and that the Islamic Republic “reserves its full right to retaliate with full force against any attack”. Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal.

Israeli diplomats were reluctant to elaborate on Netanyahu's speech, saying its main aim was to illustrate the threat from Tehran.

Asked on Israel's Army Radio whether Netanyahu had signaled he would strike in the spring if U.S. and European Union sanctions fail to curb Iran's nuclear work, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “No, no, I would not go that far.”

“The prime minister clarified a message to the international community (that) if they want to prevent the next war, they must prevent a nuclear Iran,” Lieberman added.

TRUCE WITH OBAMA

Netanyahu's increasingly hawkish words on Iran in recent weeks and months strained relations with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has resisted the calls to set Tehran an ultimatum while fending off charges by his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, that he is soft on Israel's security.

Netanyahu praised Obama's resolve in his U.N. address, which the prime minister described as advancing their “common goal” – a strong signal that Israel would not blindside Washington with a unilateral attack on Iran.

Israel Hayom pundit Dan Margalit said the speech constituted “an almost explicit acknowledgment that he (Netanyahu) is declaring a truce in the public argument between him and the president. At least, until after the (U.S.) election.”

Netanyahu has political worries too, given deadlock in his coalition government over the 2013 budget which, if not ratified by December, could trigger an early Israeli election next year.

In a broadcast editorial, Army Radio depicted war with Iran as no longer an imminent dilemma troubling the prime minister.

Instead, the station said, Netanyahu would have to decide “whether he is going to elections sooner, in January, February, or maybe March, or whether he will be able to pass the budget, take care of the Iranian issue and then go to elections in October (2013) as scheduled.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this month that Washington would have “about a year” to stop Iran should it decide to cross the threshold of producing nuclear weaponry – a more expansive timeline than that put forward by Israel.

That could spell fresh clashes between the allies over Tehran's continued 20-percent uranium enrichment, a process the Iranians say they need for medical isotopes but that also brings the fissile material much closer to weapons grade.

An Israeli official briefed on the government's Iran strategy cautioned against interpreting dates Netanyahu gave at the United Nations as deadlines, saying the preparations had already been made for military strikes.

“When he says Iran will have a bomb by this-or-that point in time, that in no way means the war option must wait until then,” the official told Reuters. “There are other considerations to the timing – operational and strategic.”

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

At U.N., Netanyahu tries to portray Iran as ticking time bomb


For Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s all about advancing the view that a nuclear Iran is not simply a theoretical threat, but a ticking time bomb.

It’s why he’s pressing President Obama to establish explicit red lines when it comes to Iran’s nuclear progress. It’s why he came to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday brandishing a placard with a cartoonish diagram of a bomb meant to depict Iran’s nuclear threat.

And it’s why, in a first, Netanyahu offered an explicit timetable about when he believes Iran will reach the nuclear red line in 2013.

“By next spring, next summer at most,” Iran will have finished the “medium enrichment” stage, Netanyahu said in his U.N. speech, pointing to the red line he had drawn on his diagram. “From there, it’s less than a few months, possibly a few weeks, until they get enough uranium for an enriched bomb. The relevant question is not when will Iran get the bomb; the question is at what stage can we stop Iran?”

President Obama, who addressed the U.N. General Assembly two days earlier, made clear he, too, will not abide an Iranian nuclear bomb. While he agreed with Netanyahu’s assessment of the broad threats a nuclear-armed Iran would pose, he has refused to commit the United States to a red line short of Iran’s actually obtaining a weapon. (Netanyahu says Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons capability).

“Make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” Obama told the General Assembly on Tuesday. “It would threaten the annihilation of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That’s why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that’s why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

However, Obama noted, “America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so.” 

Obama also linked the recent anti-American violence triggered by a YouTube clip of a movie insulting the Prophet Mohammed to Holocaust denial.

“The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” Obama said. “But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed or the Holocaust that is denied.”

For the moment, it wasn’t clear what impact the rhetoric at the United Nations would have – on world opinion, on the U.S. stance on Iran, or on American votes for president come November. But Obama’s Iran remarks and Netanyahu’s praise for them may be a sign that public tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations on Iran, which spilled over into public view in recent weeks, are subsiding.

The Israeli leader reportedly had been miffed that Obama turned down a meeting with him during the General Assembly in New York. The White House countered that the president was not meeting with any world leaders. And some Democrats were irked when Netanyahu went on the Sunday morning talk shows in America to push the Iran issue, viewing it as meddling in election-year politics. That followed Netanyahu’s declaration in Israel on Sept. 11 that nations that fail to establish a clear red line on Iran “don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel” — a statement Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called “utterly contrary to the extraordinary United States-Israel alliance.”

This week, it seemed, there was an effort to move beyond these episodes. 

“I very much appreciate the president’s position, as does everyone in my country,” Netanyahu said on Thursday.

Obama’s remarks on Iran and Netanyahu’s praise for Obama “lowered the noise” on the tensions, said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

While the Palestinians’ unilateral statehood bid made headlines at last year’s annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, this year it was clear that Iran was the main event, with the Palestinian issue barely a sideshow.

Even though Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech gained strong applause in the cavernous hall, it didn’t get much attention elsewhere.

Abbas lashed out against Israel's “apartheid” policies against the Palestinian people and won sustained applause when he called for non-member state status at the United Nations. He talked about Israel’s “position of apartheid against the Palestinian people,” and said, “Israel is promising the Palestinian people a new catastrophe, a new Nakba. I speak on behalf of an angry people.” Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, is the term Palestinians use for Israel’s creation.

The Palestinian issue got little more than passing reference in Netanyahu's and Obama’s speeches. If anything, Obama appeared to lay more blame on the Palestinians for the standstill in negotiations, talking about the need to “leave behind those who thrive on conflict, those who reject the right of Israel to exist,” without singling out any obstacles to peace on the Israeli side.

On Wednesday, Yom Kippur, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad delivered what is likely to be his last speech at the world body, with his term set to end within a year. He made but scant reference to his country’s nuclear program, decrying how the “pledge to disclose these armaments in due time is now being used as a new language of threats against nations.” He added, “Continued threats by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to a military action against our great nation is a clear example of this bitter reality.”

The U.S. and Israeli ambassadors walked out of Ahmadinejad’s speech.

Ahmadinejad also waxed about the need for a “new world order” and spoke of a world devoid of “egoism, distrust, malicious behavior and dictatorships, with no one violating the rights of others.” Included in his list was a world with “the right to criticize the hegemonic policies and actions of the world Zionism.”

Earlier in the week, the Iranian president has said that Israel “had no roots” in the Middle East. Netanyahu devoted the opening of his speech to that.

“King David some 3,000 years ago reigned in our Jewish state in the eternal capital of our people,” Netanyahu said. “Throughout Jewish history, our people have overcome all of the tyrants that have sought our destruction. It’s their ideologies that have been discarded by history. The Jewish people live on.”

Iran reportedly installs hundreds of new uranium enrichment machines


Iran may have installed as many as “hundreds of new” uranium enrichment machines in its underground nuclear facility at Fordow.

“Our basic understanding is that they were continuing to install,” Reuters quotes an unnamed diplomat based in Vienna as saying.

The new centrifuges were not yet operating, according to the Reuters report. Another source spoke of “hundreds of new machines.”

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is scheduled to release a report on Iran’s nuclear program next week. Talks between IAEA representatives and Iranian delegates resume on Friday at the agency’s headquarters in the Austrian capital.

If the Reuters report matches the conclusions of the UN atomic watchdog report, the development could be seen as a sign of Iran’s continued defiance of international demands to curb its nuclear program.

The fresh round of talks follow discussions that ended in failure in June.

The IAEA negotiations are separate from talks between Iran and world powers, which have made little progress since restarting in April after a 15-month hiatus.

Israel and other Western countries believe the Iranian nuclear program is aimed at building nuclear weapons. Tehran repeatedly says that its nuclear activity is a domestic energy creating program and for peaceful research.

During next week’s talks in Vienna, the parties also are expected to discuss claims that Iran is cleaning up facilities at its Parchin site near Tehran, allegedly to remove any sign of illicit nuclear activity. In the past, Tehran has dismissed allegations about Parchin, which it says is a normal military site.

The IAEA suspects Iran has conducted tests with a military dimension at Parchin; the talks with IAEA officials are expected to again press Iran for access to the site.

Panetta: Iran sanctions have not yet stopped nuclear program


Two days before his visit to Israel, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that though tough international sanctions have not yet caused Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions, they would eventually persuade the regime to “do what’s right.”

Speaking in Tunisia on Monday, Panetta said that the sanctions have caused significant damage to Iran’s economy, according to the Associated Press.

“These sanctions are having a serious impact in terms of the economy in Iran,” he told reporters, according to the AP. “And while the results of that may not be obvious at the moment, the fact is that they have expressed a willingness to negotiate and they continue to seem interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution.”

As Iran’s alleged quest for a nuclear weapon continues, Israel’s leadership has raised the possibility of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, a move that the Obama Administration has argued is premature at this point. The Obama administration has, however, repeatedly declared that “all options” are on the table.

Panetta will meet with Israeli leaders on Wednesday.

Also on Monday, members of the Senate and House of Representatives agreed on a sanctions bill aimed at further reducing Iranian oil revenues.

How to deal with Iran’s nuclear program has been a central foreign policy issue of the U.S. presidential campaign.

U.S.: Israel ‘supportive’ on future Iran sanctions


The United States is conferring with Israel about new sanctions planned against Iran should international negotiations this month fail to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, a U.S. official said on Monday.

The comment offered a strong hint that Washington is continuing to apply the brakes on any plan by Israel to attack Iranian nuclear facilities preemptively.

Israel has signaled increasing impatience with the lack of progress towards circumscribing the nuclear program during the negotiations involving Iran, the United States and five other world powers. The third round of talks will be hosted by Russia on June 18-19.

“If we don’t get a breakthrough in Moscow there is no question we will continue to ratchet up the pressure,” David Cohen, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told Haaretz newspaper during a visit to Israel.

The United States and European Union have already made clear they will stiffen sanctions should Iran pursue uranium enrichment, a process that can yield fuel for warheads though it insists the objective is civilian energy and medical isotopes.

An Israeli official who met Cohen told Reuters that the message on sanctions was welcomed.

“These are things we have heard before, but when you hear it from the top guy on sanctions, it’s encouraging,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

Cohen stressed in the interview with Haaretz the depth of the U.S.-Israeli partnership.

“We have today and over the past years had very close cooperation with the Israeli government across a range of our sanctions programs,” he said. “They are creative. They are supportive and we will continue to consult with the Israelis.”

Echoing those remarks, the Israeli official described the discussions as “daily ping-pong”.

Cohen made similar comments to Army Radio, a major Israeli broadcaster, during his 36-hour visit, when he was to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior security staff.

In a speech last week, Netanyahu said world powers must both beef up sanctions and demand an immediate end to all uranium enrichment by Iran, whose mid-level 20 percent purification has been the focus of earlier negotiations.

Israel is reputed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal and many international experts, including the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, have voiced doubt in the ability of its conventional forces to deliver lasting damage to Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-defended nuclear facilities.

The Israelis have hinted that delaying Iran’s progress could justify a unilateral strike. Ensuing Iranian reprisals would risk drawing in the United States, which has not ruled out force against Tehran but is loath to launch a new military campaign in the Muslim world.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Michael Roddy

Satellite images show crews hiding evidence at Iran nuclear site


New satellite images show possible recent nuclear activity at the Parchin facility in Iran as well as attempts to hide evidence of past activity.

A May 25 image of the facility east of Tehran revealed “ground-scraping activity” and the presence of bulldozers, according to diplomats quoted by international news services who attended a closed-door briefing by United Nations nuclear agency officials on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the Institute for Science and International Security posted a similar image on its website. Its image showed that two buildings that previously had been located on the site were razed, according to reports.

Last March, according to the International Atomic Energy Association, the nuclear watchdog of the U.N., satellite images showed crews and vehicles cleaning up radioactive evidence of a test nuclear explosion.

The United States, China, France, Russia, Germany and Great Britain jointly called on Iran to grant inspectors access to the site. An IAEA report last year said that construction developments at Parchin are “strong indicators of possible weapon development.” Iran has dismissed the charges against Parchin as “childish” and “ridiculous,” Reuters reported.

This most recent image is believed to be further evidence that Iran is “sanitizing” the site of any incriminating evidence before possibly allowing IAEA inspectors into the complex.

At Wednesday’s briefing, IAEA deputy director Gen. Herman Nackaerts presented the satellite images indicating that at least two small buildings had been removed.

Nackaerts did not elaborate on what he believed was happening at the site, apart from reiterating that the agency needed to go there to clarify the issue, diplomats told reporters.

Higher grade Iranian enriched uranium uncovered


Evidence found in an underground bunker in Iran could signal the country’s having moved one step closer toward the uranium threshold needed to make nuclear arms, International Atomic Energy Agency diplomats said today.

IAEA inspectors found traces of uranium enriched up to 27 percent at Iran’s Fordo enrichment plant, the Associated Press reported.

While still well below the 90-percent needed for a nuclear weapon’s fissile core, the figure is Iran’s highest-known enrichment grade yet. It also is well above the Islamic Republic’s main stockpile, which can only be used for fuel at around 3.5 percent.

The diplomats stressed this did not necessarily mean that Iran was pushing ahead toward weapons-grade level material. One possible explanation, they explained, was that the centrifuges that produce enriched uranium initially over-enriched at the start of the process as technicians adjusted their output.

Calls to Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, were rejected and the switchboard operator at the Iranian mission said he was not available. IAEA media officials said the agency had no comment.

Iran started enriching to 20 percent last year, mostly at Fordo, saying it needed the material to fuel a research reactor and for medical purposes.

US set against recognizing Iranian right to enrich


Iran’s insistence that world powers acknowledge what it sees as its right to enrich uranium emerged as a significant difference in international talks on its nuclear energy programme this week, a senior U.S. administration official said.

Speaking after two days of discussions between Iran and six world powers aimed at trying to defuse fears of a covert Iranian effort to develop nuclear bombs, the official added that looming additional sanctions were likely to raise pressure on Iran to seek an agreement ahead of a further round of talks in mid-June.

“These were difficult talks … obviously we were far apart (at the start),” said the official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The official said a “significant difference” at the meeting was Iran’s insistence that its right to enrich be recognized.

“Obviously (that) was not something we were prepared to do,” the official said, echoing the U.S. view that Iran does not automatically have this right under international law because, it argues, Iran is in violation of its obligations under counter-proliferation safeguards.

Work would continue at the next round of talks, set for Moscow on June 18-19, towards a deal for a suspension of enrichment of uranium to a fissile purity of 20 percent, the official said.

That is the nuclear advance most worrying to the West since it clears technical obstacles to reaching 90 percent, or bomb-grade, enrichment. Iran says it will not exceed 20 percent and the material will be made into fuel for a research reactor.

“We never expected to get that agreement (on 20 percent) here in Baghdad,” the official said.

“There is agreement to address all aspects of 20 percent as we put it on the table.”

The official said the six powers were going to try to advance the talks “as fast as we can”. But it was too early to talk about technical level or expert meetings because the political issues still needed to be clarified.

The official said sanctions coming into effect in coming weeks would increase leverage on Iran in the negotiations.

“Maximum pressure is not yet being felt by Iran,” the official said, adding there were many other potential sanctions that remained to be employed.

Tehran wants any nuclear deal to spare it from an EU embargo on its oil exports to be phased in fully by July 1. It also wants an end to trade and diplomatic sanctions imposed since 2006.

Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by William Maclean and Sophie Hares

Israel wary of expected Iran nuclear deal


Israel expressed deep suspicion on Tuesday about an expected deal between the U.N. nuclear agency and Iran, suggesting Tehran’s aim was to wriggle out of sanctions rather than make real concessions ahead of wider atomic talks with world powers.

“Iran has proven over the years its lack of credibility, its dishonesty. Telling the truth is not its strong side and therefore we have to be suspicious of them all the time and examine the agreement that is being formulated,” Civil Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said on Israel Radio.

He and other cabinet members spoke after the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he expected to sign an agreement with Tehran soon to unblock an IAEA investigation into suspicions Iran has worked on designing nuclear arms.

Iran meets six world powers in Baghdad on Wednesday to discuss what the West and Israel suspect is its drive to develop the means to make atom bombs.

Tehran has returned to talks, after a hiatus of more than a year, under tighter western sanctions and constant Israeli and U.S. threats of military strikes on Iran, which says its often secretive projects are for purely peaceful ends.

“It appears that the Iranians are trying to reach a ‘technical agreement’ which will create the impression of progress in the talks, in order to remove some of the pressure before the talks tomorrow in Baghdad (and) put off the intensification of sanctions,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement.

Asked whether war on Iran was still a possibility given apparent progress on the diplomatic track, Vilnai said: “One shouldn’t get confused for even a moment – everything is on the table.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that “the leading nations of the world must show force and clarity, and not weakness” in their dealings with Iran.

Netanyahu has demanded that Iran stop all uranium enrichment, remove enriched material and dismantle its underground, bunkered nuclear facility near the city of Qom.

Widely assumed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear arsenal, Israel is determined to stop hostile neighbors acquiring weapons that it fears could be used to wipe out the Jewish state.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, predicted that Iran would take a conciliatory tack at the Baghdad talks while not abandoning its goal of becoming a nuclear power.

“They will be willing to show what appears to be flexibility as long as it doesn’t affect their strategic direction, meaning that they will be able to develop nuclear weapons if that decision is made,” Gilad told Army Radio.

“Today they have enough uranium, raw material, for the bomb, they have the missiles that can carry them and they have the knowledge to assemble a warhead on a missile,” he said.

“They have not yet decided to do this because they are worried about the response.”

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Iran nuclear concession would test big power unity


Facing an imminent toughening of sanctions, Iran is hinting at a readiness to give some ground in its long nuclear stand-off with world powers, but any flexibility could split their ranks and lead to protracted uncertainty about how to respond.

The stakes are high, for the longer the impasse goes on, the closer Iran will get to the technological threshold of capability to develop atomic bombs, raising the odds of last-ditch Israeli military strikes on its arch-foe and the risk of a new Middle East war a troubled global economy cannot afford.

A succession of optimistic statements by Iranian officials and academics has raised speculation that Tehran may offer concessions to its six main negotiating partners in talks scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad, a move that could ease regional tensions and soothe fears of a fresh spike in oil prices.

Such an offer would also be closely studied by Israel, which has threatened to use force to destroy nuclear installations the Islamic Republic says are purely civilian in nature but the West suspects are geared to gaining a weapons capability.

Any talk of a diplomatic breakthrough, though, is almost certainly premature.

Whatever concrete gestures are tabled by Iran would test anew the cohesiveness of joint Western, Russian and Chinese efforts to prevent an Iranian atom bomb capability, and might simply lead to months of inconclusive consultations among its interlocutors about how to answer Tehran’s move, analysts say.

Differences in how best to match an Iranian offer – for example by suspending some sanctions in return for Iran shelving enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, a level that worries U.N. nuclear experts – could snag efforts to turn any such initiative into meaningful movement towards negotiations.

“Don’t expect a ‘Kumbaya’ (celebratory) moment. It’s going to be a poker play” between Iran and the major powers, French analyst Bruno Tertrais said. “I would be surprised if what happens in Baghdad was more than an agreement on interim steps.”

ISOLATION

There is “no doubt ” that Iran’s policy would be to split the six, known as the P5+1, says Dennis Ross, until November a chief Middle East strategy adviser at the White House.

“I also have no doubt that they probably will put something on the table that they think will be attractive to some of the members of the P5+1,” Ross told an audience at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

He said one such move could be Iranian assurances on a halt to stockpiling of 20 percent enriched uranium.

That level, well beyond the 5 percent of fissile purity suitable for running civilian nuclear power plants, is intended only to replenish the fuel stocks of a medical isotope reactor, Iran says. But it also moves Iran farther down the road towards the highly enriched grade of uranium usable in bombs.

One Western government assessment is that it would take Iran two to three years to manufacture a usable nuclear weapon in the event that authorities in Tehran decided to attempt that task.

Analysts and some diplomats have said Iran and the global powers must compromise for any chance of a long-term settlement, suggesting Tehran could be allowed to continue limited low-level enrichment if it accepts more intrusive U.N. inspections.

But Iran has often managed to limit its diplomatic and economic isolation by sowing rifts among the six states spearheading international efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, leading to a watering-down of U.N. sanctions.

Western analysts are on alert for any new such gambit now.

A united front among Russia, China, the United States, France, Germany and Britain is the most powerful leverage the outside world has in ensuring Iranian compliance with international safeguards intended to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Western analysts say.

And yet that unity has always been fragile.

Russia and China, which both have strong trade ties to Iran, have supported four rounds of U.N. sanctions imposed since 2006 on Iran over its refusal to suspend enrichment-related activity and grant unfettered U.N. inspections to resolve suspicions of military dimensions to its nuclear program.

But Moscow and Beijing criticized the United States and the European Union last year for meting out extra unilateral sanctions against Iran. Russia has made clear its opposition to any further U.N. Security Council measures against Tehran.

“I think P5+1 will have significant problems whenever it comes to Iran actually moving and how they respond,” a European diplomat told Reuters. “At this moment in time it is easy and nothing has been promised by Iran … but I think it will become very difficult and very tense on the P5+1 side once they have to start reacting to an Iranian step.”

“EARLY TEST OF UNITY”

Mark Fitzpatrick of London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies said an Iranian demand for an easing of sanctions in return for its concessions “will present an early test of P5+1 unity. For the West, any lifting of sanctions would require significant limitations on the enrichment program.”

There is little debate about what may be encouraging Iran to indicate new flexibility: Iran, analysts say, wishes to stave off the planned July 1 start to a European Union ban on imports of Iranian oil, a significant measure since the EU takes a fifth of the country’s petroleum shipments.

But there is plenty of speculation about the extent to which Russia and China are prepared to reward any Iranian shift.

Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute said divergence between Russia and China and its other partners would likely emerge on the price the world should demand for dropping the insistence, enshrined in the Security Council resolutions, that Iran cease any enrichment whatsoever.

He said the United States would want to see the dismantling of an enrichment plant buried deep under a mountain at Fordow south of Tehran, the Iranian nuclear site best sheltered from any possible air strike.

“The Russians and Chinese may recognize that this is unlikely, and may accept Iranian offers short of this,” he said.

“So we should expect to see Iran attempt to split the Russians and Chinese from the others by offering something concrete and significant, but short of dismantlement.”

Tehran has ruled out closing the bunkered Fordow site.

SIGNS OF NEW IRANIAN APPROACH

Diplomats and analysts say an agreement is still far off, but the signs are growing that Iran’s leaders are changing their approach and preparing public opinion for a potential shift.

Tehran’s former chief nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, now a visiting scholar at Princeton University in the United States, said last month Iran and major nations had a “historic opportunity” to settle their decade-old nuclear dispute.

On May 2, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadehhe said in a speech in Vienna: “We continue to be optimistic about upcoming negotiations.”

In April, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran was “ready to resolve all issues very quickly and simply”.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

Israel’s top general says Iran unlikely to make bomb


Israel’s military chief said he does not believe Iran will decide to build an atomic bomb and called its leaders “very rational” — comments that clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assessment.

Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz’s remarks, in an interview published on Wednesday in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, drew little attention in Israel on its annual remembrance day for fallen soldiers, when political discourse is suspended.

But they will add fuel to an internal debate on the prospects of Iran weaponizing its uranium enrichment program and the wisdom and risks of any Israeli military strike to try to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power.

“Iran is moving step-by-step towards a point where it will be able to decide if it wants to make a nuclear bomb. It has not decided yet whether to go the extra mile,” Gantz said.

But, he said, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could opt to produce nuclear weapons should be believe that Iran would not face reprisal.

“In my opinion, he will be making a huge mistake if he does that and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile,” Gantz said.

“I think the Iranian leadership is comprised of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, who at some moments may make different calculations, is a dangerous thing.”

Israel, believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, has not ruled out military action against Iran should economic sanctions fail to curb its nuclear program, saying all options were on the table.

Only last week, in a speech during Israel’s Holocaust remembrance day, Netanyahu said: “Today, the regime in Iran openly calls and determinedly works for our destruction. And it is feverishly working to develop atomic weapons to achieve that goal.”

Tehran denies seeking the bomb, saying it is enriching uranium only for peaceful energy purposes and that its nuclear program is a threat to no one.

Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Netanyahu said he would not want to bet “the security of the world on Iran’s rational behaviour”. A “militant Islamic regime”, he said, “can put their ideology before their survival”.

The portrayal of Iran as irrational – willing to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon even if it means the destruction of the Islamic Republic in retaliatory strikes – could bolster a case for pre-emptive bombing to take out its atomic facilities.

Netanyahu had already been stung at home by his former spymaster, Meir Dagan, who said that such an Israeli strike on Iran would be a “ridiculous” idea.

Shannon Kile, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said Gantz’s description of Iranian leaders as rational was “quite an interesting turnabout”.

“Hopefully, it is going to reduce the incentives for any sort of pre-emptive or preventive military action, at least for the time being,” Kile said.

The United States has also not ruled out military action as a last resort. But many allies of Washington, and even some senior U.S. officials, fear such an attack could ignite a broader war and only temporarily halt Iran’s nuclear advances.

Gantz’s assessment appeared to be in step with the view of the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey. He said in a CNN interview in February he believed Iran was a “rational actor” and it would be premature to take military action against it.

Israeli political sources said at the time that the remarks by Dempsey – who also suggested Israel’s armed forces could not deliver lasting damage to Iranian nuclear sites – had angered Netanyahu.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak raised international concern about a possible Israeli strike several months ago when he spoke about time running out for effective Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear sites buried deep underground.

And Netanyahu, while noting that Iran has made no apparent decision to begin constructing a bomb, has voiced impatience with the pace of nuclear talks that began this month between Tehran and six world powers, the first such negotiations in more than a year.

“Either Iran takes its nuclear program to a civilian footing only, or the world, perhaps us too, will have to do something. We’re closer to the end of the discussions than the middle,” Gantz said.

However, he also said international pressure on Iran “is beginning to bear fruit, both on the diplomatic level and on the economic sanctions level”.

Netanyahu said on CNN the sanctions were “certainly taking a bite out of the Iranian economy but so far they haven’t rolled back the Iranian program or even stopped it by one iota.

“Unfortunately, that’s not achieved by talks in which Iran has one goal, to stall, delay, run out the clock; that’s basically what they’re doing.”

Gantz, a lanky former paratrooper who has served as Israel’s military attache in Washington, was asked in the Haaretz interview what impact his view would have on government decision-making on Iran.

“Whatever weight the government decides to ascribe it,” he said.

“I say my opinion according to my own professional truth and my strategic analysis. I will say it sharply: I do not forget my professional ethics. The government will decide after it hears the professional echelon and the army will carry out, in a faithful and determined manner, any decision that is made.”

Kile said he was surprised Gantz had spoken out, “because normally the Israeli military leadership on the nuclear issue has been quite subdued”, with former intelligence officials “coming out and trying to cool … the possible Israeli impetus towards military action”.

Gantz took over as chief of staff a year ago but has been less outspoken on strategic issues than his predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi. He was not the first choice for the job; the preferred candidate, Yoav Gallant, had to bow out because of a property scandal.

In at least one turning point in Israeli history, the government chose to ignore a strong warning from the military’s top general about the intentions of a long-time adversary.

In 1977, then-chief of staff Mordechai Gur famously cautioned the cabinet that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s offer to visit Jerusalem could be a smokescreen for war preparations. Sadat’s trip led to a peace treaty in 1979.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Barak: Israel did not promise not to attack Iran


Israel did not promise the United States that it would abstain from attacking Iran while negotiations are going on, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

“We are not committing to anything,” Barak told Israel’s Army Radio during an interview from Bogota, Colombia. He added that Israel’s dialogue on the subject with America is “direct and open.”

Barak said the current negotiations between Iran and six world powers on Iran’s nuclear program taking place in Istanbul, Turkey, need to be “purposeful and results-oriented. They need to clarify if Iran is genuinely willing to stop its military nuclear program or not.

“For this we don’t need months upon months. It requires a few direct meetings where all the demands are put on the table. There you can see if the other side is playing for time, drawing it out through the year, or if indeed the other side is genuinely striving to find a solution.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on April 15 that the decision to continue the talks in five weeks in Baghdad amounts to a “freebie” for Iran, allowing them to continue to enrich uranium “without any limitation, any inhibition.”

Barak, who is on a five-day visit to Colombia and the United States, said that Israel believes the talks “will probably not have an impact or bring the Iranians to cease their nuclear program.”

“Of course we will be happy to be proven wrong,” he added.

Barak said, “The world must find a way of preventing this; not for Israel, but for the stability and peace of the world.”

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes; the West fears that Iran may be enriching uranium in order to produce a nuclear bomb.

Netanyahu has called on the international community to halt Iran’s nuclear production by force if necessary, and has warned that the window in which to prevent Iran’s production of a nuclear bomb is rapidly closing.

Obama responded to Netanyahu’s “freebie” accusation on April 15, saying, “The notion that somehow we’ve given something away or a ‘freebie’ would indicate Iran has gotten something. In fact, they’ve got some of the toughest sanctions that they’re going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don’t take advantage of these talks.”

Barak was scheduled to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Leon Panetta, on April 19 in Washington.

Israel says sabotage may stretch Iran atom timeline


Israel on Tuesday played down the prospect of an imminent attack on Iran, saying its arch-foe’s controversial nuclear program could still be set back by sanctions and sabotage.

Six world powers are expected to renew efforts next month to talk Tehran into curbing its uranium enrichment, which can yield fuel for atomic warheads as well as for civilian projects. Iran denies having any hostile designs.

Israel, widely believed to have an atomic arsenal, sees a mortal threat in a nuclear-armed Iran. It has caused international concern, and worried oil markets, by hinting it could resort to military strikes if it deems diplomacy, including mounting global sanctions, to be at a dead end.

Moshe Yaalon, a senior deputy to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the mid-April talks would show “if there is a chance that the sanctions are working or that the Iranians are continuing to maneuver and advance toward a military nuclear capability”.

But asked during an interview with Israel’s Army Radio if this meant the Netanyahu government might be just weeks away from launching a war against Iran, Yaalon demurred.

“No. Look, we have to see,” he said. “The (Iranian nuclear) project is not static—whether that means progress, or sometimes, retreat. All sorts of things are happening there.”

“Sometimes there are explosions, sometimes there are worms there, viruses, all kinds of things like that,” Yaalon said, suggesting that setbacks plaguing Iran over the past three years, including the assassination of several of its scientists and the Stuxnet malware that stymied core computer systems, could be repeated.

AN END TO ENRICHMENT?

Iran accused Israel of involvement in the past sabotage. Israel has not responded directly to the allegation, though it says it coordinates many of its efforts to tackle Tehran’s atomic ambitions with Western and regional allies.

Netanyahu demanded, during a Washington visit this month, that any diplomatic deal with Iran end its uranium enrichment and remove its stockpiles of the fuel. Iran has ruled that out.

Speculation about a looming Israeli-Iran conflict has also raised the question of whether Netanyahu is bluffing in a bid to intensify pressure on Tehran by a war-wary Washington.

Many independent experts, and the senior U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, have voiced doubt about Israel’s ability to deliver lasting damage to Iran’s distant, dispersed, and well-defended facilities.

The sabre-rattling by some Israelis seems at odds with the secrecy that would normally attend a seriously planned attack.

“What we journalists hear in closed rooms is staggering,” wrote Ari Shavit, a columnist with the liberal Haaretz daily.

“The officials talking to us seem to be genuine and earnest. The sources are top-notch and what they say is consistent with what we know of the preparations being made by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). There are no blunt lies here. There is no cheap spin.”

Asked on Army Radio if Israel had decided to strike Iran, Yaalon said: “Even if it had, I would not share that with you.”

Another Netanyahu deputy, Dan Meridor, said he opposed discussing the military option in public because this inadvertently shored Iran up against sanctions.

“What it helps do, to my regret, is to raise the price of oil, and this compensates for the decline in Iran’s oil production,” Meridor told Israeli television on Saturday.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Iran shrugs off latest U.S. sanctions, trade suffers


Iran castigated its U.S. adversary on Tuesday over new financial measures to disrupt Iranian commerce, and a default on payment for rice purchases highlighted the encroachment of sanctions on the staples of everyday life.

Lawmakers in Tehran vowed to ban crude exports to European countries even before an EU oil embargo takes effect.

The U.S. sanctions, targeting Iran’s central bank and giving U.S. banks new powers to freeze Iranian government assets, were the latest in a tightening web of international measures aimed at forcing the Islamic Republic to scrap sensitive nuclear work.

“It is an antagonistic move, psychological warfare which has no impact… There is nothing new, it has been going on for over 30 years,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, referring to three decades of U.S.-Iranian hostility.

Rice exporters said Iranian buyers had defaulted on payment for 200,000 tonnes of rice from their top supplier India in another sign that Western financial sanctions are disrupting trade, even in one of Iran’s food staples.

While a plunging rial has made forward purchases costlier, the sanctions are hampering Iranian traders who have used Dubai-based middlemen to keep paying Indian rice suppliers.

Grain ships are docked outside Iranian ports, traders are not booking fresh cargoes and exports of staples to Iran such as maize are falling due to problems collecting payment from buyers. Maize is used widely to feed livestock and shortages, when they work their way through, could force farmers into stress slaughter.

Graphic by Reuters

Tension with the West rose last month when the United States and the European Union targeted Iranian oil exports in their efforts to halt Tehran’s suspected quest for an atomic bomb.

Mehmanparast said the pressure would not deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear program it says has only peaceful purposes. “Our history has shown that sanctions, which are totally illogical, have accelerated our nation’s progress,” he added.

REPRISAL SANCTIONS

Stung by U.S. President Barack Obama’s latest financial jab, Iranian MPs promised to speed passage of a bill to oblige the government to ban oil exports to some EU states well before the 25-nation bloc phases in its own embargo in July.

“The draft bill has been almost finalized. It will oblige the government to immediately cut oil exports to the EU. The bill also will ban import of any goods from the EU,” lawmaker Parviz Sarvari told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.

Washington and its allies have been cranking up pressure on Iran to cut off the government’s access to capital and oil revenues with the goal of pushing Tehran back into negotiations to resolve the nuclear stand-off through diplomacy.

Mehmanparast said Iran would soon write to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton about resuming talks with big powers, although he added that its nuclear rights were “not negotiable.”

The last talks in January 2010 failed because of Iran’s refusal to halt its sensitive uranium enrichment work, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council and six world powers.

Washington and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve Iran’s nuclear row.

Iran has warned of a “painful” answer, saying it would hit Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf as well as block the vital Gulf oil shipping route through the Strait of Hormuz.

The measures authorized by Obama on Sunday are likely to slow Iran’s trade with Asia by making payments more difficult, traders said on Tuesday, although the more determined can still find a route through Middle Eastern intermediaries.

U.S. sanctions now encompass all Iran’s financial institutions and oblige financial bodies doing business in the United States to block and freeze transactions with a suspected link to Iran. Previous sanctions had only required American banks to reject those transactions.

TRADE HEADACHES

Asian importers of Iranian crude, fuel oil and iron ore will find the measures snarl payment, already often routed via Middle East middlemen. Iran will have to take more payment in illiquid currencies, raising costs and piling pressure on its rial.

On January 26, Iran announced an 8 percent devaluation of the rial and said it would enforce a single exchange rate, aiming to stamp out a black market where the dollar’s value has soared due to fears over new sanctions imposed by the West.

“Iranian cargoes I can get, that’s not a problem. But how to pay is a problem,” said an iron ore trader in New Delhi.

Vijay Setia, president of the All India Rice Exporters’ Association, said the Iranian default had prompted him to ask the Indian government to step in. “It is a serious issue and we do not rule out further payment defaults by Iran,” he said.

Setia said India should not send any more rice to Iran on credit, adding suppliers such as those in Thailand, Vietnam and Pakistan had already stopped doing so.

Iranian fuel oil shipments through Singapore are slowing as sanction worries deter traders, while some Iranian iron ore exporters are accelerating loadings to China for fear of even more difficulty procuring ships and payment later this month.

Iran’s economy is already so weakened that its oil exports are more valuable than its imports of food and consumer goods, making it difficult to offset its exports by paying for imports.

Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby in Beijing and Ratnajyoti Dutta and Mayank Bhardwaj in New Delhi; Writing by Alistair Lyon; editing by Janet McBride

Ehud Barak: Attack on Iran ‘very far off’


An Israeli attack on Iran is “very far off,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.

“We haven’t made any decision to do this. The entire thing is very far off,” Barak said during an interview Wednesday with Israel’s Army Radio after being asked whether the United States was calling on Israel to be informed before any planned attack against Iran.

Barak did not specify what “far” meant, but said that “it certainly is not urgent.”

The interview comes ahead of a visit Thursday by Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. joint military chiefs of staff, who is expected to press Israel not to strike Iran. It will be Dempsey’s first visit to Israel since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September

Israel and the United States earlier this week delayed their largest ever anti-missile exercise; it is believed that tensions over Iran is one of the major reasons for the delay.

Western nations believe that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at building a bomb, while Iran insists it is for peaceful purposes.

U.S. expects Iran sanctions to bear results within two months


The Obama administration expects a significant drop in foreign dealings with the Central Bank of Iran in the next two months.

U.S. officials launched a campaign to have countries that deal with Iran to comply with new sanctions as soon as President Obama signed them into law on Dec. 31, a senior administration official said Wednesday in a briefing for Israeli and Jewish media.

The sanctions in the law target third parties that deal with Iran’s financial and energy sectors; for years the United States has banned dealings by its own citizens with those sectors.

The sanctions on non-petroleum dealings with Iran’s financial sector kick in within 60 days of the signing, and the Obama administration expects “significant” changes by that time.

Sanctions on Iran’s energy sector are expected to have an effect within three months, the official said, reflecting the timelines for such sanctions written into the law.

Much of the effort has focused on persuading nations that deal with Iran to diversify their intake of oil from other suppliers, notably Saudi Arabia and Libya, or conversely on having those countries use the sanctions as leverage to force Iran to heavily discount its oil.

In the latter case, the countries would agree to backchannel deals with Iran to avert U.S. sanctions and demand a cut in price as compensation.

There are signs that China and India, both major purchasers of Iranian oil, already have responded, the official said. China has sought discounts from the Iranians and is seeking to diversify its intake, as is India, the official said.

The overall goal of the sanctions is to cut income to Iran. The official said the Obama administration has calculated that the sanctions will not affect U.S. gasoline prices.

EU, U.S. slam Iran nuclear work at U.N. council meeting


France, Britain, Germany and the United States on Wednesday took advantage of a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council to condemn Iran’s decision to begin enriching uranium at an underground bunker.

The volley of criticism of Tehran will likely add to the pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear program, though Western envoys said there was little chance the 15-nation council would impose a fifth round of U.N. sanctions on the Iranians anytime soon due to resistance from veto powers Russia and China.

“It’s a worrying development,” French Deputy Ambassador Martin Briens told reporters about Iran’s enrichment work after the council meeting. He added that Tehran’s new move was a violation of multiple resolutions of the U.N. Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors.

As sanctions have begun to squeeze the Islamic Republic, Iran has threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz, the outlet for 40 percent of the world’s traded oil.

At the same time, it has called for fresh nuclear talks with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, a group known as the “P5+1,” which have been stalled for a year.

But Briens said it was Iran that was preventing the resumption of negotiations with the P5+1. “We keep on trying to get … serious negotiations to start, but so far Iran has not responded,” he said.

The United States imposed additional sanctions on Iran last month and the European Union is expected to agree on a ban on imports of Iranian crude oil later this month.

Diplomats said Russian and Chinese envoys also voiced worries about Iran’s latest nuclear announcement.

“A number of council members expressed concern,” Britain’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham said. “Russia also said this was a matter for concern and China talked about the need to comply with international obligations.”

“There is no doubt about concern in the Security Council on this issue,” Parham said. Russian and Chinese envoys did not address reporters after the council meeting.

Both Briens and Parham said that the former clandestine nature of the underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom cast doubt on Iran’s statements that the facility is for civilian purposes. The then secret site’s existence was revealed in September 2009 by the United States, France and Britain.

“We see this as a step of escalation by … Iran,” Deputy German Ambassador Miguel Berger said.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo echoed the views of her European counterparts, saying Iran had “no justification for enriching uranium at this level.”

Despite the expressions of concern, Western diplomats said the council was not ready to approve additional U.N. sanctions against Tehran at the moment due to Russian and Chinese opposition.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday that Moscow opposed U.S. and possible European oil sanctions against Iran, even if Tehran presses ahead with uranium enrichment.

Berger said council members did not discuss the killing on Wednesday in Tehran of an Iranian nuclear scientist, who was blown up in his car by a motorbike hitman. Iran blamed the United States and Israel for the attack, though Washington denied any connection to the apparent assassination.

Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Eric Walsh

JCCs in Jeopardy


In what appears to be a critical juncture for the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), the organization is devising a structural overhaul to prevent severe cutbacks in services and the potential closure of several centers.

For decades JCCGLA has offered Jewish Los Angeles a broad spectrum of community services that include Jewish enrichment, day care, summer camp and athletic facilities, and the reduction or cancellation of these services would affect thousands in the community.

JCCGLA has entered into negotiations this week with their primary benefactor, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Officials of both organizations expressed hope that a resolution can be reached to rescue the ailing Centers

"Right now, the agency is in a very critical situation," JCCGLA’s Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman-Giladi told The Journal between meetings with Federation executives on Nov. 28. "We are experiencing very tough economic times. There are changing needs in the community."

When asked to define the "critical situation" and "changing needs," Giladi said: "At this time we are operating in a manner where our expenses exceed our revenue and we need to identify a responsible plan where we can continue to provide our services to the community."

Giladi did not directly address the November resignation of Chief Financial Officer Gail Floyd, a reflection, according to some sources, of a long history of mismanagement that has beleaguered JCCGLA in the years preceding Giladi’s installation this past July. The sources were quick to note that Giladi, who has worked in the JCCGLA system for five years, is doing a formidable job in her new position and has her work cut out for her.

"It is fair to say that the goal of our agency, moving forward, is to create a [financial] model that is different than the one that existed," Giladi said. "There is more competition with services — Jewish preschools, health and fitness services. Charitable donations have dropped because of the climate we’re in right now. Our job right now is to look to all of those factors and cooperate in a fiscally responsible manner. Of course it’s my greatest hope that the JCC system will grow and serve this community in the future."

"We’ve had very intensive discussions with concerning the future of their programming," said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. "Everyone is taking this very seriously. Our primary interest remains to the clientele. The situation is complex; it takes a lot of ingenuity, flexibility and creativity to find solutions. The fact that we are a service system helps us to explore issues in a thoughtful manner. The good news is that other affiliated bodies have stepped up to help find solutions."

These Federation affiliates include Bureau of Jewish Education, Jewish Family Service and Jewish Vocational Service.

Todd Morgan, who will complete his two-year term as the Federation’s chairman of the board next month, has been among the Federation brass involved in JCCGLA-Federation board discussions.

"Corporate America has changed," Morgan said. "It’s the first severe recession we’ve had in a decade. There’s a lot of restructuring going on around across the country, all over the world. It is no different for The Federation and the JCCs than other institutions being affected by the recession and Sept. 11."

Morgan emphasized that while The Federation, which allocates more than $3 million a year to JCCGLA, is "playing a financial role, but we’re not involved in running it."

But most likely, new Federation moneys toward the JCC system will come earmarked with more restrictions. When asked whether The Federation will have a stronger hand in shaping the JCC’s direction and programming, Fishel responded, "We want to be a very active collaborator" with JCCGLA, which he said has always been "a large and important constituent."

"That was the good news," Fishel continued, "in terms of sitting with colleagues and talking about the economy, and how do we collaborate rather than duplicate. I felt good coming out of that discussion this morning."

On the potential of an expanded Federation role in JCCGLA governorship, Giladi said, "The Federation has always had the responsibility to identify how to provide allocation to agencies to meet the needs of the community. We fall in this criteria."

The tradition of a Federation bailing out its city’s JCCs is not exclusive to Los Angeles. JCCs in cities such as Cincinnati, St. Louis and Toronto have enjoyed a robust rebirth after their respective Federations came to the rescue. However, a JCCGLA insider observed that "The Federation is a champion of the JCC. But why should it be responsible? In a perfect world, the JCC should be autonomous."

Several sources echoed the sentiment that other institutions — synagogues with day schools and after-school care; educational facilities, such as University of Judaism and the Skirball Cultural Center; and 24-hour health clubs — have all encroached on the key services offered by JCCGLA. The sources also believed that L.A. Jews, unlike closer-knit communities in Detroit or Cleveland, suffer from a lack of cohesion due to geographical and demographic situations unique to our city.

Morgan does not want to lay the JCC’s problems at the feet of the community that it services.

"It’s one of several factors, but I don’t blame the community because they need a tune up," Morgan said. "But for the next generation, we need to do more which means more funding to bring up the current standards that other cities have."

Years ago, the JCC system’s purpose and function in the community was sharply defined. In the 1880s, the national JCC system was created to facilitate the acculturation of Russian Jewry. In the 1930s, JCCs kept juvenile delinquents off of the streets and put them into boxing clubs, which became an incubator for many of the great Jewish boxers. By the 1950s and 1960s, suburbia crept in and the JCCs occupied prime spiritual real estate in the Jewish community. Since then, the gradual blurring of the line between community centers and synagogues, which have come to offer day schools and other educational and child-care services.

Resurrection of the JCC and its raison d’etre seems to be a common chorus from those in the know.

"They’re going to have to restructure it," Morgan said, "It’s going through this painful period so that they can come back in the next few years."

One person close to the JCCs suggested that if the JCCGLA is intent on surviving, it must revise its game plan drastically. The source believed that the organization should perhaps even go so far as to eliminate membership, in order to cultivate attendance.

"Institutions like Hillel and Hadassah," observed this source, "they recognized that they were becoming stale and they’ve changed with the times. They’ve repackaged themselves. The problem is, nobody wants to look at the hard facts, that maybe the concept is just passé."

Morgan is saddened by the current state of L.A.’s JCC system, but he emphasizes that he has not lost faith in the enterprise as a viable community outlet. In fact, he has been a main proponent of a $40 million capital campaign for a brand new JCC headquarters on the Westside.

"It got board approval, but we put it on the back burner because of the economy and Sept. 11," Morgan told The Journal, adding that the Federation went so far as to enter talks with prominent Jewish families who would help endow the project.

"One of our biggest contributions that we make is to the JCCs," Morgan said of The Federation. "I want this to be a world-class JCC where we can ensure continuity in our community. We get young families to use the athletic facilities, to go there for coffee, to attend events. That’s my dream. It’s been postponed."

Giladi was reluctant to comment on this project.

"When we have dealt with the current situation to the best of our ability in the most humane and responsible manner than we’ll think of building bigger and greater toward the future," she said.

For now, discussions over the direction of the JCCGLA system will continue. Fishel predicted that "a formal plan of action" will be finalized and announced within 1-2 weeks.

"A lot of it will become apparent when we move forward," Fishel said. "We have an immediate situation and then we look forward to long term solutions."

Giladi’s primary focus right now is to maintain the key services for the "several thousand members" of L.A.’s JCC system.

"There are many people in the community who entered the JCC doors, and that was the beginning of their engagement with Jewish life," Giladi said. "The JCCs do play a significant role in Jewish life. Fishel was optimistic that The Federation and JCCGLA will construct a practical solution to improve the long-ailing system and better serve its constituents.

"There are a lot of examples where creative solutions have helped revive institutional life and Jewish life in the community," Fishel said. "What’s becoming more apparent to everyone is that we are all one system. We need to think collaboratively. We’re a community that’s changed dramatically, but together, working as a system, we will find a solution."

"Right now the biggest challenge is how to address the need of our membership," Giladi said. "It’s a very difficult process, it’s a sad process, and there is no greater goal than to work to meet the needs of our families."

Is There Nothing Good


 

Is There Nothing Good

<to Say About Israel?

 

By Rabbi AbnerWeiss, Ph.D.

The sermon seminar organized by the Board of Rabbis of SouthernCalifornia is the group’s biggest event of the year. Rabbis from allover the Southland get together to share sermon ideas for the HighHoly Days. It is an opportunity for spiritual enrichment and sharing.Colleagues present their best materials. Congregations throughoutSouthern California benefit from this annual exchange of ideas andinspiration.

Customarily, some of the presenters include the State of Israel intheir homiletic agenda. The anticipated throngs of worshipers overthe High Holy Days provide an important audience for thereinforcement of community commitment to the State of Israel. It isfor this reason that the annual synagogue State of Israel Bond Appealis made during the High Holy Days.

The Israel sermon materials usually reflect the passionatecommitment of rabbinic leaders to the development of the State ofIsrael, the absorption of immigrants, the creation of infrastructuresfor their absorption (such as schools and vocational retrainingfacilities), and the development of the economic potential of newIsraelis. This part of the sermon seminar is usuallynoncontroversial. It is the apple pie of rabbinic leaders.

Rabbinic Silence on Israel

Not so this year. There was not a single presentation on the Stateof Israel. Presenter after presenter introduced his or her remarkswith the question: “What good can be said about Israel this year?”Indeed, one of the presenters, who was invited to come from the EastCoast because of his reputation as a preacher’s preacher, actuallysaid: “I shall say nothing about Israel this year. Were I to say whatI really feel, I may be guilty of the sin of dibat ha’aretz [slanderagainst the land].”

I was stunned by these remarks and by the inability of rabbinicleaders to find it in their hearts to speak positively about Israel.Of course, I understand their pain. My non-Orthodox colleagues seekvalidation from the State of Israel for their conversions and theirmarriages. Their pain is manifest. However, does their grievanceabout the politics of a particular government negate everything goodabout the State of Israel? Is there really nothing good to be saidabout the Jewish state?

As I sat and absorbed the negative energy around me, I foundmyself wondering how a single issue could make my colleagues blind toall the remarkable wonders of the contemporary Jewish Commonwealth.Does the absorption of immigrants at a greater pace than any othercountry in the world no longer merit praise? Is research at Israel’smajor universities to be discounted? How is it possible that themeteoric rise of Israeli high tech not be considered good by Americanrabbis? Is the fact that more Jews are studying Torah in one smallcountry than have studied Torah in all the great centers of theDiaspora throughout our history, not deserving of rabbinic acclaim?Is the fulfillment, in our lifetime, of the prophecy, “For out ofZion shall the Torah go forth,” not worthy of enthusiastic rabbinicendorsement?

Rabbinic Negativity: A National Phenomenon

The mood of rabbinic negativity is not confined to the Southland.It is a national phenomenon. I have just returned from a meeting ofthe National Rabbinic Cabinet of State of Israel Bonds New York. Itsmembers are national rabbinic leaders. One would expect theirpassionate embrace of the Jewish state to persist even in the face ofwhat they consider to be disagreeable Israeli governmental policies.This has been a consistent pattern. When there was Orthodoxdiscomfort with the policies of the previous government, seriousreservations were put aside for the sake of a unified expression ofsupport for the Jewish state, and for the celebration of the goodthat it does. This year is different. We were urged to “understand”the grass-roots discontent.

Effects of Rabbinic Pressure

Rabbinic disaffection with Israel reflects the extraordinarysuccess of the leadership of the Conservative and Reform movements inbringing pressure on the Israeli government to validate the authorityof their rabbis. But the genie they have let out of the bottle iscreating havoc. Jews whose support for Israel in the past has beenless than passionate, and whose commitment to the State of Israel hasnever been unconditional, have been provided with an excuse to reducetheir support. The Israel lobby on Capitol Hill has been paralyzed.The Clinton administration, in its second term, is not the pro-Israeladministration of the first term. It no longer need fear alienatingthe Jewish vote by its “even handed” Middle East policies. After all,the Jewish community is not positive about the State of Israel. Whyshould the president and his State Department be more Jewish than theJews? Is it surprising that the secretary of state assigns equalblame to terrorists and builders of Jewish neighborhoods inJerusalem?

Israel’s intelligence on the ground is severely compromised onaccount of its adherence to its Oslo obligations. Yasser Arafatpublicly embraces Hamas terrorists in flagrant violation of the Osloaccords. Hamas operates openly in the United States. A radicallymilitant Islam encourages suicide bombings in Israel as an act ofmartyrdom. These calls for terror are now made openly, not only insuch “moderate” Arab states as Egypt and Jordan but also at anational Moslem Convention in Chicago. But the United States refusesto remove its blindfold. Why should it exercise economic sanctions onthe Palestinian Authority, and even on Egypt, if American rabbis donot appear to care?

Israel is facing a life-and-death struggle. Binyamin Netanyahu hasmade mistakes. However, to blame him for the deliberate campaign ofterror is nearly as obscene as the acts of terror themselves. All hispolicies have been lumped together. His actions or inactions on thereligious front have automatically invalidated all of his otherpolicies in the eyes of American rabbinic leaders. And this is wrong.

The genie must be put back in to the bottle. Support for Israelmust be reasserted. The unimaginable good that the Jewish staterepresents to the Jewish people must be affirmed even if some thingsare bad. For the sake of Israel and the G-d of Israel, rabbis shouldnot throw out the baby with the bath water.

Photo from “Jerusalem In the Shadow of Heaven,” 1996.

+