With deal struck, pro-Israel groups suspend lobbying for Syria strike


Pro-Israel groups suspended their high-profile lobbying effort for a strike on Syria now that the United States and Russia have struck a deal to strip the Assad regime of its chemical weapons.

A spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which organized a Capitol Hill blitz last week aimed at persuading Congress to back a strike, confirmed Monday that lobbying has been suspended for now.

The American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which also had been involved in the lobbying, said they would suspend lobbying, too.

“We sent many messages over the last week and a half; we are not formulating new letters to the Hill,” Jason Isaacson, the AJC’s director of international affairs, told JTA. “Our message is out there should it be required.”

Jewish groups had hesitated at first to sign on to the lobbying effort, fearful that their support would be construed as a pro-Israel initiative. But they dove in after President Obama called for a strike last month and senior administration officials solicited their help in persuading Congress to sign off on the military action.

AIPAC sent 250 of its members for personal meetings with Capitol Hill lawmakers, a show of strength the lobby reserves for major initiatives. The group kept up its effort even after Obama called last week for Congress to delay a vote while he explored the Russian proposal for international monitors to take over and destroy Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons.

The AJC in a letter Sept. 12 to Congress members said the threat of credible military action must be maintained even as the United States looked at the Russian plan. Leading pro-Israel figures echoed the view.

“Every day that goes by without congressional authorization, it undermines the vitality of the threat,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said in an interview Friday.

By Monday, however, the groups had changed their tune, suspended their lobbying and endorsed the putative deal brokered in Geneva over the weekend by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Under the terms of the agreement, Syria would be stripped of its chemical weapons by the middle of 2014. If it refuses to comply, the situation would be referred to the U.N. Security Council.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has yet to formally give its assent to the deal, though government officials have indicated a willingness to approve it.

“While we remain cautious about President Assad’s true commitment to disarmament, we welcome this agreement as an ambitious but hopeful first step to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria,” the ADL said in a statement Monday.

Martin Raffel, the senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which had advocated for a strike, said his group would now “take its lead from the administration.”

“We hope military force won’t be necessary,” Raffel said. “The point of the military force was not just to engage in the military operation, it was to try and prevent Assad from using chemical weapons. We’re cautiously optimistic this thing will all work out.”

The flurry of activity followed an attack on Aug. 21 in which a rebel stronghold near Damascus was hit with chemical weapons that are believed to have killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the attack was likely perpetrated by opposition forces, but the United States maintains it was almost certainly launched by Assad.

After sealing the deal with Lavrov in Geneva, Kerry flew to Israel, where he appeared at a joint news conference Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We have been closely following — and support — your ongoing efforts to rid Syria of its chemical weapons,” Netanyahu said. “The Syrian regime must be stripped of all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer.”

Netanyahu cast Israel’s investment in the deal in the same terms that pro-Israel groups had framed their support last week for strike authorization: as a message to Iran.

“What the past few days have shown is something that I have been saying for quite some time — that if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat,” Netanyahu said. “What is true of Syria is true of Iran and, by the way, vice versa.”

Former Syrian defense minister defects in break with Assad


Former Syrian Defence Minister General Ali Habib, a prominent member of President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect, has defected and is now in Turkey, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters on Wednesday.

If his defection is confirmed, Habib would be the highest ranking figure from the Alawite minority to break with Assad since the uprising against him began in 2011.

It comes at a time when forces loyal to Assad have made progress against the rebels on the battlefield but face the possibility of a U.S. military strike in response to a chemical weapons attack in Damascus for which Washington blames the Syrian leader.

“Ali Habib has managed to escape from the grip of the regime and he is now in Turkey, but this does not mean that he has joined the opposition. I was told this by a Western diplomatic official,” Kamal al-Labwani said from Paris.

Syrian state television denied Habib had left Syria and said he was still at his home. Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said he could not at the moment confirm Habib had defected.

A Gulf source told Reuters that Habib had defected on Tuesday evening, arriving at the Turkish frontier before midnight with two or three other people. He was then taken across the border in a convoy of vehicles.

His companions were fellow military officers who supported his defection, the source said. They were believed to have also left Syria but there was no immediate confirmation of that.

Labwani said Habib was smuggled out of Syria with the help of a Western country.

“He will be a top source of information. Habib has had a long military career. He has been effectively under house arrest since he defied Assad and opposed killing protesters,” Labwani said.

COORDINATED WITH U.S.

An officer in the opposition Free Syrian Army, who did not want to be identified, said the Habib appeared to have coordinated his defection with the United States.

Former military officers who have defected from Assad's army say it had about 36,000 officers, of which 28,000 are Alawites. The remaining 8,000 are a mix of Sunni Muslims, the majority community in Syria, and members of minorities such as Christians and Druze, they said.

Born in 1939, Habib was Defence Minister from 2009 to August 2011, when he was replaced for what official media said were health reasons. The Gulf source Habib had spent some time under house arrest.

After rumors that he was dismissed for opposing the killing of peaceful pro-democracy protesters, Habib was shown on state television pledging his loyalty to the Assad government. Western diplomats said the statement appeared to have been made under duress.

Habib participated in the 1973 October War against Israel, in which Syria failed to recapture the occupied Golan Heights, and in the 1990-91 Gulf War, when Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father and predecessor as president, symbolically joined a U.S.-led coalition that ousted Iraq occupation troops from Kuwait.

“Habib is a simple and honest. Unlike the Assads he is not corrupt,” said another military defector who served under Habib.

When he was chief of staff he did not like the Assad family's readiness to use violence as a political tool and when demonstrators started being killed he could no longer remain a “yes man”, the defector said.

“His defection will rattle the Alawite community because it will be seen as another man jumping off a sinking boat, indicating the coming fall of the regime,” the defector told Reuters

Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut; Editing by William Maclean, Robin Pomeroy and Giles Elgood

Son of Syrian general of ‘blood libel’ notoriety defects


A top Syrian general and the son of a notoriously anti-Semitic former defense minister reportedly has defected from the Assad regime.

Reports Thursday said that Manaf Tlass, a brigadier general in the elite Republican Guards, had defected and was on his way to France.

Tlass’ defection would be the first from the close circle of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad since an uprising began in the country in 2011.

Tlass’ father, Gen. Mustafa Tlass, was the defense minister from 1972 to 2004, and was a key ally of Assad’s late father, longtime Syrian strongman Hafez Assad.

The elder Tlass earned notoriety in the West in 1983 for publishing a book attempting to prove the falsehood that Damascus Jews had murdered a priest in 1840 to use his blood for matzah.

The original rumors instigated a pogrom against the city’s Jews, and helped spur modern Zionism among European Jews.

Report: Top Syrians ready to flee


Syrian regime officials reportedly are setting up escape and defection routes.

The British Daily Telegraph on Friday quoted U.S. officials as saying that officials in dictator Bashar Assad’s inner circle have contacted figures in the opposition and Western governments and have begun transferring funds out of Syria.

Col. Hassan Merei al-Hamade, a pilot of a MiG combat aircraft, this week flew his plane to Jordan, and other MiG pilots may do the same soon, the newspaper said.

“It is obviously a significant moment when a guy takes a $25 million plane and flies it to another country,” Victoria Nuland, the state department spokesman, said in Thursday’s briefing.

The Assad regime has for 15 months attempted to crush an uprising, killing thousands of Syrian citizens.

Richard Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria who is no longer resident in the country, is in Istanbul in a bid to contact leaders in the country’s business community to join the opposition.

Hamas reportedly leaving Damascus


Hamas is reportedly thinning its ranks in Damascus as pan-Arab pressure builds on the Syrian regime.

Diplomats said this week that the Palestinian Islamist group, which has long had its headquarters in the Syrian capital, has been quietly relocating staff to Gaza following the Arab League decision to suspend Syria over its bloody crackdown on anti-regime protestors, according to news reports.

A Hamas spokesperson denied the report, according to the Jerusalem Post.

According to the diplomats, Hamas has been leaving quietly to avoid Syrian state scrutiny as well all that of Iran, an ally of Damascus and a financial backer of Palestinian terrorist groups. Another Islamist militia supported by Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, has emphasized that its alliance remains sound.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah lauded Syria as a “resistance regime” during a surprise appearance Tuesday before ecstatic crowds of Shi’ite supporters in Beirut. Nasrallah has kept largely out of view since the 2006 war with Israel.

“Every day we are growing in number, our training is getting better, we are becoming more confident and our weapons are increasing,” he said.

U.S. should support Iranians’ right to oppose regime


U.S. State Department spokesman Marc Toner was right to recognize the right of the rebellious population of Syria to take up arms against the ruling oppressive regime.

Rightly blaming the regime for the violent flare-up, Toner hailed “a dynamic that has been borne [sic] of the ongoing repression and violence against them” as a matter of “self-defense” by the population.

It is normal that democracies support peaceful demands by populations around the world, whenever those populations have difficulties making their demands heard by the ruling class. Furthermore, in the case of violent repression of those demands, it is a moral obligation to defend those people. Many democracies, including America, were at some point supported by other nations in their struggles for liberty and democracy.

What is not normal is applying double standards in principled positions. How can the Syrian people’s right to armed struggle for liberty be supported, while at the same time the same right is denied to the Iranian people?

Iran’s regime is far more repressive than its regional ally, Syria. Some 120,000 Iranians have lost their lives to this regime on political grounds. A list of at least 20,000 of those victims has been filed as a public document. In 1988, 30,000 political prisoners were massacred in a matter of months.

Iran’s interference in other countries has not been witnessed on the part of Syria. In fact, Iran uses Syria to smuggle arms to Hezbollah and Hamas in order to foment unrest in the region.

The Syrian dictator has not been known to have nuclear ambitions comparable to Iran’s.

Iran’s history of supporting terrorism, the most recent case of which in the United States is making headlines these days, is second to none. Iran is in fact helping Syria to crush its population’s uprising.

Compared to Iran’s ruling clique, Bashar Al-Assad seems an innocent child.

What the Syrian people have now, which is U.S. moral support, is much more than what thousands of Iranians are asking. In sit-ins in front of the State Department, hundreds of Iranian-born citizens urge that Iran’s main opposition movement facing the clerics in power not be labeled “terrorist.” That has been the case since 1997, when Bill Clinton placed, on strict demand of the Iranian government, the main Iranian opposition group (People’s Mojahedin of Iran – PMOI) on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). Britain and the European Union subsequently followed the U.S. initiative to list the PMOI as a “terrorist” entity in 2000 and 2001.

The PMOI fought a legal war in Europe, which obliged the United Kingdom’s government (June 2008) and the EU (January 2009) to remove the organization from their blacklists. Following the judicial precedent, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in July 2010 recommended that the Secretary of State revise her decision to list the PMOI as an FTO. Since then, Hillary Clinton is still studying the case and weighing her choices.

In the meantime, hundreds of documents have been released by WikiLeaks showing that far from stemming from security considerations, and much like Bill Clinton’s, the European deal to blacklist the organization had been part of an ongoing, day-by-day bargaining between the EU and the clerical regime in Iran in order to establish and strengthen commercial and political relations with that regime and rein in its terrorism.

From an ethical point of view, the Secretary of State’s decision to blacklist the PMOI is hardly defendable. PMOI’s record during the past three decades is what the United States is recognizing in Syria, which is legitimate armed resistance against a tyrannical regime when no other outlet has been permitted by the latter.

This right has even been recognized by the Catholic Church, which in general opposes the use of violence — by no less than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), stating: “Armed struggle is the last resort to end blatant and prolonged oppression which has seriously violated the fundamental rights of individuals and has dangerously damaged the general interests of a country.”

The U.S. Declaration of Independence, too, recognizes a people’s right, and indeed duty, to topple a tyrannical regime.

So, no ethical principle allows us to deprive the Iranian people of this right.

But, from a politician’s point of view, the policy is even more flawed: The EU’s policy of appeasement vis-à-vis Iran during the 1990s, in a bid to neutralize the clerics’ drive for nuclear power, only resulted in giving Iran adequate time to enrich large quantities of uranium beyond normal levels, according to confessions by former Iranian authorities. And the U.S.’ policy of an “extended hand” to Ahmadinejad only resulted in brazen plans by the clerics to assassinate foreign diplomats on U.S. soil with as much collateral damage as needed. Feeding a crocodile is never sound policy.

One way or another, it seems to be time to change policy toward Iran.

Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights for a variety of publications.

Old-Fashioned Solution to Iran Problem


John McCain, Republican senator from Arizona and presidential hopeful, is absolutely right about the gravity of the threat from a nuclear Iran.

But does anyone notice something strange?

McCain strongly backed President Bush in toppling Saddam Hussein and is an unabashed hawk in the war against militant Islamism. Presumably, he cheered when Bush launched his doctrine of regime change against rogue regimes — the famed “axis of evil,” of which Iran is a charter member.

Yet even McCain describes the Iran crisis as something separate from the fight against terrorism. How can this be?

Somehow the old, pre-Sept. 11 idea that fighting terrorism means hunting down groups like Al Qaeda, rather than confronting terrorist states, has crept back into the minds of even the most ardent supporters of Bush’s foreign policy. Perhaps McCain made a slip of the tongue, but if so, it was quite a slip. What he should have said was that preventing a nuclear Iran is the pivotal challenge facing the war against terrorism today.

But doesn’t everyone know that Al Qaeda is Sunni and Iran is Shiite, and never the twain shall meet? Iran supports Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad against Israel, but what do the mullahs have to do with Al Qaeda and Sept. 11?

In reality, the conventional notion of a chasm between the Sunni and Shiite branches of the Islamist jihad is mistaken.

The official 9/11 Report has a whole section titled “Assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to Al Qaeda” that notes “we now have evidence suggesting that eight to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ [9/11 hijackers] traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”

The report states that Al Qaeda terrorists received “advice and training” from Hezbollah, and cites detainee testimony that “Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with Al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.”

The same source reports that Iranian border inspectors were instructed not to stamp the passports of Al Qaeda operatives, mainly to facilitate travel to Saudi Arabia.

On Dec. 18, 2005, The New York Times reported that after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, “Al Qaeda lost its sanctuary, and Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders scattered to Pakistan, Iran and other countries.”

There is, then, no shortage of direct connections between Iran and Al Qaeda, including specifically connections to the Sept. 11 hijackers. Sunni and Shiite terrorists, it turns out, are happy to work together toward a common cause such as killing Americans and Israelis. Still, it might be argued that Al Qaeda, regardless of any assistance it receives from Iran, is essentially an independent actor and so it is a stretch to claim that targeting Iran is an efficient way to fight Al Qaeda.

But this sort of thinking, although common, also misunderstands the war we are in. Putting terrorist groups at the center and their state backers on the periphery is the wrong way around. The whole progress of the war, in either direction, should be measured, as the terrorists do, in the coin of states, not groups.

Al Qaeda knows that no terrorist group can subdue the United States, let alone control the world. The militant Islamist theory of victory is simple: Take over as many states as possible, first in the Muslim world, then beyond.

Now that pro-terror regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan are gone and Libya has cried uncle and ostensibly abandoned the terror/nuke business, Iran is far and away the most important terrorist regime in the world. For Israel, Iranian nukes are obviously an existential threat. But for the world, as well, a nuclearized Iran would represent the pivot between a world with more terror states and one with fewer.

Make no mistake, if the mullahs fell, it would be a major, perhaps mortal blow, to Al Qaeda and to militant Islam worldwide. This is so because terrorists depend not on military power, which they lack, but on a sense of inevitability and despair, which they hope to create. They are either the wave of the future, or they are nothing. When the Taliban fell in Afghanistan, there was suddenly a surplus of Bin Laden T-shirts in Peshawar, Pakistan.

McCain said something else important in that same interview: “The Iranian people are not happy under these mullahs. They oppress and repress them. We’ve got to do much more to encourage the democracy movement in Iran.”

He’s right for two reasons: The fall of the Iranian regime would deal the greatest blow to Islamist terrorism, and it is the only sure way to protect against a nuclearized terror state.

As columnist Amir Taheri noted, the West should “acknowledge that the problem is not uranium enrichment but the nature of the Iranian regime. More than 20 countries, from Argentina to Ukraine, enrich uranium without anyone making a fuss. But who can trust the present leadership in Teheran not to embark upon some tragic mischief in the name of its ideology?”

The Iranian regime should be the subject of withering international isolation of the sort used to topple Somoza in Nicaragua, Marcos in the Philippines, the apartheid regime in South Africa and, most recently, to reverse the stolen election in the Ukraine. Indeed, the mullocracy is more deserving of pariah status than any of these other nasty regimes since it both oppresses its own people and poses a dire threat to international security.

The great irony is that though Iran’s aggression compounds its human rights sins, its support for terrorism has allowed it to escape the campaigns used to vanquish less-threatening dictatorships.

The most significant impact of economic, or even military, sanctions may not be their direct effects but their contribution to a comprehensive denial of legitimacy. Though the mullahs seem to revel in flouting the international community, it is such isolation and rejection — and their own people — that they fear most. The ultimate solution to the Iran problem is an old-fashioned one: revolution.

Saul Singer is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, where this first appeared.

 

What about Iran?


Last week in Baghdad, 30 Iranians were captured fighting for the militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. A few days earlier, two trucks transporting weapons for Sadr’s fighters were caught trying to drive into Iraq from Iran.

NBC reported recently that "thousands" of Iranian-funded fighters are operating in Iraq. And last month, the Sept. 11 commission, which investigated U.S. intelligence failures associated with the terrorist attacks, found that eight of the 19 hijackers were given safe passage through Tehran in 2000 and 2001.

Yet despite all of this damning behavior, a senior Bush administration official last month told the Financial Times, "Iran’s hard-line government has refrained from efforts to destabilize the new government in neighboring Iraq."

After the release of the Sept. 11 commission’s findings about the safe passage, President Bush responded unflappably to the critical accusation, saying the United States "will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved."

While the on-the-books policy of the current administration is regime change in Tehran, an overstretched military and an absence of good military options have led Bush to sound decidedly dovish. Rather than beating another war drum, he has made murmurs about the prospect of resumed relations in exchange for better Iranian behavior.

Just 10 weeks before the November election, Bush faces a problem: Iran, one of the three points on the axis of evil he described in his 2002 State of the Union address, is compounding headaches for the administration in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is now evidence of a link between the regime and Al Qaeda, throwing further doubt on why the Bush administration chose to strike at Saddam Hussein, rather than deal with the problem of the mullahs in Tehran.

And perhaps most menacingly of all, Iran is driving full speed ahead toward achieving a nuclear weapon. Senior U.S. officials all the way up to Bush have said the world cannot allow Iran to go nuclear, but such rhetoric has not proved powerful enough to halt programs in the past.

"We’ve heard this from the administration before. We’ve said, ‘We can’t allow North Korea to develop nuclear weapons.’ News flash: North Korea does have nuclear weapons," said Jon B. Wolfsthal, deputy director of the Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice made the pledge most recently in an Aug. 8 interview with NBC’s "Meet the Press." "We cannot allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear weapon," she said. "The president will look at all the tools that are available to him."

Yet at the moment, the United States, so consumed with the mess in Iraq, hardly has the stomach for another Middle East confrontation.

"The U.S. commitment in Iraq in terms of attention and troops has dramatically reduced our leverage over Iran," Wolfsthal said.

And in case anyone in Iran remained worried about the Bush administration getting tough, all they had to do was listen to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz on Aug. 10. "We can’t do everything at once," the administration’s top hawk told the House Armed Services Committee, when asked how the United States is dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorism.

With competing camps within the administration, some pushing for engagement, others for, at the very least, support for democracy advocates inside Iran, Washington seems hardly able to draft a coherent approach to Tehran. Gone — at least for now — is the neoconservative rhetoric that the U.S. superpower can go it alone.

Even though the Iranian nuclear threat is far more imminent than Iraq’s ever was, the United States is pursuing an internationalist approach, relying on the Europeans (who provide Iran with 40 percent of its imports and have more leverage) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — actors that the Bush administration ridiculed in the run-up to the Iraq war — to fix the problem.

Last October, the Europeans, bearing all kinds of carrots, thought they had won a pledge from the Iranians to halt their nuclear bid. The IAEA quickly found that Iran was continuing to manufacture centrifuges needed for uranium enrichment, the key to a nuclear warhead.

Now the United States is hoping the IAEA, which meets next month, will refer Iran’s nuclear violations to the U.N. Security Council. And there, the United States hopes the world will sanction Iran for its behavior.

Israel is hoping for that, too. Israeli officials say world attention to the Iranian nuclear problem has slowed the program a bit. Israel recently set back the date by which Iran will have a nuclear bomb to 2008.

But everyone all the way up to Bush knows that if diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to abandon the program fail, Israel will not wait until Iran has fissile material to take steps to thwart the program. The London Times reported last month that Israel had conducted military rehearsals for a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear power facility under construction at Bushehr.

"Israel will on no account permit Iranian reactors — especially the one being built in Bushehr with Russian help — to go critical," the Times quoted an Israeli defense source as saying. "If the worst comes to the worst and the international efforts fail, we are very confident we’ll be able to demolish the ayatollahs’ nuclear aspirations in one go."

Iran, which this month tested its long-range Shahab 3 missile — believed to be able to be tipped with a nuclear warhead — has pledged in turn to "wipe Israel off the map" if it strikes at its facilities. And Ayatollah Ali Hamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, recently warned it would strike at the "enemy’s" interests around the globe in retaliation, most likely a reference to soft targets like Jewish centers and Israeli embassies.

If Iran attains nuclear capability, the perceived threat to Israel may be greater than the actual one. "I think that the odds are they would not use it against Israel. The odds are against that they would contract out the nuclear technology to terrorists," said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East specialist who is now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Speaking at a panel on Iran hosted by the Hudson Institute on Tuesday, Gerecht noted that while he believes "the Iranian regime is not a crazy regime" and therefore would not seek nuclear annihilation by striking Israel in a post-Sept. 11 world, people must be "very fearful" of the possibility of a nuclear-equipped, virulently anti-Israel Iran.

Ray Takeyh, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said on the same panel that Iran’s accelerated nuclear ambitions were motivated primarily by the "massive projection of American power on Iran’s periphery," not by a desire to strike Israel. "I never really believed that Iran wants nuclear weapons because of Israel. Israel has no territorial designs on Iran."

"Nobody is going to talk about what kind of option Israel has operationally," said David Ivry, who commanded the Israeli air force’s 1981 covert strike against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. In a telephone interview, Ivry said one of the keys to the 1981 raid was that "nobody [outside the planners] knew what [Israel’s] red line was.

"The red line was that we are going to attack when there is enriched uranium on its way to be put in the nuclear reactor," he explained. "The idea was such that we cannot attack the nuclear reactor after the enriched uranium was put in, because it would cause an environmental disaster."

"Now," Ivry said, speaking of Iran, "it is a bit different. There are more facilities. They are underground. You have to define a red line, and this should be done inside [the Israeli military establishment]."

Ivry, unlike the defense source quoted by the London Times, has no delusions that an Israeli military strike would wipe out Iran’s nuclear capability forever.

"Even when we attacked the nuclear reactor at Osirak, our intelligence said within three to five years they would have it again," Ivry said. "But the idea was such that we have to gain time…. You cannot destroy a nuclear program completely once a nation has a desire to have it. You’d need different leadership."

Zalman Shoval, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said that an Iranian nuke would be a problem for the entire world, not just Israel.

"If the Iranians actually developed nuclear weapons capability, of course Israel would be worried," Shoval said. "But I’m not sure Israel is the sole or even the main potential target. I’m not sure this is Iran’s most important geopolitical aim. What Iran wants to do is to be a regional superpower and control parts of the Middle East, and they apparently believe that having nuclear weapons will give them that ability."

"I’m not saying Israel couldn’t act," he added. "But Israel doesn’t want and doesn’t need to be in the forefront of acting."

One of the main obstacles in confronting Iran’s nuclear program is that the program is not centered at Bushehr, Wolfsthal said. Iran is working on producing highly enriched uranium using small gas centrifuges and cylinders at spots throughout the country. Wolfsthal said Iran has the science down and doesn’t need any additional technology from countries like Pakistan or Russia.

"Iran has become largely self-sufficient … we don’t have the ability to constrain them through an embargo or a blockade," he said.

Some experts in Washington predict a second Bush administration would be more robust in its approach to Iran, anything from more actively fomenting domestic dissent to a decapitating strike against the Iranian leadership, should the nuclear threat become critical.

A Kerry administration, some Democrats, in particular, say, may be better able to work with European allies to produce a diplomatic solution. What’s for certain, as Shoval noted, is that "despite the present imbroglio in Iraq, whoever wins in November will have to take the lead in dealing with it."

Ninth Circuit Misses on Iran


I once appeared in court to ask that three additional defendants be held liable on a judgment.

The judge was skeptical — until I showed him that the additional defendants had forged both a set of articles of incorporation and a doctor’s business license.

The judge looked at the forged documents. He looked at the evidence that proved the documents were forged. Then, he exploded.

He gestured and yelled: "I don’t like it when people play fast and loose with the law." And with a stroke of a pen, he held the additional defendants liable.

I wonder what that judge thinks of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ refusal last week to allow a terrorist victim’s family to hold an Iranian national bank in California liable on a judgment against Iran.

In Flatow v. Bank Saderat Iran the 9th Circuit decided whether heirs of American Alisa Flatow ("Flatow"), a New Jersey native who was murdered when the bus she was riding on in Israel in 1995 was bombed, could enforce their judgment against property owned by Bank Saderat Iran in Carlsbad.

Flatow had already won a judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran: Iran had provided material support and resources to the terrorists. The sole question was whether the property held by an Iranian national bank could be used to satisfy the judgment.

The 9th Circuit relied upon a 1983 case where Citibank recovered assets from a Cuban national bank as a setoff against property seized by Cuba.

In the case, the court had found a nationalized Cuban bank to be wholly owned by Cuba, but would only hold the bank liable on the Cuban regime’s debts if the claimant could show either that the bank was acting as an agent of the Cuban government, or that the claimant was entitled to recover the money to prevent fraud and injustice.

In Flatow, the 9th Circuit found the Iranian bank to be wholly owned by the government — it was nationalized in 1979 — but rejected the contention that the Iranian national bank was a principle-agent of the Iranian government, or that justice required payment to Flatow.

I have some sympathy for the 9th Circuit. It, like many Western legal and government institutions, is now struggling to address the right to recover from Islamic terrorists within the Western framework of jurisprudence.

But the apology the court makes to Flatow at the end of the opinion "expressing regret" that the holding "forestalls" recovery is an admission of the court’s mistake.

The court’s own opinion shows that the Iranian national bank in question was supervised entirely by government ministers on various committees. In addition, the Iranian constitution mandates central control of the banking industry as part of the state sector of the economy.

Just like the former Soviet Union, where the state pushed every industry into the struggle against the West, terrorist states like Iran

utilize every component of society in support of jihad.

Other terrorist states similarly use their national institutions for terror. For example, recovery of Palestinian Authority documents by Israel over the past several months shows an entire state apparatus aiding and abetting terror. The Iraqi regime also uses various government entities to advance its nefarious goals.

In sponsoring worldwide terrorist attacks, Iran has done more than just "play fast and loose with the law." Iran has murdered and maimed innocent people.

This is not a case about two forged documents; it’s a case about continuing Islamic terror.

And since the Iranian regime has assets, the victims should be compensated.

At this point, Flatow’s case is not over; Flatow may ask for a rehearing of the 9th Circuit’s decision to a wider panel of 11 judges in the 9th Circuit.

The 9th Circuit made a mistake by not taking the Islamic Republic of Iran at its word and deed, namely, that the Islamic state directs both terrorist operations and the banking industry.

The 9th Circuit should reverse its initial decision, recognize Iran as a terrorist entity and order full recovery from the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nationalized bank.


Nathan D. Wirtschafter is a co-chair of the Israel Speaker’s Bureau for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

P.A. Under Siege?


Six Israeli defense officials are debating whether the government should take steps to prevent the collapse of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s regime. The Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported that officials are warning that the collapse of the Palestinian Authority could lead to chaos in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

However, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz cited Defense Ministry sources who say Arafat’s “SOS signals” appear to be part of a familiar strategy — portraying himself as weak to avoid having to carry out his obligations under peace deals and cease-fires, such as his responsibility to subdue Palestinian militants.

A Defense Ministry report presented to the government states that “the panicked signals of distress” that Arafat is sending are meant “to expedite the deployment of monitors to the region,” according to Ha’aretz. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appeared to agree, saying that “the claim that Arafat does not control the situation on the ground is unfounded,” according to Ha’aretz.

Ma’ariv, however, cited government officials who feel that Israel’s policy of targeting wanted Palestinians has placed great strain on Arafat, who fears he may also be singled out.

The paper said this was one of the reasons for Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer’s public assurance that Israel does not have its sights set on Arafat. Arafat also wrote to U.S. officials asking them to press Israel to stop its policy of targeting suspected Palestinian militants.

Sharon and his advisers say the policy — which they call “active self-defense” — is justified because it targets Palestinian militants before they can strike innocent Israeli civilians.

According to a Palestinian minister, the Palestinian Authority is losing its influence over Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movements because of the Israeli policy. Ziad Abu Ziad told Israel Radio that Israel’s policy is radicalizing the Palestinian street.

When Israel recently publicized the names of seven alleged terrorists it said the Palestinian Authority has refused to arrest, many took it as a signal that these seven were next on Israel’s list for “targeted killings,” — a policy that much of the world condemns simply as “assassination.”