On the front lines of Israel’s weaponry


The challenges of defending the Jewish state get very real in the pages of “The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower” by Yaakov Katz and Amir Bohbot (St. Martin’s Press). Although Israel is already known and praised as “the startup nation” — the seedbed of high technology — the story of its weapons development and deployment is especially fascinating and highly consequential.

Both authors are Israeli journalists who specialize in military coverage, and they recognize that advanced weaponry is just one element of Israel’s defense strategy. “Israel relies heavily on the reputation of deterrence it has worked hard to create over the years,” they explain. “We believe that this deterrence rests on three key pillars — Israel’s purported nuclear weapons capability, its strategic alliance with the United States and the conventional capabilities of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces].” It is the third pillar that is the focus of “The Weapon Wizards.”

“Conventional,” of course, means non-nuclear, but the weaponry itself is cutting-edge. Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, for example, acknowledges that Israel’s adversaries are well-armed and that fresh attacks are unpredictable but inevitable. “We will win though,” he tells the authors, “because our soldiers will be prepared and will have the best technology to assist them.”

The tradition is deeply rooted in Zionism. At a hilltop kibbutz near Rehovot in 1945, several years before statehood, a secret ammunition factory was established so that the Jewish fighters would be properly armed despite the ban on weaponry imposed by the British occupation of Palestine. It was literally an underground facility, buried deep underneath the laundry room of the kibbutz, and sunlamps were installed so that “the ‘kibbutzniks’ making the bullets looked tanned, as if they had been out in the fields all day.” The ruse was necessary because one of the customers of the laundry was the local British army base.

By the way, Southern California — and Los Angeles’ own Lou Lenart and Al Schwimmer — figure in the stories that are told here. During the War of Independence, Lenart flew combat missions in a Czech fighter, and Schwimmer participated in the smuggling of refurbished British warplanes from Burbank to Israel in crates marked “Refrigeration Equipment.” But the whole point of “The Weapon Wizards” is that Israel resolutely set out to become a weapons developer and manufacturer in its own right, starting before statehood and continuing with ever-greater sophistication to this day.

“To survive, the Jewish state could not rely solely on foreign assistance,” the authors write. “It needed to find a way to develop its own R&D and production capabilities. It was a matter of survival.”

As early as 1969, for example, an Israeli officer on the embattled Suez Canal longed for a way to conduct surveillance on the Egyptian positions. He had seen a newsreel that included a segment about a boy who received a remote-controled (RC) model airplane as a bar mitzvah gift, and the officer bought an RC plane of his own, installed a camera, and tested the new device by asking Israeli anti-aircraft gunners to try to shoot it down. The toy airplane survived its test flight, and the drone was born. When the United States later ran into serious problems with its own drone program, “the US finally decided to ask Israel for help,” the authors write.

Israel has long distinguished itself for its mastery of small arms. The American-made M-16, for example, has not only been replaced in the IDF with an Israeli-made assault rifle called the Tavor, but the same weapon is now exported to countries around the world, “from Colombia to Azerbaijan and Macedonia to Brazil.”  But much of its genius is applied to nonlethal technology that has come to be crucial in combat, including drones and spy satellites, and protective armor that has reinvented the tank as an effective battlefield weapon. There’s also the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, and the cyber-weapon called Stuxnet, which was co-developed by Israel and the United States and reportedly destroyed some 1,000 centrifuges in Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.

Even more remarkable is the stroke of genius that inspired the IDF to recruit soldiers with autism to scrutinize the imagery collected by drones and satellites. Recognizing that individuals with autism often possess “remarkable visual and analytical capabilities,” they are trained to pore over the raw data and pick out the nuggets of intelligence. “If a bush moves a few feet or a building is slightly enlarged, they will pick up on it,” the authors explain. “To the average eye, these topographic changes might seem natural and be missed. But for [the autistic soldiers] they could mean that a rocket launcher or an arms cache is present but hidden.”

Israel’s accomplishments in weapons development can be explained by one of the hard facts of life in the Jewish state — almost everyone serves in the military, and the military is regularly called on to fight. “This means that engineers who work for defense companies meet soldiers not just in boardroom meetings to look over new weapons designs, but also during reserve stints, when they themselves put on uniforms and become soldiers again,” the authors write. As one weapons-maker puts it: “We know what it means to sit in a military vehicle, what it’s like to hit an explosive device or take a burst of gunfire.”

Assault rifles and Nazi paraphernalia found in New York home


A man with a stash of assault rifles, bomb making instructions and Nazi paraphernalia in his home in Long Island, New York, was arrested on weapons charges.

Edward Perkowski, 29, was arrested Thursday at the house in the hamlet of Mount Sinai. His brother, Sean Perkowski, 25, who also lives in the house, was arrested on an unrelated outstanding bench warrant.

Police found multiple rifles and magazines of ammunition, photographs of Adolf Hitler, flags with swastikas and a binder full of instructions on how to construct a bomb, along with marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms.

“Today’s search warrant might have prevented a deadly, violent incident, like the one we recently saw in Orlando,” said Suffolk County police commissioner Timothy Sini.

A friend of the brothers said told CBS New York that they are not neo-Nazis.

“They are not Nazis. They are not neo-Nazis,” the man only identified as Bob said. “His brother sells merchandise, Army surplus stuff.”

Others expressed relief that the brothers were arrested.

“Cops must have been called here at least 15, 20 times,” neighbor Larry Bilello said. “We never had any problem until those people moved in.”

Neither Trump nor ISIS is going away soon


There are three things most young men want – need really – so much so that it’s seemingly part of their DNA:  1) to feel relevant, to have status of some sort; 2) to be able to give vent to their aggressive tendencies, up to and including sometimes, killing; 3) to have sex, pretty much by any means possible.  In civilian society, there are a limited variety of ways to eventually get to a place where these three urges can be satisfied; mainly they involve succeeding at something either pretty high profile or that is inherently violent to begin with like say, law enforcement, the military, or pro football (Ray McDonald – late of the San Francisco 49’ers and Chicago Bears – was recently arrested for raping a woman he thought was dead).  Otherwise, music (seen “Straight Outta Compton” lately) and other entertainment industry pursuits often seem to fill the bill, as well as business success.  Between them all, there are enough scandalous anecdotes on the wires to start your own tabloid. 

So where do ISIS and Donald Trump fit into this equation? 

Let’s begin by stipulating that it would be worth a lot – perhaps even another world war – to obliterate ISIS.  They have megalomaniacal ambitions; they operate across borders and are a barbaric threat to destabilize several countries; they kill wantonly in the most brutal fashion; they obliterate cultural patrimony; they force women into sexual slavery; they commit terrorist atrocities.  That a world-wide armed operation hasn’t risen up to cauterize them from the body Earth is a testimony, sadly, to their current locale – the Middle East, where we’ve grown accustomed to both conflict and atrocity, and comfortable with the delusion that trouble there doesn’t threaten Western civilization (only its relics) – and the evolutionary divisions of 21st Century politics.  

I’m going to further stipulate that I am not equating Donald Trump with ISIS and therefore not calling for a world war to have him obliterated.  However, it’s pretty clear that just about everyone has underestimated the staying power of both.  Both are doing something that people did not expect – drawing people to them like a giant magnet – because both have tapped into something fundamental in the mass psyche – our motivational trifecta.  Admittedly, with Trump (entertainingly megalomaniacal in his own way), it’s not limited to young men (as are not, exclusively, those impulses themselves); the tea party crowd has adopted these aggressive motivations, from grey-haired ladies to soccer moms, to screeching adolescents, to feel relevant and give vent to their aggressive tendencies.  Has there been anything more aggressive in his campaign than Trump’s calling out an entire nationality as rapists and murderers or calling for the mass deportation of 11 million people.  What better way to feel relevant than being in the vanguard of cleansing your country and “restoring its greatness.”  As for the sex, well, you can choose your poll, women rank confidence and power interchangeably one/two for on the sexy scale, and as for the men, maybe it’s the vicarious identification of being the guy with the supermodel wife. 

Just as clearly, ISIS has tapped into something so fundamental in the psyche of young Islamic men, that God only knows what percentage of them you’d have to eliminate to destroy its farm system.  ISIS goes a conventional military one better in providing for our core motivations.  Any military will convey status: even a private wears a uniform and carries a gun for his country, and those upper ranks system, don’t get me started.  Venting your aggressions?  Check and double check.  But the only organization on Earth that offers virtually instant gratification in all three arenas is….ISIS. 

First, join up and you’re in a perpetual state of war (battle is actually the point) and not just any war – the war for world domination promised in the book.  Sure, some ISIS recruits come on board because they fervently believe in the brutal, ultra-conservative Islamic brand “Caliph” Baghdadi is peddling, and the glory of the Caliphate I’m sure stirs the imagination of more than a few.  After all, their dreary lives as marginalized young men in various Western European or Third World countries  don’t offer much to stir their emotions – as with the un- and under-employed white people backing Trump.  Join ISIS, and you’re an instant soldier for the cause, conferring instant status.  Your friends back home, suffering through school, toiling in dead-end jobs, surviving on petty crime – who are they compared to you?  Do you want news of them, or do they want news of you? 

But just as powerful, I’m sure, is the promise of a high caliber automatic weapon.  Come to Syria, be a soldier for the cause, and tote an AK-47, or a nice, American AR-15 looted from the Iraqis, or better yet, a .50 caliber mounted on a pickup truck.  (Donald Trump, by the way:  “I’m a big Second Amendment guy”)  You, young man, get to shoot at, maim, and kill people with impunity.  You are Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt and Napoleon Solo, and whoever Vin Diesel is this week, and if you’re blood is really up – yes, you may even get to cut off someone’s head.  Rare air indeed. 

Don’t think that’s a big psychological draw?  Re-examine movie billboards.  There is not one TV program or movie, that can possibly support the logic of an image of a weapon, that does not include one.  Ever.  Speaking of Vin Diesel, notice how the Fast and Furious franchise graduated from hot girls, guys, and cars, to a prominent display of weaponry as we got to “Fast Five” and beyond. 

But here’s the icing on the cake; here’s where ISIS puts the U.S. Army and the NFL to shame.  You get to be a gun-toting warrior for the cause, and it comes with your own sex slave.  You don’t have to worry about your parents narrow ideas of sex before marriage, meeting someone, overcoming resistance, moral qualms, societal taboos, the law, the cops – you can get a sexual slave and get laid all the time.  It’s sanctioned, dude.  The Caliph says it’s in the book.  This is even better than Trump, who merely disparages and degrades women, though admittedly, that seems to be working so well across his supporters’ demographics, he hasn’t yet needed to up the ante. 

And just as Trump makes it okay for the disaffected class to support someone more like Romney than they promised themselves they would ever put up with again, ISIS makes it okay to indulge those base, secret longings you always suspected were the core Islam now been validated by a rogue revolutionary that has actually claimed and held real estate – as Trump has claimed and held political real estate, despite the worst examples of public behavior in recent history for a mainstream candidate.  

If you need it in simpler terms, here it is from one Roger Stone, who worked with Nixon, Lee Atwater, and at one time, Trump, and the author of the still unpublished, “Stone’s Rules for War, Politics, Food, Fashion, and Living.”  Rule: “hate is a stronger motivator than love.”  By the looks of things, he knows what he’s talking about, and while a case can be made that for Trump, it’s more disdain than hate, it’s why we can expect both ISIS and Trump to be with us for quite some time. 

Mitch Paradise is a writer and producer living in Los Angeles.

Police seize weapons in raid on West Bank settlement


 Israel Police seized weapons and equipment from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

The items seized in a Tuesday night raid were to be used against Palestinians and Israeli military forces, police said, according to the Times of Israel. They included knives, saws, flammable liquids, tear gas canisters and black masks.

Yitzhar residents have attacked nearby Palestinian villages and Israeli security services.

In April, Israeli troops took over a religious seminary there in response to attacks on Israeli troops and Palestinians by settlement residents. Before the takeover, Yitzhar residents attacked an army outpost in the settlement after the demolition of five illegal homes built there.

Mashal vow: With more precise weapons, Hamas will aim only at military targets


Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal vowed that Hamas would aim only at Israeli military targets if it can get more sophisticated weapons.

Mashal in an hourlong interview Friday with Yahoo News in Doha, Qatar, also said his group is nothing like ISIS and admitted that Hamas members killed three kidnapped Israeli teens in June.

He said Hamas rejects the killing of civilians and journalists, unlike ISIS, an Islamist group that distributed a video of the beheading of an American journalist in recent days.

Asking the interviewer, “The question is, who is killing the civilians?” Mashal asserted that Israel has killed 15 journalists during attacks on Gaza.

“We do not target civilians, and we try most of the time to aim at military targets and Israeli bases,” he said, adding that Hamas’ “problem” is that it does not have the sophisticated military equipment that Israel has, “so aiming is difficult.”

“We promise that if we get more precise weapons, we will only target military targets,” Mashal said.

The interview occurred after a 4-year-old Israeli boy living near the Gaza border was killed in a mortar attack outside his home but was not mentioned in the four-minute segment presented on Yahoo.

Mashal called the comparison between Hamas and ISIS, which has been made repeatedly by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a “lie” designed to “trick” the American public.

“We are not a religious, violent group,” Mashal said. “We are fighting against aggression in our land.”

Mashal acknowledged during the interview that Hamas members kidnapped and murdered the three Israeli teens, though he said the Hamas organization did not know about the kidnapping in advance. He called the murders a legitimate form of protest against Israel.

“We understand people are frustrated under the occupation and the oppression, and they take all kinds of action,” he said.

The interview took place after two days of talks in the Qatari capital between Mashal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

 

Militants, weapons transit Gaza tunnels despite Egyptian crackdown


A third of the houses on the main street of this Bedouin town near Egypt's border with Gaza look derelict, but inside they buzz with the activity of tunnel smugglers scrambling to survive a security crackdown by the Egyptian army.

Smugglers and tunnel owners, who once publicly advertised their services, have taken over the nearly two dozen single-storey concrete structures and boarded up their doors and windows to avoid the attention of the authorities.

While tunnels used by Gaza's dominant Hamas militants to infiltrate Israel were a priority target of an Israeli offensive in the Palestinian enclave this summer, many smuggling conduits into Egypt have skirted detection.

That has allowed transports of weapons, building materials, medicine and food to continue to and from the small, coastal territory that is subject to blockade by both Israel and Egypt, tunnel operators say and Egyptian security sources acknowledge.

“During the Gaza war, business has flourished,” said a Bedouin guide who gave Reuters access to one of the tunnels and a rare look at how the illicit, lucrative industry has evolved since Egypt began trying to root out the passages in 2012.

Egypt sees a halt to the flow of weapons and fighters as important to its security, shaken in the past year by explosions and shootings by an Islamist insurgency based mainly in the Sinai Peninsula bordering Gaza and Israel.

Humanitarian supplies and building materials headed in the other direction have provided a vital lifeline to the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza who have been living under the Israeli-imposed blockade since Hamas seized the enclave in 2007.

Cairo mediated talks this month between Israel and Palestinian factions led by Hamas to try to end the war in Gaza but refused to discuss easing its tight control of the Rafah border crossing as part of the deal Hamas seeks.

A 10-day ceasefire expired on Tuesday without a deal to extend it indefinitely, with Israel resuming air strikes on Gaza and Hamas and other Islamist militants their rocket salvoes into the Jewish state.

The guide who accompanied Reuters and requested anonymity estimated the total number of functional tunnels in about 10 border villages like Al-Sarsouriya at nearly 500 – down from about 1,500 before the Egyptian clamp down began.

Most of the bigger tunnels – the kind that can accommodate cars and even trucks – have been destroyed by the Egyptians, but smaller ones ranging 1-2 meters (yards) in diameter survive.

The guide said that as many as 200 new tunnels had been built in the past two years, dodging Egyptian security sweeps, with new ones coming onboard each week.

The smaller tunnels are still big enough to allow weapons, building materials and humanitarian supplies to pass under the heavily guarded land crossing.

“Each day, about 3 or 4 people cross with weapons, and each one carries about 6 or 7 guns,” the Bedouin guide said, without specifying what type of arms were being transported.

A senior Egyptian security officer confirmed that while the biggest and longest tunnels were no more, smaller ones remain operational.

“The situation is much more controlled. It's not 100 percent but we are trying to reach this percentage,” he told Reuters. He said the army had achieved a noticeable reduction in smuggling of weapons, fuel, food and drugs over the past two years.

Egypt accuses the Islamist Hamas of supporting the Sinai insurgents, which Hamas denies. For its part, Israel has long wanted Egypt to end arms smuggling from Sinai to Gaza militants.

LUCRATIVE TUNNEL BUSINESS BEHIND SHOWER CURTAIN

A shower curtain is all that conceals the entrance ramp to the tunnel which Reuters visited. Two sheep and a cart in an adjacent room gave the impression that the house was abandoned, should security forces come searching.

The tunnel owner and his teenage son sat on cushions around a small wooden table beside the curtain. A photograph of the pair hung on the wall overlooking their cash cow.

The concrete-lined entrance to the 600-metre (0.37 miles) tunnel turns to dirt after a few steps. Posts support a wooden ceiling as deep as 10 meters (33 feet) below the surface, and energy-saving bulbs every few meters light the way.

The Egyptian owner accompanies passengers to the midpoint where a sentry checks on the security situation on the other side and then brings them to meet the Palestinian co-owner.

“This tunnel is a partnership between us,” said the Egyptian. “Building it cost us $300,000. He paid half and I paid half. The profit is split between us 50-50.”

The tunnel regularly brings the men profits of $200 a day. Shipping rates vary, starting at $12 for one-meter crates of medicine or food and topping out at $150 for weapons, building supplies or fuel.

People can pass for $50 each but the rate increases if they are armed. Most of the passengers are men, the owner said, but women and children also use the tunnels. Farm animals occasionally make the journey as well.

“If someone is passing with one or two guns, we charge $60 to $70. But if someone has more weapons, it's a special operation and might cost as much as $1,000 or $2,000 depending on the type of weapon,” the Egyptian owner told Reuters.

He said he does not check the identification of people who pass and even allows masked men to use his tunnel if his Palestinian partner vouches for them. “As long as they give me $50, I let them through,” he said.

The owner said he also does not seek to know the affiliation or destination of militants and weapons for fear that displeased customers will use another tunnel or report him to the security forces. “I just deliver the weapons and take the money,” he said. “I'm not concerned with where they're going.”

In Gaza, Hamas has disputed Israel's claim that it demolished all of the militants' infiltration tunnels during the current conflict, and granted a rare tour to a Reuters news team last week to back up its assertion.

U.S. sells munitions to Israel from its surplus stockpile


The U.S. Defense Department sold to Israel munitions from its Israel-based surplus stockpile.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in an email Thursday to JTA. “This defense sale is consistent with those objectives.”

The weapons released were 120mm tank rounds and 40mm illumination rounds. Israel made the request July 20, which was 12 days after the launch of the current Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip. The items were released on July 23.

Kirby in his email noted that White House approval is not required for the sale of munitions in the Israel-based stockpile.

U.S. defense assistance to Israel has for years included the existence of a stockpile in the country of surplus U.S. weapons available for expedited sale to Israel.

Separately, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a phone call with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon repeated U.S. calls for a humanitarian cease-fire.

“Hagel called for the cease-fire and expressed concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths as well as the loss of Israeli lives,” said a statement by Kirby describing the phone call on Wednesday. “Hagel also reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s security and its right to self defense and said that any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups.”

Czech police find weapons at Palestinian mission


Czech investigators found unregistered weapons at the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Prague, police said on Thursday, a day after the ambassador was killed in a mysterious explosion after opening a safe.

“We have gathered many pieces of evidence, we secured weapons that will be subject to expert evaluation,” Prague police chief Martin Vondrasek said on Czech Radio.

“We can say the weapons have not gone through a registration process in the Czech Republic,” he said, without revealing the quantity and type.

Police reiterated they believed the blast that killed ambassador Jamal al-Jamal on New Year's Day may have been caused by mishandling an explosive that could have been securing the safe. They have said they are not treating it as an attack or a terrorist incident.

Jamal suffered lethal injuries to his head, chest and abdomen. He had been in Prague only since October.

Embassy spokesman Nabil el-Fahel said the safe was being used on a daily basis to store cash for the mission.

The mission is in the process of moving into a new embassy and residence, which share the same compound. Jamal was killed at the new residence.

Fahel's account contradicted Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, who said the safe had not been used for two decades or more, possibly going back to the time when the Palestine Liberation Organisation maintained a mission in Prague.

STAFF UNAWARE

Some safes can be fitted with small charges to destroy secret documents in the event of the lock being tampered with. But Fahel said embassy staff were not aware that any explosive mechanism was attached to the safe that Jamal opened.

He later said on Czech Television he had no information on weapons being seized by police. But a Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the mission's staff in Prague had submitted the weapons to Czech authorities.

He did not elaborate on the type of weapons involved, but said they had been retrieved from an old sack and had been untouched since Cold War times.

The Vienna Convention, which covers diplomatic relations between states, does not set out arrangements for diplomats holding weapons.

The Czech Foreign Ministry said diplomats' weapons were subject to local laws on arms, which require registration and licensing. This suggests that if the weapons were unregistered, they were illegal.

The ministry said it was not changing its position on the Palestinian mission in the country. “We can hardly draw any conclusions from partial results and findings,” spokeswoman Johana Grohova said.

Communist Czechoslovakia maintained friendly relations with the PLO in the 1980s, but the Czech Republic, an EU and NATO member country, has been supportive of Israel.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

Rob Eshman: What’s next for Iran?


By Monday morning, the Israeli reaction to the nuclear deal with Iran had changed from “What happened?” to “Now what?”

And that reaction makes a lot more sense.

The interim agreement signed by Iran and the group of negotiating nations known as P5+1 on Saturday night, Nov. 23,  Iran committed to halt uranium enrichment above 5 percent, to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, to suspend its installation of updated centrifuges and its plutonium enrichment, to suspend development of its Arak heavy water reactor and to allow for highly intrusive inspection and monitoring of its nuclear program.

In return, Iran will receive between $6 billion and $7 billion in sanctions relief, while still facing some $30 billion in lost oil revenue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can call the historic deal a “historic mistake,” but the ink is dry, and there’s no going back.  

The dogs bark, as the old Middle East proverb goes, the caravan moves on.

Critics are comparing the interim deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement—but, to be fair, the President’s critics compare everything he does to the 1938 Munich Agreement. 

The reality is far more complicated.  There are serious weaknesses in the deal, as well as strengths.  We can harp on the drawbacks or use the six-month window before the next planned agreement to secure a better deal.

The deal’s weaknesses are legion — the agreement barely shortens the time Iran needs to “break out” and develop a nuclear weapon. Iran can still maintain its 19,000 centrifuges. It still reserves the right to enrich uranium. The deal’s language is vague enough on this point and others for the signatories to become bogged down in interpretations over what the agreement means, rather than focus on its execution.  And relaxing  international sanctions makes it that much more difficult to set them back in place.

Worst of all, the accord puts us in business with a regime that crushes the rights of its people, sows havoc and terror from Gaza to Lebanon to Syria, and that has, of course, lied openly and consistently about the very existence of its nuclear weapons program. 

But there is good news here, too.  The interim agreement allows for the most intrusive inspections ever.    It stalls Iran’s otherwise relentless march toward nuclear capability.  And the sanctions are reversible— easier said than done, yes, but possible — especially if the world sees the alternative is war. 

The accords, by the way, do not limit a military response to Iranian nukes—which still remains the biggest threat hanging over the regime’s head. 

These positive developments are one reason the Israeli reaction was not all negative. The agreement, former Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin said,  “was neither the dream agreement nor the fall of the Third Temple.”

“If this were the final agreement – then it would really be a bad agreement, but that’s not the situation,” Yadlin told Israeli reporters.

So, to repeat, now what?

Looking forward, not backward, these are the next steps to insure a much safer world.  Among them must be:

1. Parchin:  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes Iran is using the Parchin military complex for secret nuclear weapons development.  Inspectors have to get in there and reveal the truth.

2. Fordo: Inspectors must be allowed access to the Fordo underground enrichment facility whose only possible purpose, experts say, is the development of nuclear weapons capability.

3. Sanctions:  Congress and the international community need to keep the pressure on by preparing a list of crippling sanctions that can be triggered with little more than a Skype call.  Critics say sanctions will be impossible to revive, but the original fear that led to the sanctions was the threat of a U.S. or Israeli military action.  As long as that doesn’t go away, neither will sanctions.

4. Treaties:  The United States can use this opportunity to strengthen its relationships with Israel and other Mideast allies.  That, UCLA Professor and Israel Policy Forum scholar Steven Spiegel wrote, would go a long way toward reassuring our allies and putting Iran on notice that it would face unified opposition to any provocations.

5.  A Final Deal:  This interim deal is for six months.   A final deal should come in month seven.  If the Iranians try to extend, weaken or back out of that – then Obama will know he’s been had.  After all, the outlines of a comprehensive deal aren’t mysterious: An end to Iran’s ability to build and deploy nuclear weapons.   For Yadlin, that means Iran will agree to maintain as few centrifuges as possible, preferably none at all. It will also agree to strict limits on the level of enrichment and the amount of enriched material.

Then, Yadlin said, “if the Iranians decide to violate the agreement, it will take them years rather than months.”

Six months from now is June 2014.  Critics of the interim accord need to stop barking, and start working.

Netanyahu denies urging Kerry to reach deal on Syria


[UPDATE: 3:56 p.m.] The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office is denying a report that Benjamin Netanyahu urged U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to talk to Russia about a deal to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

The Wall Street Journal, citing American and Middle Eastern officials briefed on the exchange, reported Monday that Netanyahu and Kerry spoke about the issue on Sept. 11. During the conversation, according to the newspaper, Netanyahu said he believed Russia wasn’t bluffing about striking a deal on international inspection of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

The report also said that Israel shared U.S. concerns that military strikes on Syria in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own citizens would strengthen the Syrian rebels, who are linked to al-Qaida, and would allow them to take possession of Syria’s chemical weapons.

On Monday, an official from the Prime Minister’s Office told JTA the report was inaccurate.

“The comments attributed to the prime minister from his conversation with Secretary Kerry on Sept. 11 are untrue,” the official said. “The Wall Street Journal report is erroneous.”

Under the deal agreed to by the United States and Russia over the weekend, Syria would provide a full account of its chemical weapons stockpile within a week, and the arsenal would be destroyed “in the soonest and safest manner,” according to the State Department. The agreement followed three days of talks in Geneva.

Kerry and Netanyahu met Sunday in Jerusalem to discuss the deal. Kerry said following the meeting that the agreement “will only be as efficient as its implementation will be” and that “President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains.”

[10:30 a.m.] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to talk to Russia about a deal to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

The Wall Street Journal, citing American and Middle Eastern officials briefed on the exchange, reported Monday that Netanyahu and Kerry spoke about the issue on Sept. 11.

During the conversation, according to the newspaper, Netanyahu said he believed Russia wasn’t bluffing about striking a deal on international inspection of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Israel also shared U.S. concerns that military strikes on Syria in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own citizens would strengthen the Syrian rebels, who are linked to al-Qaida, and would allow them to take possession of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Under the deal agreed to by the United States and Russia over the weekend, Syria would provide a full account of its chemical weapons stockpile within a week, and the arsenal would be destroyed “in the soonest and safest manner,” according to the State Department. The agreement followed three days of talks in Geneva.

Kerry and Netanyahu met Sunday in Jerusalem to discuss the deal. Kerry said following the meeting that the agreement “will only be as efficient as its implementation will be” and that “President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains.”

Israel, Egypt cooperate


The story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Did an Israeli drone cross into Egyptian airspace over the weekend and fire a rocket at gunmen in the Sinai Peninsula who were about to launch a strike on Israel? Probably. Will any Israeli or Egyptian official admit it, even off the record? Probably not.

The official story coming out of Egypt is that it was the Egyptian military that attacked Jihadists in Sinai, killing five. The Egyptian army, which is presently controlling Egypt after Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was forced from office, is wary of being seen as too close to Israel and the United States.

Asked whether Israel was behind the attack, Egyptian military spokesman Col. Ahmed Ali declined to comment directly.

“There is an obligation between the two countries to coordinate attacks and inform each other of activities they conduct in Sinai due to the peace accords,” Ali said, referring to the historic treaty of 1979. 

An Israeli military spokesman sounded similarly opaque.

“The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the Egyptian military maintain ongoing security coordination in order to contend with mutual threats,” Capt. Eytan Buchmann said.

Egyptian military analysts said it was likely that Israel was behind the strike.

“There is a lot of confusion about who attacked the terrorists. The Israelis say they did it and the Egyptians say they did it,” retired Egyptian Gen. Fathi Ali said. “I believe the Israelis did it but with Egyptian coordination. You need people on the ground to call in the coordinates of locations where terrorists are.”

There is widespread security coordination between Israel and Egypt that is increasingly important to their mutual interests.

“This cooperation is vital to both sides,” Eitan Shamir, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University said. “Both Israel and Egypt are concerned about the situation in the Sinai [peninsula] and neither country wants instability. They both have an interest in having quiet along their border.”

In the past few days, Egypt has embarked on a campaign against terrorist groups in the Sinai. Egyptian soldiers have destroyed hundreds of tunnels used for smuggling goods and weapons between Egypt and Gaza, and is launching attacks similar to the drone strike over the weekend that was originally attributed to Israel and is now being credited to an Egyptian military helicopter.

In the past year, Israeli officials have grown increasingly worried about the growth of jihadist elements in Sinai, once a popular tourist destination for Israelis. Last week, Israel even closed down its airport in the Red Sea resort of Eilat for two hours, after a warning from Egypt that a rocket attack from Sinai was imminent. 

Under former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the security ties between the two countries were public and close. The Egyptian intelligence chief visited Israel often and helped mediate cease-fires between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement, which took over Gaza in 2007.

After the fall of Mubarak and the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, Israeli officials were concerned that the Egyptian military might back away from its relationship with Israeli security forces. Morsi had close ties with Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, after Morsi’s forced removal, the Egyptian army is playing an even more important role in the Arab world’s largest country with 85 million people. Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab nations that maintain peace treaties with Israel.

“There is a lot of security cooperation, and it’s very important,” an Israeli diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “Egypt is the biggest and most important Arab country. When Egypt sneezes, the Arab world gets a cold. What happens there impacts everywhere.”

Israeli officials are also concerned that if radical groups in Sinai come under enough pressure from Egypt, they could try to attack Israel to divert attention and garner support from other terrorist groups. As the Egyptian crackdown in the Sinai continues, Israeli officials say they expect more attempted attacks, and say that Israeli-Egyptian security coordination is even more important than it has been in the past.

Israel to Assad: Air strikes did not aim to help Syria rebels


Israel sought to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday that its recent air strikes around Damascus did not aim to weaken him in the face of a more than two-year-old rebellion.

Officials say Israel is reluctant to take sides in Syria's civil war for fear its actions would boost Islamists who are even more hostile to Israel than the Assad family, which has maintained a stable stand off with the Jewish state for decades.

But Israel has repeatedly warned it will not let Assad's ally Hezbollah receive hi-tech weaponry. Intelligence sources said Israel attacked Iranian-supplied missiles stored near the Syrian capital on Friday and Sunday that were awaiting transfer to Hezbollah guerrilla group in neighboring Lebanon.

Syria accused Israel of belligerence meant to shore up the outgunned anti-Assad rebels – drawing a denial on Monday from veteran Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Interviewed on Israel Radio, Hanegbi said the Netanyahu government aimed to avoid “an increase in tension with Syria by making clear that if there is activity, it is only against Hezbollah, not against the Syrian regime”.

Hanegbi noted Israel had not formally acknowledged carrying out the raids in an effort to allow Assad to save face, adding that Netanyahu began a scheduled visit to China on Sunday to signal the sense of business as usual.

“DIPLOMATIC CHANNELS”

The Assad government has condemned the air strikes as tantamount to a “declaration of war” and threatened unspecified retaliation.

But Hanegbi said Israel was ready for any development if the Syrians misinterpreted its messages and was ready “to respond harshly if indeed there is aggression against us”.

As a precaution, Israel deployed two of its five Iron Dome rocket interceptors near the Syrian and Lebanese fronts and grounded civilian aircraft in the area, although an Israeli military spokesman said the airspace would reopen on Monday.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest-selling newspaper, said the Netanyahu government had informed Assad through diplomatic channels that it did not intend to meddle in Syria's civil war.

Israeli officials did not immediately confirm the report, but one suggested that such indirect contacts were not required.

“Given the public remarks being made by senior Israeli figures to reassure Assad, it's pretty clear what the message is,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Military analysts say Syria would be no match for Israel, a U.S. defense ally, in any confrontation. But Damascus, with its leverage over Hezbollah, could still consider proxy attacks through Lebanon, where Israel's conventional forces fought an inconclusive war against the Iranian-backed guerrillas in 2006.

Tehran, which has long backed Assad, whose Alawite minority has religious ties to Shi'ite Islam, denied Israel's attack was on arms. Shi'ite Hezbollah did not comment.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jon Boyle

Israel strikes Syria, says its targeting Hezbollah arms


Israeli jets devastated Syrian targets near Damascus on Sunday in a heavy overnight air raid that Western and Israeli officials called a new strike on Iranian missiles bound for Lebanon's Hezbollah.

As Syria's two-year-old civil war veered into the potentially atomic arena of Iran's confrontation with Israel and the West over its nuclear program, people were woken in the Syrian capital by explosions that shook the ground like an earthquake and sent pillars of flame high into the night sky.

“Night turned into day,” one man told Reuters from his home at Hameh, near one of the targets, the Jamraya military base.

But for all the angry rhetoric in response from Tehran and from the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, it was unclear whether the second such raid in 48 hours would elicit any greater reaction than an Israeli attack in the same area in January, which was followed by little evident change.

The Syrian government accused Israel of effectively helping al Qaeda Islamist “terrorists” and said the strikes “open the door to all possibilities”; but Israeli officials said that, as in January, they were calculating Assad would not pick a fight with a well-armed neighbor while facing defeat at home.

Denying it was weighing in on the rebel side on behalf of Washington – which opposes Assad but is hesitating to intervene – officials said Israel was pursuing its own conflict, not with Syria but with Iran, and was acting to prevent Iran's Hezbollah allies receiving missiles that might strike Tel Aviv if Israel made good on threats to attack Tehran's nuclear program.

What Israel was not doing, they stressed, was getting drawn into a debate that has raged in the United States lately of whether the alleged use of poison gas by Assad's forces should prompt the West finally to give military backing to oust him.

Israel was not taking sides in a civil war that has pitted Assad's government, a dour but mostly toothless adversary for nearly 40 years, against Sunni rebels, some of them Islamist radicals, who might one day turn Syria's armory against the Jewish state.

It is a mark of how two years of killing in which at least 70,000 Syrians have died has not only inflamed a wider, regional confrontation between Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Arabs, some of them close Western allies, but have also left Israel and Western powers scrambling to reassess where their interests lie.

Egypt, the most populous Arab state and flagship of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts where elected Islamists have replaced a Western-backed autocrat, has no love for Assad. But on Sunday it condemned Israel's air strikes as a breach of international law that “made the situation more complicated”.

ROCKETS TARGETED

Israel does not confirm such missions explicitly – a policy it says is intended to avoid provoking reprisals. But an Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the strikes were carried out by its forces, as was a raid early on Friday that U.S. President Barack Obama said had been justified.

A Western intelligence source told Reuters: “In last night's attack, as in the previous one, what was attacked were stores of Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his aim for Israel was to “guarantee its future” – language he has used to warn of a willingness to attack Iran's nuclear sites, even in defiance of U.S. advice, as well as to deny Hezbollah heavier weapons.

He later flew to China on a scheduled trip, projecting confidence there would be no major escalation – though Israel has reinforced its anti-missile batteries in the north.

Syrian state television said bombing at a military research facility at Jamraya and two other sites caused “many civilian casualties and widespread damage”, but it gave no details. The Jamraya compound was also a target for Israel on January 30.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar television showed a flattened building spread over the size of a football pitch, with smoke rising from rubble containing shell fragments. It did not identify it.

Syrian state television quoted a letter from the foreign minister to the United Nations saying: “The blatant Israeli aggression has the aim to provide direct military support to the terrorist groups after they failed to control territory.”

Obama defended Israel's right to block “terrorist organizations like Hezbollah” from acquiring weapons after Friday's raid, and a White House spokesman said on Sunday: “The president many times has talked about his view that Israel, as a sovereign government, has the right to take the actions they feel are necessary to protect their people.”

It was unclear that Israel had sought U.S. approval for the strikes, although the White House spokesman said: “The close coordination between the Obama administration, the United States of America, is ongoing with the Israeli government.”

Obama has in recent years worked to hold back Netanyahu from making good on threats to hit facilities where he says Iran, despite its denials, is working to develop a nuclear weapon.

On Sunday, some Israeli officials highlighted Obama's reluctance to be drawn into new conflict in the Middle East to explain Israel's need for independent action.

Syria restricts access to independent journalists. Its state media said Israeli aircraft struck three places between Damascus and the nearby Lebanese border. The city also lies barely 50 km (30 miles) from Israeli positions on the occupied Golan Heights.

Tehran, which has long backed Assad, whose Alawite minority has religious ties to Shi'ite Islam, denied the attack was on armaments for Lebanon and called for nations to stand firm against Israel. A senior Iranian commander was quoted, however, as saying Syria's armed forces were able to defend themselves without their allies, though Iran could help them with training.

Hezbollah, a Shi'ite movement that says it is defending Lebanon from Israeli aggression, declined immediate comment.

ISRAELI CONCERNS

Analysts say the Fateh-110 could put the Tel Aviv metropolis in range of Hezbollah gunners, 100 km (60 miles) to the north, bolstering the arsenal of a group that fired some 4,000 shorter-range rockets into Israel during a month-long war in 2006.

“What we want is to ensure that inside the Syrian chaos we will not see Hezbollah growing stronger,” Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Netanyahu, told Army Radio.

“The world is helplessly looking on at events in Syria, the Americans in particular, and this president in particular,” he added of Obama. “He has left Iraq, Afghanistan and has no interest in sending ground troops to Syria … That is why, as in the past, we are left with our own interests, protecting them with determination and without getting too involved.”

Video footage uploaded onto the Internet by Syrian activists showed a series of blasts. One lit up the skyline of Damascus, while another sent up a tower of flames and secondary blasts.

Syrian state news agency SANA said Israeli aircraft struck in three places: northeast of Jamraya; the town of Maysaloun on the Lebanese border; and the nearby Dimas air base.

“The sky was red all night,” one man said from Hameh, near Jamraya. “We didn't sleep a single second. The explosions started after midnight and continued through the night.”

Central Damascus was quiet on the first day of the working week, and government checkpoints seemed reinforced. Some opposition activists said they were glad strikes might weaken Assad, even if few Syrians have any liking for Israel: “We don't care who did it,” Rania al-Midania said in the capital. “We care that those weapons are no longer there to kill us.”

Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Marwan Makdesi in Damascus, Maayan Lubell, Dan Williams, Jeffrey Heller and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Roberta Rampton Aboard Air Force One and Arshad Mohammed and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Will Waterman

With eye on Iran, U.S. upgrades bunker buster


U.S. officials reportedly told Israel that the United States has improved weapons capable of destroying Iran's underground nuclear site in Fordow.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting unnamed American officials, reported Thursday that the United States had assured Israel that advanced features added to its bunker buster bombs vastly improved its ability to destroy underground facilities.

The Journal reported that the United States hopes the improved Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, will serve to convince Israel to hold off on unilaterally attacking Iran and give Washington more time to address Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program diplomatically.

The MOP bomb weighs 30,000 pounds and has been improved with “adjusted fuses to maximize its burrowing power, upgraded guidance systems to improve its precision and high-tech equipment intended to allow it to evade Iranian air defenses in order to reach and destroy the Fordow nuclear enrichment complex,” according to the Journal.

Clinton warns Russia, Iran of Syria conflict spreading


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran and Russia on Thursday to rethink their support for Syria, saying the most dire scenarios of the conflict spilling beyond its borders could come to pass.

Clinton told reporters there are signs Iran is sending more people and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to support Syrian President Bashar Assad in his 22-month battle against rebels seeking to end his family's four-decades of authoritarian rule.

Speaking on the eve of her State Department departure, Clinton also said Russia continues aid to the Syrian government, including financially, and she appeared skeptical that Moscow was easing in its opposition to Assad's departure.

Clinton declined comment on reports Israel had bombed Syria on Wednesday but she voiced fears that the conflict, in which more than 60,000 people are believed to have died, may worsen internally and spread.

“I personally have been warning for quite some time of the dangers associated with an increasingly lethal civil war and a potential proxy war,” Clinton told a small group of reporters a day before she is to be replaced by Senator John Kerry.

“Therefore, I think it's incumbent on those nations that have refused to be constructive players to reconsider their positions because the worst kind of predictions of what could happen internally and spilling over the borders of Syria are certainly within the realm of the possible now,” she added.

Diplomats, Syrian rebels and security sources said Israeli jets bombed a convoy near the Lebanese border on Wednesday, apparently hitting weapons destined for Hezbollah. Syria denied the reports, saying the target was a military research center northwest of Damascus and 8 miles from the border.

Syria warned of a possible “surprise” response to Israel over the reported attack while Hezbollah, an Iranian ally that also supports Assad, said Israel was trying to thwart Arab military power and vowed to stand by its ally.

PRAISE FOR ALKHATIB

Clinton said that the United States was worried that Iran had recently increased its support for Assad.

“It appears that they may be increasing that involvement and that is a matter of great concern to us,” she said.

“I think the numbers (of people) have increased,” she added. “There is a lot of concern that they are increasing the quality of the weapons, because Assad is using up his weaponry. So it's numbers and it's materiel.”

She made similar comments about Russia.

“We have reason to believe that the Russians continue to supply financial and military assistance in the form of equipment,” she said. “They are doing it in the recent past.”

Russia has been Assad's most important ally throughout the 22-month-old Syrian conflict, which began with peaceful street protests and evolved into an armed uprising against his rule.

Moscow has blocked three Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing him out or pressuring him to end the bloodshed. But Russia has also distanced itself from Assad by saying it is not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.

Clinton appeared skeptical Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's comment this week that Assad's chances of staying in power were growing “smaller and smaller” might herald a fundamental shift in Russia's stance.

“On the Russians, Medvedev included, we have heard rhetoric before over the last now nearly two years that we thought provided an opening … unfortunately, all of that rhetoric has failed to translate into changes in Russian policy,” she said.

Clinton praised the head of Syria's main opposition coalition, Mouaz Alkhatib, for saying this week that he was ready to hold talks with Assad representatives outside Syria if authorities released tens of thousands of detainees.

“I thought he was not only courageous but smart in saying that if certain conditions are met we will begin discussing a political transition because you have to you know make it clear that there will be something other than hardened fighters when this conflict finally ends,” Clinton said. “Otherwise, it might not ever end in the foreseeable future.”

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Lisa Shumaker

Officials worry over uranium stockpile in Syria


Officials are concerned that a stockpile of unenriched uranium in Syria, enough to make five nuclear bombs, could fall into the hands of Iran.

The 50 metric tons of unenriched uranium are believed to be left over from the Syrian nuclear program, according to the Financial Times. 

A nearly completed nuclear reactor located at Al-Kibar, in eastern Syria, reportedly was destroyed by Israeli jets in September 2007. It is unknown where the uranium that was slated for the reactor is being stored.

Some nuclear officials fear that Iran, which is closely allied to Syria and needs uranium for its nuclear program, might be trying to get hold of the uranium, according to the Financial Times.

Israel reportedly told Pentagon about Syria poison gas


Israel notified the Pentagon that Syria was preparing a chemical believed to be deadly sarin gas and loading it into dozens of 500-pound bombs destined for airplanes.

Israel's warning to the United States at the end of November, involving intelligence showing up on satellite imagery, brought together the U.S., Arab states, Russia and China to deal with Syria's deadly civil war, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The quick action put a halt to the bomb preparation and reduced the threat to the Syrian rebels for the time being, but the bombs could be put to use at any time, according to the newspaper.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly traveled to Jordan in recent weeks to discuss how to deal with Syrian weapons if they were transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon, where they could be shot at Israel, The New York Times reported, citing Israeli media.

Israel to limit cluster bombs in possible war with Hezbollah


Israel would use a lot fewer cluster munitions in any future war with Hezbollah than it did in their 2006 conflict, even though it would go into southern Lebanon earlier and harder, a senior Israeli military officer said on Monday.

The disclosure confirms Israel already has detailed planning for an offensive aiming to avoid some controversial tactics used in the 34-day push against the Iranian-backed guerrillas.

Israel has not signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, whose adoption in 2008 was spurred partly by Lebanese casualties of the bomblets, some of which lay scattered and unexploded until they were accidentally detonated by civilian passersby.

“Due to a whole range of considerations — legitimacy, our non-indifference to the treaty, effectiveness and other factors — cluster use is expected to be reduced in combat in the rural areas,” the officer told foreign journalists.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said “rural areas” meant “most of southern Lebanon”. The scattering of cluster bombs, whether by artillery or the air force, would be “much reduced, significantly reduced”, he said.

Hezbollah is outgunned by the technologically superior Israeli forces, but in 2006 it proved adept at fighting covertly and hitting Israeli towns with rockets. Some 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died in the war.

ONE IN EVERY VILLAGE

If Israel carries out its veiled threats to attack Iran's nuclear program, it could mean another war with Hezbollah.

Israel sees the Shiite militia as the long arm of its enemy Iran. Israeli television has reported that 10,000 Lebanese sites are now listed as potential targets — far more than Israel had on its list in 2006.

Suggesting the depth of Israeli intelligence penetration, the officer said there was “more than one Hezbollah cell” in each of some 240 Shiite villages in southern Lebanon. Some have guerrilla bunkers, launch pads and arms caches.

Israel hopes Lebanon can rein in Hezbollah, which acts like a state within a state. If not, the officer predicted a future war would be settled more quickly by Israel, whose forces were fought to a standstill in 2006.

Israel had relied initially on aerial bombing, shifting to a ground offensive only after days of withering guerrilla rocket attacks on its northern towns. Next time, the tanks and troops would go in “very early on”, the officer said.

Israel must also brace for attacks on Israelis abroad, he said. Iran and its Lebanese ally have been accused of several plots. Many may have been foiled, but on July 18 a bomb in Bulgaria killed 5 Israeli tourists. Iran denied any role. Hezbollah has not responded to the charges of involvement.

If a bomb attack killed many Israelis, would Israel see it as justification for launching a new Lebanon war?

“My personal opinion? Absolutely,” the officer said.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Douglas Hamilton, Michael Roddy and William Maclean

Opinion: Christians’ letter was reasonable, worded sensitively


There has long been an unwritten covenant between the Jewish establishment and Christian leaders when it comes to interfaith dialogue: “We can talk about any religious issues we like, but criticism of Israel’s human rights violations is off limits.”

Over the past few weeks, we’ve painfully witnessed what can happen when Christians break this covenant by speaking their religious conscience.

On Oct. 5, 15 prominent American Christian leaders released a letter that called on Congress to make military aid to Israel “contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.”

While most Americans wouldn’t consider it unreasonable for our nation to insist that an aid recipient abide by U.S. laws, some Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, lashed out at their Christian colleagues, eventually walking out on a scheduled Jewish-Christian roundtable. They are now requesting that the Christian leaders come to a “summit meeting” to discuss the situation.

Considering the vehemence of such a response, one might assume that the Christian leaders’ letter was filled with outrageous and incendiary anti-Israel rhetoric.

But in fact their letter is a sensitively worded and faithful call supporting “both Israelis and Palestinians in their desire to live in peace and well-being,” as well as acknowledging “the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions,” the “horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings,” and “the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society.”

Yes, the authors of the letter also expressed their concern over “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others.”

As painful as it might be for these Jewish groups to hear, however, these are not scurrilous or arguable “allegations.” They long have been documented by international human rights groups, including the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem. The letter points out that a 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices has detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.

Why has the Jewish establishment reacted so violently to a relatively balanced and religiously based call? Because by speaking their conscience, these Christian leaders had the audacity to break the unwritten covenant: If you want to have a dialogue with us, leave Israel alone.

A recent JTA Op-Ed by Rabbi Noam E. Marans, who serves as director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, provided an interesting window into the mechanics of this covenant. In his Oct. 21 piece, “Christians’ letter is an unworthy tactic,” Marans said nothing about the substance of the letter itself, choosing instead to vehemently attack the Protestant leaders and reject the statement as nothing less than “the opening of a new anti-Israel front.”

Marans went on to surmise that this reasonable, religiously based call for justice was the product of “certain leaders” who are frustrated with “their own failure to convince denominations to use divestment as a club to pressure Israel.” Nowhere did he address the issue of Israeli human rights violations (except to refer to them as “allegations.”) In the end, he suggested that this letter represents “the anti-Israel sentiment of some Christian leaders and their small but vocal, energetic and well-funded following who are attempting to hijack the positive trajectory of Christian-Jewish relations.”

It is difficult to read such a statement without concluding that Marans’ definition of “postive Christian-Jewish relations” means anything other than “no criticism of Israel allowed.”

It is important to note that the letter to Congress was not written by a few angry church renegades; it was authored by 15 prominent church leaders representing a wide spectrum of the Protestant faith community, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee.

While it is painful to read such accusations leveled at respected Christian leaders by a Jewish director of interreligious and intergroup relations, it is even more saddening that some Jewish organizations have chosen to walk away from a scheduled interfaith roundtable, then demand that the Christian leaders attend a “summit” on their own dictated terms.

It is not the role of Jewish organizations to dictate how their Christian partners can live out their conscience or their values, no matter how much they may disagree. Unpleasant realities cannot be discarded simply because these organizations regard such issues as off limits.

We can only hope that these Christian leaders will stand firm and that this sad episode will lead us to a new kind of interfaith covenant — one based on trust and respect, a willingness to face down our fear and suspicion of one another, and a readiness to discuss the painful, difficult issues that may divide us.

Will the American Jewish establishment be up to such a task?

Rabbi Brant Rosen is the co-chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace and a congregational rabbi in Evanston, Ill.

Israel, Syria trade accusations at U.N. nuclear meeting


Syria, itself suspected of illicit nuclear activity, accused the West at a major U.N. meeting on Wednesday of double standards in implicitly condoning an Israeli atomic arsenal and warned of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Israel hit back at the annual assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by saying Syria and its ally Iran were “known for their clandestine pursuit of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

The Jewish state also made clear its view that the volatile region was not yet ready for creating a zone free of such weaponry, which Arab states have been pushing for.

“Such a process can only be launched when peaceful relations exist for a reasonable period of time in the region,” Israeli atomic energy commission head Shaul Chorev said. “Regrettably, the realities in the Middle East are far from being conducive.”

The United States said last week Syria was using the “brutal repression” of its people waging an uprising as an excuse not to address international concerns about its past nuclear work.

U.N. inspectors have long sought access to a site in Syria's desert Deir al-Zor region that U.S. intelligence reports say was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor designed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons before Israel bombed it in 2007.

The IAEA has also been requesting information about three other sites that may have been linked to Deir al-Zor, which Syria says was a conventional military site.

Syrian Ambassador Bassam Al-Sabbagh, in a rare public comment on the issue, insisted that his country was ready to cooperate with the U.N. agency and he sought to turn the tables on Damascus's accusers by hitting out at Israel.

Israel is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, although it refuses to disclose any capability. Like its ally the United States, the Jewish state sees Iran's nuclear program as the most urgent nuclear proliferation threat.

“HOSTILE MIDDLE EAST”

Clearly referring to Washington and its allies, Al-Sabbagh told the IAEA's General Conference in Vienna:

“The fact that some influential states … condone Israel's possession of nuclear capabilities and its failure to subject them to any international control exposes clearly the extent of double standards used by those states.”

He said that this “poses a threat to the region's security and stability and may even spark a nuclear arms race there” and that Israel was the main obstacle to ridding the region of atomic weaponry.

Israel has said it would sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and renounce nuclear weapons only as part of a broader Middle East peace deal with Arab states and Iran that guaranteed its security.

Chorev, the Israeli delegate, said the concept of a region free of weapons of mass destruction “is certainly much less applicable to the current volatile and hostile” Middle East and would require a significant transformation in the region.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, denying Western and Israeli suspicions that it wants to develop an atom bomb capability. Syria also denies any such ambitions.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said this year that Syria had asked for understanding of its “delicate situation” in response to requests for Syrian cooperation with his inspectors.

President Bashar al-Assad is fighting an 18-month-old revolt in which more than 27,000 people have been killed.

Chorev said the situation in Syria was a reminder of the need to secure nuclear materials and added that the whereabouts of atomic fuel intended for the destroyed Deir al-Zor reactor was an “enigma”.

Editing by Rosalind Russell

Jason Alexander’s anti-gun tweet makes waves


Following the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colo. that killed 12 people, wounding 58 others, Jason Alexander shared his anti-gun stance on ” title=”twitter.com/IJasonAlexander” target=”_blank”>twitter.com/IJasonAlexander.

Ban Ki-moon pleads for arms pact, Palestinians demand seat


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pleaded on Tuesday for a binding pact to regulate the more than $60 billion global weapons market, while delegates at a treaty drafting conference worked to defuse a dispute over Palestinian participation.

“We do not have a multilateral treaty of global scope dealing with conventional arms,” Ban told delegates to the conference, which runs through July 27. “This is a disgrace.”

“Poorly regulated international arms transfers are fueling civil conflicts, destabilizing regions, and empowering terrorists and criminal networks,” he said.

Arms control campaigners say one person every minute dies from armed violence around the world and that a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities. They say conflicts in Syria and elsewhere show a treaty is necessary.

If the campaigners get their way, all signatories would be charged with enforcing compliance with any treaty by arms producers and with taking steps to prevent rogue dealers from operating within their borders. They would have to consider nations’ human rights records when deciding whether to export arms.

“Our common goal is clear,” Ban said. “A robust and legally binding arms trade treaty that will have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence.”

“It is ambitious, but I believe it is achievable,” he said.

But dispute over whether the Palestinians should participate in the conference as an observer without voting rights – the status they have in the U.N. General Assembly – or as a state party with voting rights delayed the start of the conference by more than a day a has yet to be resolved, delegates said.

A PALESTINIAN SEAT AT THE TABLE?

The Palestinian Authority’s permanent observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told reporters on Tuesday that since the arms trade treaty negotiations are what he called “an international conference of states,” the Palestinians should be a full participant.

Last year the Palestinian Authority successfully obtained membership as a state party to the U.N. scientific and cultural agency UNESCO, which infuriated the United States and Israel. Because of Palestine’s recognition as a state by UNESCO, Mansour said, it should have the same status at the arms treaty talks.

“The Holy See (Vatican) and Palestine feel that it is their right to participate as a state party to this conference,” he said. “Unfortunately there are others, few, who feel differently.”

The Vatican has the status of a non-member observer state in U.N. General Assembly, a status the Palestinians have repeatedly suggested they might seek.

Delegates and non-governmental organizations have said that if there was a vote on whether the Palestinians should participate as a state with voting rights at the arms treaty negotiations, the United States, Israel and other participants would walk out of the conference.

“Without the United States, the world’s biggest arms supplier, it would be hard to get a meaningful treaty out of this conference,” a Latin American diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

If the Palestinians secured voting rights, they would effectively have a veto since decisions at the arms treaty negotiations must be made unanimously.

So far, however, neither the Palestinians nor the U.N. Arab Group has formally demanded a vote among participants in the month-long negotiation which was supposed to begin on Monday. If there was such a vote, envoys say the Palestinians would likely win, as is usually the case with U.N. General Assembly votes.

Several Western delegates said they hoped the Palestinians would allow the conference to go ahead without forcing a vote and accepting their current status as an observer without voting rights.

Last year, the Palestinian Authority submitted an application for membership in the United Nations. It has never demanded that the U.N. Security Council vote on their membership application, since the United States would veto it, envoys say.

Western U.N. diplomats say that the Palestinian U.N. membership application is dead, though the Palestinian Authority could still secure membership in U.N. agencies if it wanted to. Washington has made clear it would have to cancel contributions to any U.N. agency that admits Palestine as a member.

Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Israel hits Gaza weapons facilities


Israel’s Air Force attacked what it said were two weapons storage facilities in the Gaza Strip.

Direct hits were identified in the early Wednesday morning attacks, according to statement from the Israel Defense Forces spokespersons’ office.

The statement said that the sites were targeted in response to rocket fire from Gaza on southern Israeli communities. So far in 2012, over 270 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, including at least two this week.

Last weekend, the Air Force struck three weapons production sites in central Gaza, and two terror tunnels.The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported that the strikes hit a poultry farm and a naval police post.

Turkey prepares indictments against 4 Israeli commanders over flotilla incident


A special prosecutor in Istanbul has prepared indictments against the four top Israeli commanders who led the 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship.

The 144-page indictment seeks 10 aggravated life jail sentences for each commander, including former Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, according to the English-language daily Turkish news service Today’s Zaman, citing the Sabah daily.

The other Israeli commanders to be indicted reportedly are Israeli Navy commander Vice Adm. Eliezer Marom; Israel’s military intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin; and Air Forces Intelligence head Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi.

The indictment mentions 10 “slain Turks.” Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed during the raid, A tenth man remains in a vegetative state, according to Zaman. The indictment also reportedly refers to 490 victims and complainants, including 189 people who were reported injured in the attacks.

Sabah said the indictment had been submitted to Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı, who is expected to approve the request to submit it to the appropriate court.

Israeli naval commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning it not to sail into waters near Gaza. Nine Turkish nationals were killed in the ensuing clashes.

Israel’s government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was legal.

The United Nations’ Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel. .

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to have been illegal. 

Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and for the lifting of the naval blockade of Gaza. The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

U.N. nuclear chief holds talks in Tehran, hopes for deal


The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief held rare talks in Tehran on Monday after voicing hope for a deal to investigate suspected atomic bomb research – a gesture Iran might make to try to get international sanctions relaxed and deflect threats of war.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano began discussions with the head of Iran’s nuclear energy organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, a few hours after his pre-dawn arrival, according to ISNA news agency.

Amano, who was on his first trip to Iran since taking office in 2009, a period marked by rising tension between the IAEA and Tehran, was also due to meet Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday. There was no word on the course of the talks by mid-afternoon.

“I really think this is the right time to reach agreement. Nothing is certain but I stay positive,” Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat with long experience in nuclear proliferation and disarmament affairs, said before departure from Vienna airport. He added that “good progress” had already been made.

But while Amano scheduled Monday’s talks with Iran at such short notice that diplomats said a deal on improved IAEA access in Iran seemed near, few see Tehran going far enough to convince the West to roll back swiftly on punitive sanctions when its negotiators meet global power envoys in Baghdad on Wednesday.

“We are not going to do anything concrete in exchange for nice words,” a Western diplomat said of the Baghdad meeting, the outcome of a big power session with Iran in Istanbul last month that ended a diplomatic freeze of more than a year.

Two days after seeing Amano, Jalili will hold talks in the Iraqi capital with Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief heading a six-power coalition comprised of the five U.N. Security Council permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – plus Germany.

By dangling the prospect of enhanced cooperation with U.N. inspectors, diplomats say, Iran might aim for leverage for the broader talks where the United States and its allies want Tehran to curb works they say are a cover for developing atomic bombs.

Pressure for a deal has risen. Escalating Western sanctions on Iran’s economically vital energy exports, and threats by Israel and the United States of last-ditch military action, have pushed up world oil prices, compounding the economic misery wrought by debt crises in many industrialized countries.

HOPE VIES WITH MISTRUST

Some diplomats and analysts said Amano, given a recent history of mistrustful relations with Iran, would go to Tehran only if he believed a framework agreement to give his inspectors freer hands in their investigation was close. Iran has been stonewalling IAEA requests for better access for four years.

“Amano would not have travelled to Tehran had he not been provided with assurances that progress could be made. If he returns to Vienna empty-handed, the embarrassment will be more damaging for Tehran than the agency,” said Ali Vaez, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“However, if the IAEA is satisfied with Tehran’s cooperation, Iranian negotiators will have a new trump card to play at the negotiating table in Baghdad.”

The U.N. watchdog is seeking access to sites, nuclear officials and scientists and documents to shed light on work in Iran applicable to developing the capability to make nuclear weapons, especially the Parchin military complex outside Tehran.

Two meetings between Iran and senior Amano aides in Tehran in January and February failed to produce any notable progress. But both sides were more upbeat after another round of talks in Vienna last week, raising hopes for a deal.

“We need to keep up the momentum. There has been good progress during the recent round of discussions between Iran and the IAEA,” Amano said, stressing that he did not expect to visit Parchin during his short, one-day stay in Tehran.

“We regard the visit … as a gesture of goodwill,” Salehi said. He hoped for agreement on a “new modality” to work with the IAEA that would “help clear up the ambiguities”.

DOUBTS

Yet while an Iranian agreement on a so-called “structured approach” outlining the ground rules on how to address the IAEA’s questions would be welcome, it remains to be seen how and when it will be implemented in practice.

“We’ll see if the Iranians agree to let the agency visit Parchin. I have my doubts, no matter what any agreement says on paper,” said one Western envoy ahead of Amano’s visit to Iran.

Such a deal would also not be enough in itself to allay international concerns. World powers want Iran to curb uranium enrichment, which can yield fuel for nuclear power plants or for nuclear bombs, depending on the level of refinement.

Iran, to general disbelief from its Israeli and Western adversaries, insists its nuclear program is intended only to generate electricity in a country that is one of world’s top oil exporters and to produce isotopes for cancer treatment.

Unlike its arch-enemy Israel, assumed to harbor the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, Iran is a signatory to treaties that oblige it to be transparent with the IAEA.

ISRAEL SKEPTICAL

Leaders of the Group of Eight, worried about the effect of high oil prices on their faltering economies, turned up the heat on Iran on Saturday, signaling readiness to tap into emergency oil stocks quickly this summer if tougher new sanctions on Tehran threaten to dry up supplies of crude.

Israel, convinced a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a mortal threat, has – like the United States – not ruled out air strikes to stop Iran’s atomic progress if it deems diplomacy at an end.

Israel believes Iran is using the talks only to buy time.

In Baghdad, the powers’ main goal is to get Iran to stop the higher-grade uranium enrichment it started two years ago and has since expanded, shortening the time needed for any weapons bid.

“What the powers are proposing right now is a kind of interim arrangement … (but) this certainly is not sufficient to stop the military (nuclear) project in Iran,” said Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon.

“Our fear is that from Iran’s perspective this is a sort of sacrifice of a pawn in a chess game in order to protect the king. We are not voicing satisfaction with this move, if it is the final move,” he told Israel Radio.

Iran says it needs uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent for its medical isotope reactor. Enrichment to 5 percent of fissile purity is suitable for power plant fuel, while 90 percent constitutes fuel for bombs.

The IAEA wants Iran to address issues raised by an agency report last year that revealed intelligence pointing to past and possibly ongoing activity to help develop nuclear explosives.

Iran says the intelligence is fabricated, and has so far resisted requests for inspectors to examine Parchin, maintaining that it is a purely conventional military installation outside the writ of nuclear inspectors.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, William Maclean in London, Patrick Markey in Baghdad, Ori Lewis and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Are Netanyahu and Barak bluffing on Iran?


Has Israel’s game of chicken with Iran jumped the shark?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in recent months have been more explicit than ever about the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran to keep it from obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

A number of current and former top military officials are now suggesting that the duo has gone too far, turning what was meant to be a calculated bluff into a commitment to a strike that could accelerate Iran’s nuclear program and engulf the region in war.

Are Barak and Netanyahu merely posturing, or are they really intent on waging war?

Last week, Barak marked Israeli Independence Day with a speech dismissing the likelihood that Iran will succumb to diplomatic pressure to end its suspected nuclear weapons program. He said that while the likely success of an Israeli military strike was not “marvelous,” it was preferable to allowing Iran to press forward.

A week earlier, Netanyahu had made a searing Holocaust Remembrance Day speech in which he likened Iran to Nazi Germany and stressed his commitment to Israel’s self-defense.

Such posturing is not novel: Israel, like other parties to longstanding conflicts, for years has used brinksmanship to ward off actual warfare. Statements from its military ending with the threat “we will know how to respond” are routine.

The target of such pronouncements is not only Iran but also the international community, said Steve Rosen, a former foreign policy director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who maintains close ties with some of Netanyahu’s top advisers. Western leaders are likelier to act to isolate Iran when they are faced with the real prospect of Israel going it alone, he said.

“It’s no secret that American and European interest starts with Israel doing something,” Rosen said.

Eitan Barak, a Hebrew University expert on international relations (and no relation to the defense minister), described the tactic as one of brinksmanship.

“There is a possibility that Barak is saying in a closed forum, ‘The military option is not on the table, but let’s say it in public in order to keep this position of brinksmanship,’ ” the professor said.

The problem might be that the “closed forum” now encompasses only Barak and Netanyahu, he said.

“If this is a diplomatic game, the game should be stopped when you discuss this with people like the Mossad and the Shabak,” Eitan Barak said, using the Israeli acronym for the Shin Bet internal security service. “But it could be that Netanyahu and Barak decided it’s such an important issue, they should make themselves really warlike even in the Cabinet, so that there will be no doubt in [the] eyes of foreigners and diplomats that they are ready to launch a military attack.”

On April 27, the day after Barak spoke, Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Shin Bet, said he believed Barak and Netanyahu are serious in contemplating an attack on Iran — and that they are driving Israel into a strike that likely would have severe consequences.

“They create a sense that if the State of Israel does not act there will be a nuclear Iran,” Diskin said. “That part of the sentence, let’s say there’s an element of truth to it — but the second part of the sentence, they tell the public, the ‘idiot’ public, if Israel acts there won’t be an Iranian nuclear bomb. And that’s the part of the sentence that is wrong. After an Israeli attack on Iran, there may well be a dramatic acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program.”

Diskin, speaking to a town hall-type meeting in Kfar Saba, the central Israeli town where he lives, continued: “I do not have confidence in the current leadership of the State of Israel that could bring us into a war with Iran or into a regional war.”

Diskin’s attack was the bluntest so far on Barak and Netanyahu, but he is not alone.

Meir Dagan, the former chief of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, last year delivered similar warnings, and the current military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, last week said he believed the Iranian leadership was rational and that the country did not pose an existential threat to Israel.

Rosen noted that many of the critics now speaking were either disgruntled or may entertain political ambitions.

“A lot of them feel snubbed,” he said. “There’s a cadre of security professionals who feel that their views were not adequately taken into account.”

Dagan wanted to stay on as Mossad chief and Diskin had ambitions of replacing him. Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister who over the weekend joined the chorus criticizing Netanyahu, is a longtime rival of Netanyahu’s who is facing a corruption trial in Israel that could bury his comeback prospects.

David Makovsky, a top analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said it was not unusual for the military establishment to exercise greater caution than the political establishment, noting such tensions surfaced in 1981, before Israel took out the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq.

“This will be decided by the political echelon, and the security establishment will weigh in, but they won’t necessarily be decisive,” Makovsky said.

None of the officials criticizing Barak and Netanyahu has broken with the Israeli consensus that an Iranian bomb is something to be prevented and not accommodated or “contained.”

The issue concerning the Israeli defense establishment, according to a number of Israeli experts, is whether Barak and Netanyahu have lost sight of the utility of threats to strike Iran — to rally the international community toward stopping Iran from acquiring the bomb.

“The threat of an attack remains a tactical measure which has achieved results,” said Shlomo Aronson, a political scientist who was the Schusterman Visiting Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Arizona from 2007 to 2009. “It should not be pursued in practical terms.”

Aronson said that until now, the tactic has helped focus the international community, led by the Obama administration, on isolating Iran through sanctions and diplomatic pressure.

The concern now permeating the Israeli defense establishment is that Barak and Netanyahu are no longer bluffing, said Avraham Sela, a research fellow of the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace who served as an intelligence officer under Barak when he was military chief of staff in the 1990s.

He noted that in the 1970s his former commander and Netanyahu were both members of the General Commando Squad, and had preserved from that training the tendency to play one’s cards close to one’s vest.

Barak “remains that commando officer, which means I don’t know to what extent he is calculating and to what extent he is willing to take the risk for such an operation — in the best case, a temporary achievement that will maybe give Israel some time and which could eventually instigate Iran even more to get this weapon, even if they haven’t until now sought it,” Sela said.

Sela noted that during his term as chief of staff, during the 1991 Gulf War, Barak had to credibly threaten to strike Iraqi targets in order to get the U.S.-led alliance to take out Iraqi batteries launching missiles. The George H. W. Bush administration feared that an Israeli strike would shatter the coalition of western and Arab states it had cobbled together.

Barak said recently that Israel would suffer no more than 500 deaths in the event of a war following a preemptive strike on Iran.

Gabriel Sheffer, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University who also served under Barak in the military, said the prediction was greeted with much skepticism and derision by the Israeli media and defense establishment.

“It is pretty sure that the people who will be killed, that the number will be much greater,” he said. “I think that this was part of his attempt to persuade everybody Israel should attack Iran.”

Makovksy said Barak and Netanyahu must convey seriousness of intent in order to have the West pay attention.

“Israel is the only country being threatened with its existence, so it has to take it seriously because they’re not a superpower and their window for action closes early,” he said. “They want to get America’s attention.”

Report: Obama tells Khamenei to prove there’s no weapons ambition


President Obama reportedly relayed a message to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei challenging the Iranian supreme leader to prove his assertion that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon.

Obama sent the message last week through Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a Washington Post foreign policy columnist reported on Friday.

“Obama advised Erdogan that the Iranians should realize that time is running out for a peaceful settlement and that Tehran should take advantage of the current window for negotiations,” columnist David Ignatius wrote. “Obama didn’t specify whether Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium domestically as part of the civilian program the United States would endorse. That delicate issue evidently would be left for the negotiations that are supposed to start April 13, at a venue yet to be decided.”

Khamenei recently reiterated a claim dating back to the first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that the pursuit of nuclear weapons is banned by Islamic law.

Israel, Azerbaijan ink $1.6 billion military deal


A state-run Israeli company will has inked a $1.6 billion deal to sell sophisticated military technology to Azerbaijan.

Under the deal, Israel Aerospace Industries will sell drones, anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, Iran’s neighbor to the north.

Israeli defense officials told international news services that the deal has been in process for a long time and is not a response to recent allegedly Iranian attempts to kill Israeli diplomats or any potential Israeli plans to strike Iranian nuclear sites.

Israel files complaint with U.N. over Gaza phosphorus


The head of a regional council in southern Israel filed a complaint with the United Nations after mortar shells fired from Gaza were found to contain the banned substance white phosphorous.

Two mortars that landed in the Eshkol Regional Council, with a population of 13,000, contained white phosphorous, which is banned by international law for use in populated areas. Phosphorus can cause severe burns and other injuries.

It reportedly was the fourth time that white phosphorus has been found on mortars fired from Gaza on Israel.

The complaint by Chaim Jelin was filed with U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Jelin wrote, “The Israel Defense Forces, charged with protecting the residents of the State of Israel, are criticized and judged due to their being the military of a U.N. member state. In contrast, Hamas, the ‘neighborhood bully,’ is not subject to international laws, and feels free to use illegal weaponry against an innocent civilian population—without being judged or criticized by any international body. I call upon you to put an end to this hypocrisy!”

Australia expands sanctions against Iran


Australia imposed expanded sanctions on Iran as concerns escalated over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Tuesday that the new measures restrict business with the petroleum and financial sectors in Iran.

“Iran must take steps required by the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and engage constructively with the international community on its nuclear program,” he said.

The new sanctions come two days after the governing Labor Party’s national conference, which passed a resolution stating that “Labor also calls on Iran to cease support for terrorism and desist from its calls for and efforts towards the destruction of Israel.”

Last month, Britain, Canada, the United States and the European Union added fresh sanctions on Tehran after the publication of a damning U.N. report, which Iran’s ayatollahs dismissed as baseless.

Rudd said that “Australia is committed to a negotiated solution of the Iran nuclear issue.”