Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is Iran still a threat?

Shalom All,

What really shocks me is that the very same people who repeatedly claim that everything produced by the Bush Administration or any "Intelligence" division thereof if a pile of bunk somehow think that this one is accurate. This NIE is no more or less believable than ANY OTHER Intelligence report issued over the past decade. There is no reason to suspect that it is more accurate than the NIEs about Iraq's WMDs and in fact there is reason to believe that it is LESS so. The very fact that Iran continues to work toward enrichment of Uranium SOLELY needed to develop weapons grade material, especially considering that Russia is supplying the only necessary materials to operate a civilian reactor, and the fact that Iran continues extensive work on delivery systems belies any evidence that it does not currently seek Nuclear weapons. That it may have shut down a portion of its program does not mean that it shut it all down. The difference between Iran as a threat PRE-NIE and Iran as a threat POST-NIE is that the latter is far greater because those opposed to any action against Iran, military or otherwise, now will use the NIE to defend Iran. Even if the NIE is false and should a new NIE be produced that counters the current one, I cannot imagine that those touting its current conclusions will tout those. They did not, after all, trumpet the 2005 NIE which claimed that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. Should there be a 2008 NIE that states as much, I will eagerly await their immediate praise of AIPAC's assessment that Iran is still a threat.

Right now, there is serious concern among the Germans, French, British and Israelis that the US gave too high a level of confidence to one particular incident in the NIE, a conversation between scientists in which they mention that the nuclear weapons program stopped in 2003. It is that conversation ALONE, which the NIE gives "High Confidence" that is the sole evidence against continuing, if not accelerating Iranian nuclear weapons pursuits. The British and the Israelis in particular have argued strongly that the particular scientists involved likely knew that their conversation was being bugged because of previous experience in the locale involved. Thus, rather than "High Confidence" this particular bit of evidence should have at best been given "Moderate Confidence" and taken into account along with other existing evidence, the NIE would have demonstrated a likelihood, not that Iran had stopped its program, but instead that it likely continues. There could well be a new NIE in the coming weeks and months that completely reverses the conclusion of this one.

The belief is that the Bush Admin is trying to quiet the push to war, not to intensify it, despite the reality that Iran is continuing its efforts. Israel has sought to quiet its hawks as well because it does not wish to become compelled to attack on its own as it was forced to do against Iraq's nuclear program. There is a fear of being seen as warmongering and not simply concerned with security. Hopefully, the situation may be resolved peacefully, that Iran will indeed cease its enrichment activities.

All in all, the possibility of a nuclear armed Iran is untenable for Israel and for Iran's Sunni neighbors. The latter would insist on becoming nuclear powers themselves. Israel could well be pressed to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities by whatever means necessary. Since it would only take one nuclear missile to obliterate Israel, the fact that Israel could retaliate is not a good enough deterrent. It is entirely possible that Israel will be forced out of fear to attack Iran should it continue to progress toward obtaining a nuclear weapon, whether it does so while talking about a civilian program or a weapons program. Enrichment of weapons grade material and enhancement of delivery systems are enough to conclude that Iran's intentions are not peaceful, regardless of what the leaders of Iran state. Our intelligence concerning Iran is so poor that a clandestine weapons program would likely go undiscovered for months or even years and since such a program could take place apart from the production of nuclear material, it would not at all be under the same scrutiny by observers.

All this said, it may well be the case that Iran has stopped its weapons programs, but if it can't convince Israel of that, it might as well just tell the world that it is progressing with haste toward acquiring them. The only real difference in these two options is that in one case Israel will act alone as it did in the 1980s and in the other case, the US MIGHT help. The fact that the US didn't help out with the Syrian installation this year, didn't help with Osirak in the 1980s, and didn't come to Israel's aid in 1973, 1967, or even 1948 would tend to negate that possibility.

If I were Ahmadinejad looking at US politics right now, I would have no fear at all of any US military action against Iran short of Iran attacking Israel first and that with such force as to render the survival of Israel in jeopardy. The only nation that has any courage to act short of responding to an already started war is Israel. Interestingly, it could well be that in a conflict with Iran, Israel is aided NOT by the US, but by France, Germany, and Britain whose recently elected governments are better positioned politically than ours to act against Iran and all of whom strongly question the US NIE.

In my mind, the utmost of hypocrisy is to act as if this report by the Bush Administration is somehow completely without error simply because you agree with its resultant lack of hostilities, whereas previous NIEs whose contents were not as appealing to you, you rejected outright.

I liken the current situation to the following. Iran is telling the world that it has no desire to make a working car, but it is producing fuel for vehicles, tires for a car, roads for a car, a car engine, a steering wheel, seats, axles, hub caps and an in-dash navigation system while telling the world how much octane is in its fuel and how many MPG a car would get. Perhaps, it is not intending to assemble them into a car, but those parts form a car. Now, if Iran said, "we stopped trying to make a car in 2003," that is all well and good. The believability of that statement comes into question if they continue to work on creating each component of a car and the impact of that statement, namely the importance of a decision to stop production of the vehicle, is lessened when one sees that should that particular decision be altered, the final goal of producing a car would be more easily achieved having created all of its parts.

All this said, I don't want to attack Iran. I don't want Israel to attack Iran. In fact, AIPAC doesn't want anyone to attack Iran right now either. The consequences for Israel of any hostilities with Iran would be very dire and because of this Israel and the US don't want to attack Iran. There is time for diplomacy. There is time to remove ourselves from the precipice of confrontation, but despite the NIE, we're still headed in the wrong direction. Iran is still headed in the wrong direction. As long as Iran continues to act with belligerence, to enrich uranium and talk about an end to the Jewish state, Israel has no choice but to assume that Iran is hostile and moving toward increasing its capability to act upon that hostility.

I believe that Nicolas Sarkozy is correct as quoted on the AIPAC website, which I checked because of a statement made by a partner in dialogue about AIPAC's conclusion that Iran remains a threat:
France: Iranian Nuclear Program “Has No Civilian Explanation”

President Sarkozy-->French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday said that Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium are ultimately intended to produce an atomic bomb, Agence France Presse reported. “Everyone agrees on the fact that what the Iranians are doing has no civilian explanation,” Sarkozy said. “The only debate is about whether they will develop a military capacity in one or five years.” Sarkozy added that if Iran adheres to its international obligations and allows the IAEA to carry out unhindered inspections, he would be willing to travel to Tehran to discuss a civilian nuclear partnership. However, the Islamic Republic has rebuffed multiple binding U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend its efforts to enrich uranium and faces more stringent sanctions as a result of its non-compliance.

There is still time for diplomacy, but the time is ticking away.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Closer Look at the NIE on Iran

Shalom All,

Taking a closer look at the NIE on Iran's Nuclear capabilities, I have noticed a few intriguing things, some good and some bad. The best thing is that it may not be necessary to attack Iran's installations in the near future. Beyond that, things are not as rosy as we might hope.


The NIE declares that:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program1 ; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.

DJK Responds:

In my mind this is not at all a "vindication" of those who believe that Iran is "not pursuing nuclear weapons," but that it is not currently in the process of CREATING one according to current intelligence. I also strongly question whether or not there has been anything more than an "announcement" of a decision to "halt uranium enrichment" since Iran also announced that it now has 3000 centrifuges, something which it acquired and announced RECENTLY. Iran may not be USING their centrifuge capability to enrich uranium right now, but while not using those centrifuges it had, it acquired more capability, allowing it to enrich uranium faster in the future. Again, in my mind this is evidence that Iran is not currently IN THE PROCESS of creating a weapon, not that it is not "intent on pursuing the development of a weapon." This conclusion is not negated by the key points in the NIE.

The NIE states:

We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.
We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years. (Because of intelligence gaps discussed elsewhere in this Estimate, however, DOE and the NIC assess with only moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear weapons program.)
We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

DJK Responds:

In other words, we are very confident that Iran INTENDED to develop nuclear weapons as of Fall, 2003. We are relatively certain that this was suspended for some time after. Why? In my mind, it is quite possibly because it was at that time that international scrutiny intensified on Iraq and Iran and because the US went through on its threats to invade Iraq, bringing dramatically increased US capability to act against nuclear installations in Iran. The NIE makes clear, however, that it is only moderately confident that the halt it has identified represents a halt to Iran's "entire nuclear weapons program." I would argue that the continued development of enrichment capabilities and delivery systems are two parts of that program that Iran has DEFINITELY NOT halted. Furthermore, the NIE states flatly that it does "not know whether it (Iran) currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."

The NIE adds:

D. Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so. For example, Iran’s civilian uranium enrichment program is continuing. We also assess with high confidence that since fall 2003, Iran has been conducting research and development projects with commercial and conventional military applications—some of which would also be of limited use for nuclear weapons.

DJK Responds:

This is in line with my thoughts above. Iran continues to move toward having the capability to create a weapon, whether or not it is currently intent on producing one as soon as possible.

The NIE states that:

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

DJK Responds:

This is good news. It means that sanctions and other policies that affect the economy of Iran are also affecting its policies regarding nuclear weapons development. I would question what would happen should those sanctions be lessened, however, and the "benefit" of possessing a nuclear weapon should increase versus the "cost" of sanctions. This is especially true considering the NIE's assessment of the leadership of Iran and their objectives.

The NIE states that:

We assess with moderate confidence that convincing the Iranian leadership to forgo the eventual development of nuclear weapons will be difficult given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear weapons development and Iran’s key national security and foreign policy objectives, and given Iran’s considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such weapons. In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons—and such a decision is inherently reversible.

DJK Responds:

This statement alone seems to strongly vindicate all of those who have stated that Iran is a serious threat and that it is likely to pursue the creation of nuclear weapons in the near future. It is this statement more than any other in the NIE that is troubling, because if this assessment is correct, any suspension of development of nuclear weapons by Iran is temporary at best.

Just a few thougts,


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The NIE on Iran's Weapons

I have been very discouraged by the attacks against candidates that take a hard line stance against Iran's weapons ambitions. There is now a very strong push to back away from any threat against Iran. This is abundantly clear among the Democratic candidates, but I can certainly see the Republican candidates toning down, in the least, their language concerning Iran. Israel has come out and said that the NIE goes against what their intel is saying. I tend to believe Israel's intel, seeing as how the NIE may well reflect other political and diplomatic motives, not necessarily including ALL of the intel available.

Considering US involvement (obstruction) of Israel's efforts to combat proliferation of North Korean weapons technology (likely NUCLEAR) in Syria I would question whether or not the current US administration is opposed to combating proliferation at all, fearing being seen, along with the Republican party as a whole, as warmongering. Further, it seems to me that the Democratic party wants to emphasize that it will not engage the US in any military conflicts in the coming years, much less soon after the election. Thus BOTH parties have strong incentive to act as if there is nothing to fight about.

Considering that this NIE comes in the wake of the Annapolis conference, I question whether or not it came BECAUSE of the Annapolis summit. It could well be that in discussions with the leaders and representatives of the Arab nations, it was decided that the threat of increased US involvement in the region was creating difficulty for our Arab allies and destabilizing oil markets in the process. I say this only seeing what is available in the media. It is reasonable to conclude that the evidence presented by the NIE is accurate and not created to serve this purpose. At issue, however, is the meaning of the evidence in the NIE and whether or not Israel's intel on this issue is superior to the US' intel.

For example, the NIE says that Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003. However, nuclear weapons require several different technologies and Iran has certainly continued work on some of them. There are nuclear bomb making technologies, delivery systems technologies, and technologies that combine the two. Iran is likely more or less in possession of enough nuclear technology (know how) to create a working bomb. It has spent no little effort over the past decade working on delivery systems with the help of Russia and North Korea and now possesses one http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/shahab-4.htm . Hence it is only regarding combination technologies that there is even a question of Iran's ability to create a nuclear ballistic missile. Now add the production of enriched uranium and we are looking at a reasonable assumption that even with known Iranian capabilities, they are on a near term path to creating such a weapon. If there is a clandestine program that is unknown to US intelligence this could be sped up.

This is what I have seen and heard from news sources recently. Hopefully, the NIE is correct and Iran isn't working toward imminent construction of a weapon. In my mind, the NIE does not conclude that Iran is no longer in pursuit of a weapon, but only suggests that it is not working at full speed to acquire one, since it needed several different technologies to do so and the NIE relates to only one.

Anyway, my two cents.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rabbi Kaufman's thoughts on Annapolis

Shalom All,

I believe there is little doubt that there will be no settlement coming out of what occurred in Annapolis. The fact that there are official talks is a good thing though. It is likely in my mind that there will be peace for the West Bank and peace with Syria even, before anything substantial improves in Gaza, but that is likely not going to be a recognition of statehood. Furthermore, violence is likely to substantially INCREASE in the West Bank in the near future as Hamas attempts to increase its influence there. The Hamas leadership in Gaza is very opposed to anything that moves toward a final settlement and their influence is undermining Fatah's control even in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the leaked draft of the negotiating positions (from Haaretz last week) demonstrates why the sides can't agree on the premise of negotiations, much less make progress toward peace.

The document released after the conference in Annapolis included SOLELY the introductory language from the draft document as released by Haaretz. The sides were clearly so intractable in their primary negotiating positions that they couldn't make progress on them and therefore agreed to drop the issues from the document.

Below is what I saw in looking at the draft released by Haaretz. That draft is a very good exemplar of why negotiations have failed over the past 60 years and continue to fail today. Primarily, the continuing failure centers around the Palestinian's insistence on UNGA 194 being the basis of negotiations, but there are other issues as well.

The PA insists on a finite time table, with a final settlement at the end of Pres. Bush's term. Israel says, "no time table, we need to see results."

Israel insists that the Roadmap be followed and that the US monitor progress of BOTH sides toward its goals. That means the PA has to disarm Hamas as one of the earliest steps. Right now, at least in Gaza, Hamas is more powerful than the PA (Fatah) and the PA (Fatah) was reluctant to try that even when it controlled Gaza. It is questionable whether or not Fatah is strong enough even to disarm Hamas in the West Bank.

The PA insists that Israel make concessions PRIOR to the implementation of the Roadmap. This essentially violates the premise of the Roadmap, but may be the only way the PA can get onto the MAP at all.

The Roadmap itself is already outdated, having been based upon the Mitchell group's work in 2000 and not taking into account the dramatic changes that have occurred within the PA since, such as the death of Arafat, the election of Hamas, and the Hamas takeover of Gaza, nor the firing of Qasam rockets into Israel from Gaza, nor the 2nd Lebanon War, nor tensions with Iran, nor the Iraq War, nor the re-entry of Russia and the entry of North Korea into Middle Eastern politics, nor the military developments in Syria that resulted in an Israel air strike. It is woefully inadequate for the conflict in 2007-2008.

Israel says that negotiations should be based on UNSC 242 and 338 along with the Roadmap and Quartet Principles. The US agrees. This would result in Israel giving back "war won land" but not "all war won land," allowing Israel to create "secure borders" and not to withdraw to the 1967 lines. It also requires only that refugees from the 1967 war be allowed to return to Palestinian territories and NOT those from 1948 to Israel proper. Further, the refugees allowed to return to Palestinian territories may not include ALL refugees, since doing that could provide a security risk. Jerusalem, at least the bulk of it, would remain in Israeli control including the Old City and areas around Temple Mount, as well as the ring of suburbs (settlements) that now encompass most of the areas immediately North, South, and West of Jerusalem, though arrangements would almost definitely be made so that the Temple Mount itself would be under PA control.

The PA says that negotiations should be based on UNSC 242 and 338 along with the Roadmap, but vitally and problematically for Israel, UNGA 194. UNGA 194 makes Jerusalem in international city under the control of the UN. It requires the return of any refugees from the war of 1948 that wish to return to their homes IN ISRAEL and requires compensation to be paid for those who do not wish to return. 194 does not include any compensation to those Jews forced to leave Arab lands. UNGA 194 is a deal breaker for Israel. It cannot possibly agree to include 194 as relevant to current negotiations, much less as their basis. Insisting on bringing UNGA 194 to the table essentially insures the failure of any negotiations now or in the future.

Further, the PA has insisted to this point that Jews be removed from its future territories, but that not only may Palestinian Christians and Muslims be allowed to remain in Israel, but that any others who wish to go to Israel may. That is unacceptable to Israel and is a deal breaker. It would create a de facto Palestinian state in BOTH the PA territories and Israel. This is why Israel has insisted that the Palestinian side recognize Israel as a JEWISH state and the homeland for JEWS (which is clearly an attempt to say that it is NOT a homeland for Palestinians).

As long as these things continue to be the negotiating points of the sides, there can be no progress toward a settlement beyond cease fires. The only possibility for a longer term peace is for Israel to unilaterally determine its borders and to allow the PA to gripe about what it did not get, continuing to play the victim, incite violence against Israel, and keep its people suffering into the future.

Should the PA yield and attempt to compromise with Israel, there will be Intifada in Gaza and increasing violence in the West Bank. Should it not yield, the status quo will go on indefinitely and Hamas will continue to increase in strength in the West Bank unless dramatic action is taken to reduce its strength both in Gaza and the West Bank, essentially a civil war in the PA. I see no way for the PA or Fatah to avoid violence altogether. Fatah must either commit to a civil war or commit to a peace that may trigger a civil war anyway.

If Israel compromises too much, the current government will be ousted and almost certainly a far more right wing oriented government will come to power. Shas, which is the one of the few parties on the right willing to give land for peace, has already stated strongly that it will leave the coalition if Jerusalem is part of negotiations. The result of that shift would be a center-right coalition led in all likelihood by Bibi Netanyahu.

Progress could be made with Syria about the Golan and with the PA about the West Bank specifically, but not about total peace. One cannot ignore that Gaza and Hamas are excluded from this process, not only by the PA and Israel, but of their own choice. Hamas doesn't support the peace process, but supports continued violent resistance, even against Fatah and the PA leadership, much less against Israel.

I am not particularly optimistic about the prospects of lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the near term.

I see the following as an analogy.

The Torn Canvas Bag

The Palestinians are holding a strong canvas bag that has a large hole in the bottom of it. The Israelis are holding lots of food. The Israelis say, "sew up the hole in your bag and you'll have plenty of food." The Palestinians say, "We want food now! We're starving!" Foreign language dictionaries translate these words as "It's the occupation stupid!" The US and Europe demand that Israel give food. Israel does. The weight of the food makes the bag stretch and the hole widens. Then it all falls through, but now the hole is bigger than the last time Israel gave food. Israel says, "Sew up your bag!" Hebrew dictionaries translate this as "Stop the terror and disarm Hamas and we can talk about ending the occupation." The Palestinians say, "We're starving, we need food. We can't sew up the bag." Translated: "How can we stop the violence against occupation when we're under occupation?" Israel says, "let us help sew up the bag!" The Palestinians say, "No. You will make more rips. Give us food and we promise to sew the bag." The Israelis are once again forced to give food and once again it widens the rip and falls through leaving the Palestinians with nothing and the Israelis with less food themselves.