Evidence Iran building nuclear bombs; Congress to add petrol to sanctions - will Obama enforce - or force Israel to strike? Dennis Prager on potential backlash

In November, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, said in Washington that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel.

Adm. Mullen said he would prefer that the U.S. work diplomatically to keep the country from acquiring nuclear weapons, but hinted that should such efforts fail, the U.S. air force and navy could be put into action as well.  ("U.S. Top Brass: Nuclear Iran is existential threat to Israel"; Ha'aretz;  Nov 8, 2009).

Confidential intelligence documents obtained by The Times (published Dec 14, 2009) show that Iran is working on testing a key final component of a nuclear bomb.
The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme.
Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: “The most shattering conclusion is that, if this was an effort that began in 2007, it could be a causus belli. If Iran is working on weapons, it means there is no diplomatic solution.”

The fallout could be explosive, especially in Washington, where it is likely to invite questions about President Obama’s groundbreaking outreach to Iran. The papers provide the first evidence which suggests that Iran has pursued weapons studies after 2003 and may actively be doing so today — if the four-year plan continued as envisaged.

A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate concluded that weapons work was suspended in 2003 and officials said with “moderate confidence” that it had not resumed by mid-2007. Britain, Germany and France, however, believe that weapons work had already resumed by then.

Responding to The Times’ findings, an Israeli government spokesperson said: “Israel is increasingly concerned about the state of the Iranian nuclear programme and the real intentions that may lie behind it.”  
(Catherine Philip in  Times of London Online "Secret document exposes Iran’s nuclear trigger" Dec 2009).

Why is Washington reluctant to attack or to support Israel to attack pre-emptively?

Most likely, that factor is politics, and more specifically, the importance that close relations with Washington has on the domestic political calculations of Israeli leaders. Unlike in 1981, when the United States had barely a toehold in the Middle East, Washington occupies two countries in or adjacent to the region, maintains military facilities throughout the Persian Gulf, and relies on Arab governments for logistical support. In the event of an Israeli attack, Washington would surely be accused of colluding with Jerusalem, severely damaging the United States' position in the region while provoking a ferocious Iranian response in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, and southern Lebanon. The resulting breach between Israel and the United States would be unprecedented, creating a crisis far more serious than President Dwight Eisenhower's demand that Israel stand down after its invasion of Sinai in 1956 and Gerald Ford's "reassessment" of 1975 (which suspended all military and economic agreements between the two countries for three months when Israel proved uncooperative in negotiating a second Sinai agreement). This is a scenario with which many Israelis, including Netanyahu, are unlikely to be comfortable. ...

During the Gulf War in 1991, PM Yitzhak Shamir had to absorb Iraqi Scud attacks while the United States, nervous that its anti-Saddam coalition might unravel, pressured him not to retaliate.  In June 1992, Israel's voters booted Shamir from office. ...

Indeed, Yitzhak Shamir's experience has fueled speculation among observers in Israel and elsewhere that U.S. President Barack Obama is attempting to undermine Netanyahu's coalition by heightening tension with Jerusalem over settlements.  A recent poll designed to gauge prevailing Israeli views of the United States demonstrated that large majorities had strong positive views of the United States and regarded Washington as a staunch ally.  Yet, the April poll, conducted for the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University and the Anti-Defamation League by the Israeli firm Maagar Mochot, found that 49.5 percent of Israelis believed that Israel should defy the United States on Iran, but at the same time 91 percent said that the relationship with the United States is vital to Israel's security.

There is no way of knowing for sure what the Israelis will do, but the Maagar Mochot study holds some clues. Iran and its nuclear program remain a threat to Israel, and nearly half of all Israelis would choose to bomb Iran even if the Obama administration did not approve. It seems like an opportune moment for Israel's leaders to order up the airstrikes. Yet, observers need to ask why the Israelis are waiting. If the Iranians actually managed to build a nuclear weapon, that would be a major and alarming step, but the Israelis have long maintained that the mere fact that the Iranians are enriching uranium is a grave danger. Under these circumstances, Israel's patience -- despite the tough rhetoric -- suggests that Israeli leaders do not believe that the political environment is ripe to go it alone. The historical record, combined with the 91 percent of Israelis who believe the relationship between Israel and the United States is "vital," and the slightly more than half of Israeli Jews who remain reluctant to defy the United States, strongly implies that when push comes to shove, Jerusalem will defer to Washington. As a result, all those indicators portending an Israeli attack -- the strike against Syria in September 2007, the large air exercises over the Mediterranean in the summer of 2008, and the recent countrywide drills that the IDF's Home Front Command conducted -- might actually indicate that Israel is trying to figure out how to deter Iran, rather than attack it. An Israeli strike does not seem to be in the cards, so the finance guys in New York can relax for now. They can be sure, however, that if Israel decides to act, they will not hear about it first on CNBC.  (Steven A. Cook in "Why Israel Won't Attack Iran" in Foreign Policy, June 2009).

In Newsweek's Iran's Worst Enemy, Ronen Bergman writes:
The Israeli government's single-minded focus on Tehran has caused friction with the Obama administration, which is seeking to engage Iran and to promote a deal with the Palestinians. Publicly there is no rift: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he supports efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program diplomatically, as long as harsh sanctions are imposed if no progress is shown. But the threat of a unilateral Israeli attack remains on the table—and while that threat may give the Americans leverage in talks with Tehran, an actual attack might well invite Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia.
In an exclusive interview with Democracy Broadcasting News, radio host, Dennis Prager, says that if the US and UN strategy to enforce sanctions sufficient to thwart Iran's nuclear weaponizing in time, a potential Israeli pre-emptive strike could be perceived in different ways, according to how President Obama chooses to spin it. Watch exclusive interview with Dennis Prager here.

The Wall St. Journal published US military expert, Anthony Cordesman's, analysis of how effective an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear development program might be. "No one knows what specialized weapons Israel may have developed on its own, but Israeli intelligence has probably given Israel good access to U.S., European, and Russian designs for more advanced weapons than the GBU-28. Therefore, the odds are that Israel can have a serious impact on Iran's three most visible nuclear targets and possibly delay Iran's efforts for several years."

Israel would only strike if it appeared that Washington's proposed sanction strategy would not be effective to stop Iran from their nuclear weaponizing. Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk (R), co-author of the sanctions alternative, writes in today's Jerusalem Post that "for the House's new 2009 Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act to succeed (to be voted on Tuesday 15 December), the Iranians must believe the president will enforce it. Otherwise, we will continue down a failed path of diplomacy in the absence of effective sanctions. In 2007, we introduced the Iran Sanctions Enhancement Act to expand existing US sanctions to the provision of gasoline to Iran - including suppliers, brokers, shippers and insurers. This April, Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and I reintroduced this bipartisan legislation. Following our bills, Iran imposed an unpopular gasoline rationing scheme, showing it was worried.

Last year, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both endorsed the gasoline restriction, and this year, House and Senate leaders reintroduced the gasoline sanctions bill as the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, now headed by
Congressman Howard Berman and our coalition of 343 congressmen and 76 senators behind the bill. (Slated for voting on before the Christmas break).

After four years and six months, Congress will finally consider our gasoline restriction legislation this week. While this bill could emerge as the key tool to peacefully end our standoff with Iran, it will prove meaningless if the president keeps gasoline sanctions locked in his diplomatic toolbox.

Our Petroleum Sanctions Act would add a ban on the provision of gasoline to Iran under the old 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, a law that already makes it illegal to 
invest more than $20 million in Iran's oil and gas sectors.

Under this old law, our president must declare someone in violation before sanctions take effect. Few realize that no American president has ever enforced this provision. According to the Congressional Research Service, at least 20 companies are currently violating the 1996 law.

For the threat of sanctions to change Iran's decision-making, Iranian leaders must believe an effective gasoline sanction is credible. If President Obama, like his predecessor, lacks the will to enforce the 1996 Sanctions Act, we should not expect Iranian leaders to believe a new threat of additional sanctions.

For the House's new 2009 Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act to succeed, the Iranians must believe the president will enforce it. Otherwise, we will continue down a failed path of diplomacy in the absence of effective sanctions.