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Name: Bruce Larkin
Location: Co. Cork, Ireland

I’m Professor Emeritus of Politics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where I’ve taught since 1965. Fall 2007 courses: “War”and “Security, Disarmament, and Nonproliferation.” I’m also Convenor of the Global Collaborative on Denuclearization Design. For more, see résumé at www.brucelarkin.net.

 

Saturday, January 14, 2006

❄ ISRAEL PUSHES WHITE HOUSE TO CONFRONT IRAN   

In 2005 and 2006 Israeli officials have made claims about Iran reminiscent of Israeli statements in August 2002 which pressed the United States to attack Iraq. In 2002 urgence was attributed to an alleged Iraqi ‘program of weapons of mass destruction.’ In early 2005 the Israeli defense minister spoke of a ‘point of no return’, an invented ‘red line’ to describe the time at which Iran might have learned how to process uranium to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon. In late 2005 and early 2006 Israeli officials spoke openly of this ‘point of no return’. A New York Times headline states: “Israel Wants West to Deal More Urgently With Iran: Fears Early Nuclear ‘Point of No Return’ ”  [Note 1]  Since Iran is believed unable to make a nuclear weapon for several years—and then only if decisions and technical achievements all fell into place—the purpose of inventing an illusory ‘point of no return’ appears to be to advance the crisis into 2006, or at least into the remaining 36 months of GW Bush’s second term.

Recall first the August 2002 declarations.

Three Israeli officials were reported to have made statements to this effect in mid- August, though one—Foreign Minister Shimon Peres—hedged his call for action by insisting he was not urging the US to war. On 18 August the Israeli government sought to back away from its public agitation for war. The subject is delicate, and it is therefore useful to quote actual language of the reports.  [Note 2]

Ariel Sharon. 16 August 2002. AFP, citing Haaretz: “Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has urged the United States not to delay its threatened strike on Iraq any further. Postponing a military operation against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime ‘will not create a more convenient environment for action in the future,’ the Israeli daily Haaretz quoted Sharon as saying Friday [16 August 2002] in a message sent to the US administration.” [Note 3]

Simon Peres. 15 August 2002. CNN: “Attacking Iraq now would be ‘quite dangerous, but postponing it would be more dangerous,’ Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Thursday [15 August 2002]. ‘The problem today is not if but when,’ Peres said, ‘and if they think we wait, [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] will change, and if he will change, it ... will be for the worse; he will have more weapons.’ ”  [Note 4]

Ranaan Gissin. 16 August 2002. CBS: “Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday. ... ‘Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage will serve no purpose,’ [Ranaan] Gissin said. ‘It will only give him (Saddam) more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction.’ ”  [Note 5]

Backtrack! Sharon’s office denies he urged war. 18 August 2002. South African Broadcasting Company report, relying in part on AFP: “Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, has denied that Israel is urging the US to attack Iraq, a source from the prime minister’s office said. ‘We are not pressing the United States to bring forward an attack on Iraq,’ Sharon told today’s weekly cabinet meeting, according to this source.”  [Note 6]

Now let’s compare Israel’s 2005-2006 comments on Iran.

We should begin by registering White House attention—at least in ‘Dick’ Cheney’s office—to Israel’s policies on Iran. Cheney said, on the day he began his second term as US vice-president, that Israel could strike pre-emptively against Iranian nuclear facilities, though he said “everybody would be best suited or best treated and dealt with if we could deal with it diplomatically.” [Note 7]

Only a week later the Israeli defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, was in London, where he spoke of the ‘point of no return’ and said that “None of the western countries can live with Iran having a nuclear capability.” The Guardian reports:

“Gen Mofaz, who was born in Iran but left for Israel while a child, said: ‘Iran is very close to the point of no return, which means the enrichment of uranium, and we believe that the leadership of the US, together with the European countries, should stop as soon as possible this military nuclear programme in Iran.’ 

“He added that this point of no return would be reached ‘in less than a year’ and that it would only be ‘a matter of years’ after that that it would assemble the bomb.” [Note 8]


Then on 11 December 2005 the Sunday Times [London], citing unidentified military sources, reported that “Israel’s armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, to be ready by the end of March [2006] for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran.” [Note 9] And further:

“Defence sources in Israel believe the end of March to be the ‘point of no return’ after which Iran will have the technical expertise to enrich uranium in sufficient quantities to build a nuclear warhead in two to four years.” [Note 9]


The New York Times reports remarks of Israeli Major General Aharon Zeev-Farkash, who retired as director of Israeli military intelligence on 5 January 2006. Excerpts from their report, on the ‘point of no return’:

“[General Zeev-Farkash] . . . said Israel believed that the moment was no more than a year away, although estimates differ among governments, based on different views of how advanced Iranian technology has become. Once Iran starts enriching uranium, the general said, it will need just six months to a year to achieve the ability to produce fissile materials. . .

“General Farkash [said] . . . that within another two and half to three years, Iran will have enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it is able to construct and run 2,000 to 4,000 centrifuges . . .

“ ‘We have a crucial six months to a year to do something,’ he said, adding that ‘unfortunately when I say this to our friends and allies, they like to focus on the third step,’ the production of the bomb, ‘rather than the first step.’

“ ‘The first step is the most crucial, when Iran will achieve independent research and development capacity to enrich uranium—we all agree,’ the general said. ‘Then it’s not an intelligence problem, but a political decision.’  ” [Note 1]

On 3 January 2006, in his last interview before his major stroke, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke of Iran in a way which echoes his August 2002 comments about Iraq: “In any event, time is not working in favor of anyone who wants to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. [Israel] is not the spearhead, but we are working together when it comes to intelligence and evaluation with the United States, together with European countries.” [Note 1]

Of course, concern about Iran’s nuclear intentions is not confined to Israel. Iran alone has the ability to convince others that its intentions are confined, as it insists, to uranium enrichment for reactor fuel, and that it will not enrich to the higher concentrations of 235U required for a nuclear weapon. But it could convince others, if it chose to do so.

[Note 1]: Steven Erlanger, “Israel Wants West to Deal More Urgently With Iran: Fears Early Nuclear ‘Point of No Return’, The New York Times, 13 January 2006.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/01/AR2005110101644_pf.html

[Note 2]: The discussion of August 2002 is taken from my paper “Iraq: Go to War? and the Nuclear Question”: http://www.gcdd.net/TX.024=2002.12.08.Iraq.pdf

[Note 3]: Agence France Presse, http://www.arabia.com/afp/news/mideast/article/english/0,10846,267538,00.html

[Note 4]: CNN http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/meast/08/15/peres.iraq/

[Note 5]: CBS News, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/08/18/world/main519037.shtml

[Note 6]: South African Broadcasting Company http://www.sabcnews.com/world/the_middle_east/0,1009,41059,00.html

[Note 7]: David Sanger, “Cheney Says Israel Might ‘Act First’ on Iran,” The New York Times, 21 January 2005.

[Note 8]: Ewen MacAskill, “Iran Nears Nuclear ‘Point of No Return’ ”The Guardian, 27 January 2005. http://www.guardian.co.uk/iran/story/0,12858,1399378,00.html

[Note 9]: Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter, “Israel Readies Forces for Stike on Nuclear Iran,” Sunday Times [London], 11 December 2005. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-1920074,00.html


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