Iran, Syria, US update, mostly bad....
Iran. Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Guide, has contemptuously rebuffed Team Obama's plea for more diplomatic negotiations, and warned his subjects as well:
I’m not a diplomat; I’m a revolutionary, and speak frankly and directly. If anyone wants the return of U.S. dominance here, people will grab his throat.
Khamenei is sole custodian of Iran's nuclear program. The WSJ editors offer historical narrative to document repeated Iranian refusals to bargain over its nuclear ambitions. Iran shopped in China for "ring magnets"--critical for operating high-speed uranium enrichment centrifuges. Iran's leaders played "good cop/bad cop" again this weekend, promising to go civilian if only its "rights" are protected. Another deception: Iran recently unveiled a "stealth jet"--in reality, a mock-up model with a possible drone version flight; Iran even Photoshopped the "plane" ostensibly flying above snow-capped mountains.
Recently SecState John Kerry warned Iran that “prepared to do whatever is necessary” to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. But why should the Iranians believe this, given a president who has moved "red lines" as Iran progresses?...
Israeli PM Netanyahu noted that Iran sees North Korea as evidence of the futility of sanctions to stop a determined regime. One possible sanction lever yet unused is to target Iran's access to euros. Another is to target Iran's China oil trade. China buys half of Iran's 1 million barrels per day production.
In a more hopeful item, Michael Ledeen reports from PJM on nuclear accidents/sabotage inside Iran--now reported at three sites. The sites are central to Iran's programs: Natanz is the largest site, producing the most enriched uranium fuel; al-Fordow is the deepest facility, also enriching uranium; & Arak is a heavy water facility. (Heavy water has an extra hydrogen atom, and can be used to slow down neutrons in a reactor so more atomic nuclei are split, facilitating production of plutonium that can fuel a nuclear bomb.)
And so what does President Obama plan to do about all this? According to Israeli officials, The One plans to "assure" Israeli PM Netanyahu that the US will take care of Iran's nuclear program if need be. Thus, "O" will tell Bibi to stand down & trust the US. Bibi surely will not believe "O" but he may have little choice in the matter, because unless he can get backing from his new governing coalition to stiff "O" he will have to cave. And there is no reason to believe that "O" will in fact go forward & strike Iran when--inevitably--any future talks fail.
In "The Dangers of a Poly-Nuclear Mideast" Israeli analyst Shmuel Bar surveys the region's emerging nuclearization.
Syria. Begin with the latest evidence of President Obama's feckless policy: In declining to intervene in Syria on behalf of the rebels, the president disregarded the advice of CIA Dir. David Petraeus, SecDef Leon Panetta & SecState Hillary. WaPo reports that President Obama is unlikely to reverse his standoff policy. On the plus side, the administration has been contacting mid-level Syrian officials via social media (Facebook, Twitter, Skype) to warn them that any use of chemical or biological weapons will have grave consequences. The warnings were made necessary because a July 18 rebel bombing killed senior Syrian officials believed to have been in charge of WMD programs. Meanwhile, a top Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander was assassinated as he traveled from Damascus to Beirut. Historian Walter Russell Mead sees a weaker America due to Obama's vacillation over Syria.
Now, hark back to a stirring tale that had a happy ending. Former Bush-era senior official Elliott Abrams has told "the untold story" of Israel's Sept. 6, 2007 destruction of a North Korean reactor inside Syria. Abrams was in on the American decision process concerning what to do about the Syrian reactor, whose existence was revealed in May 2007 by Israel. As Abrams recounts, Israel unsuccessfully tried to get the US to bomb the reactor. When that failed, it tried to persuade the US to give Israel the green light. President Bush, pressed hard by doves such as SecState Condi Rice, declined.
But Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, a weakling during the 2006 war against Hezbollah, stiffened his spine & pushed back. Bush stepped aside, without specifically authorizing the raid, and kept his administration mum until Israel's Sept. 6, 2007 successful bombing of the reactor.
Abrams explains how the decision was kicked back & forth among senior officials--what he calls a perfect process that yielded a flawed result. Incredibly, US intelligence balked at concluding that the reactor was intended for producing weapons fuel.
This was absurd. The reactor was built in secret, although it is perfectly legal to build a commercial nuclear plant in the open. The facility was located in the middle of the desert, nowhere near any cities needing nuclear power. The North Koreans built it, not because of commercial expertise, of which the North has none. So why ask the North to build it? France or Russia, both with vast commercial nuclear power expertise, would happily have done it; the French had a long colonial relationship with Syria, and Russia is now a major patron of Syria.
Syria asked the North because Pyongyang could provide one benefit neither France nor Russia would offer: strict secrecy. Only a reactor with a military objective need be secret. Pyongyang could have used a Syrian facility to clandestinely acquire more nuclear fuel for its own military program.
Yet our intel people pronounced themselves not convinced. Looks like a nuclear duck, walks like one, quacks like one ... it might be a swan.
What makes matters even worse is that a country can begin a commercial program & decide to migrate to military use later; commercial-grade uranium fuel is easily & rapidly converted into weapons-grade fuel. Thus, India began its commercial power program in 1956. But India lost a border war with China in 1962, then saw China explode an A-bomb in 1964 & an H-bomb in 1996 (plus test a long-range missile that year). So in 1966 India decided to build a military capability. It took its time, exploding its first atomic device in 1974.
Given all that, the position of US intelligence agencies can only be explained by a super-abundance of caution after being badly burned with WMD in Iraq in 2003. Bush, for his part, accepted that, but looked the other way while Israel ended Syria's nuclear quest.
Bottom Line. Progress versus Iran is almost entirely in the hands of rebels inside & Israel outside. In Syria, America "leads from behind" & let's Israel do the heavy lifting outside & Arab allies direct things inside, which means a tilt towards Islamists. As to the 2007 Syrian reactor bombing, Abrams offers us a riveting tale. It is a concise education in how policy is made at the highest diplomatic & military level.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, National Security, Foreign Policy, Terrorism, WMD, Nuclear Proliferation, Conservative Politics