Netanyahu Backs Off on Iran

Exclusive: While Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was belligerent in tone at the UN, he signaled a retreat on substance, postponing his threatened attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. That suggests he is reading the U.S. polls and thinks he may have to deal with President Obama in a second term, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

The main takeaway from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s U.N. speech was the inference that he has been forced to relent on the possibility of military action against Iran, with his threats deferred past the U.S. election on Nov. 6 and off into next spring and beyond.

His ominous intonation that “everyone should have a sense of urgency” about Iran “amassing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon” went over like a dead trial balloon fatally punctured when he pushed the acute-worry-date into sometime in 2013:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 27, 2012. (Photo credit: United Nations)

“By next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they [the Iranians] will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.”

Netanyahu then resorted to an unusual visual aid, apparently in an effort to draw attention away from his more relaxed projection regarding how soon Iran could get the bomb. The Israeli prime minister reached down from the podium and lifted high a graphic of a round bomb with a fuse, like the one typically seen in a “Road Runner” cartoon.

“I brought a diagram for you,” Netanyahu said. “Here’s the diagram. This is a bomb; this is a fuse.” (Perhaps he was trying to trick the Iranians into mistaking the cartoon for the design of an actual bomb from Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal and copy it as a schematic.)

Netanyahu used the crude drawing to depict the three main stages of uranium enrichment and pointed ominously to the “final stage” when he said Iran would have “enough high enriched uranium for the first bomb.”

Having failed to get President Barack Obama to draw a “red line” at that point in the nuclear process, Netanyahu brandished his own red marker and drew a bold red line on the diagram. The solid red line was clear enough, but ambiguity remains about exactly how to relate the red ink to actual developments on the ground and a reasonable timeline.

Moreover, due skepticism seems warranted, given Netanyahu’s unenviable record of dire predictions with respect to how soon Iran could get the bomb. If Netanyahu had been right initially, the Iranians would have had a nuclear weapon in the 1990s.

Netanyahu’s stunt with the poster also brought to mind Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous war speech in 2003 when he displayed crude graphics depicting imaginary mobile chemical weapons labs in Iraq.

The rest of Netanyahu’s speech was bromide and boilerplate, including the usual accusations that Muslims are “bent on world conquest” and want “to destroy Israel, Europe and America.” The speech also contained repeated attempts to conflate “a nuclear-armed Iran” with “a nuclear-armed al-Qaeda,” reminiscent of persistent efforts by the Bush administration and its “closest allies” to conjure up that very kind of alarming link between Iraq and al-Qaeda ten years ago.

Netanyahu insisted, for example, that “It makes no difference whether these lethal weapons are in the hands of the world’s most dangerous terrorist regime or the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization. They’re both fired by the same hatred; they’re both driven by the same lust for violence.”

But that argument would only appeal to the simpleminded or the true-believer. Al-Qaeda is a stateless terrorist organization that generally insinuates itself into lawless regions of countries with weak central authorities. It operates with no specific territorial headquarters, let alone an identifiable home country.

By contrast, Iran is a large nation with a history that dates back thousands of years. Unlike al-Qaeda, Iran could be easily targeted for retaliation if it did use a nuclear bomb, though its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has denounced as immoral even the development of a nuclear bomb and insists Iran has no intention of building one.

From Domestic Abuse to Honeymoon

Perhaps having read recent polls suggesting that Obama has a strong chance of winning reelection, Netanyahu also dropped his abusive tone regarding the President’s refusal to shift the red line of war to simply Iran having the “capability” of building a bomb. Instead, the Prime Minister was effusive with praise for the politically buoyant Obama.

“I very much appreciate the President’s position [rejecting the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran] as does everyone in my country. We share the goal of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program. What I have said today will help ensure that this common goal is achieved. Israel is in discussions with the United States over this issue, and I am confident we can chart a path forward together.”

Is this the same Netanyahu who repeatedly lashed out at Washington’s reluctance to put the “red line” where he wanted? Is it the same Netanyahu who insisted, a mere two weeks ago, that given that reluctance the U.S. has “no moral right” to put pressure on Israel not to attack Iran?

Enter the real world. Both the U.S. and Israeli military are dead set against the disaster that war with Iran would bring. And both have made that quite plain to Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials who have been lusting to strike Iran within the next couple of weeks; that is, before they are faced with the possibility of a second-term American president better able to put higher priority on the strategic needs of U.S. than those of Israel.

Most striking to me was the gratuitous comment by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey who said publicly on Aug. 30, “I don’t want to be complicit if they [the Israelis] choose to do it [attack Iran].”

President Obama’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu in New York this week was another sign the bilateral relationship was fraying, as were repeated remarks by senior administration officials rejecting Netanyahu’s insistence that the U.S. draw a red line to his specifications.

The net effect of all this, supplemented by repeated private warnings, apparently persuaded top Israeli leaders that there was real doubt that the U.S. would knee-jerkily jump in with military support, were Israel to become involved in armed hostilities with Iran.

Of at least equal importance, the bombing (so to speak) of Mitt Romney’s campaign for president may have persuaded the Israelis that he is a likely loser in November, no matter what Israel might attempt to do in the interim; that they are doomed to deal with a second-term Obama; and that they had better start making the best of it, rather than drive the political wedge still deeper.

Clearly, Netanyahu’s bullying of recent weeks has backfired. It apparently has now run its course

Bilateral Washington-Tel Aviv tensions can be expected to abate. Netanyahu’s insistence that “what I have said today will help ensure that this common goal [of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program] is achieved” amounts to gilding the lily.

The core problem for Netanyahu and some American neocons who are still eager for violent “regime change” in Iran is that intelligence analysts of both countries have not been able to find persuasive evidence that Iran has renewed the work on a nuclear warhead, a project that Tehran terminated in late 2003. Unlike the cave-in at CIA in 2002, when Vice President Dick Cheney demanded evidence of Iraqi WMD, the intelligence analysts have not crumbled this time.

As for uranium enrichment to weapons-level, unbiased specialists insist that Iran would have to kick out the U.N. inspectors before attempting to do this. There are also renewed signals from Iran that it is prepared to abandon uranium enrichment to 20 percent well below weapons grade in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.

And, at times of unusual candor, even biased Israeli officials have accepted the intelligence rejecting the notion that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. Here is none other than Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in an interview with Israeli Army Radio on January 18, 2012:

Interviewer: Is it Israel’s judgment that Iran has not yet decided to turn its nuclear potential into weapons of mass destruction?

Barak: confusion stems from the fact that people ask whether Iran is determined to break out from the control [inspection] regime right now in an attempt to obtain nuclear weapons or an operable installation as quickly as possible.  Apparently that is not the case.

Interviewer: How long will it take from the moment Iran decides to turn it into effective weapons until it has nuclear warheads?

Barak: I don’t know; one has to estimate. Some say a year, others say 18 months. It doesn’t really matter. To do that, Iran would have to announce it is leaving the [UN International Atomic Energy Agency] inspection regime and stop responding to IAEA’s criticism, etc.

Why haven’t they [the Iranians] done that? Because they realize that when it became clear to everyone that Iran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons, this would constitute definite proof that time is actually running out. This could generate either harsher sanctions or other action against them. They do not want that.

There you have it from the Israeli Defense Minister, no peacenik he.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for 27 years and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

 

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21 comments for “Netanyahu Backs Off on Iran

  1. boron
    September 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Netanyahu- The mohel who cried “woof”.

  2. Frances in California
    September 28, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Gee whiz . . . did Netanyahu go rummaging in Colin Powell’s attic for his visual aids?

    • boron
      September 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      Or maybe Hanna Barbera or Max and Dave Fleischer?

  3. elmerfudzie
    September 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Ray, your obviously not a George Smiley type (ha ha). It’s nice to know you were not an operative in the field, they are totally unpredictable, even amongst themselves! It is very difficult to think- psychotic the (Netanyahu/Lieberman duo) or even to begin musing as an intel field operative would. In the last analysis, what are the real concerns here? I could get metaphorical and say that “Tiny Tim” (the average Israeli citizen) finds himself somehow “associated” with the neo-con element as our citizenry does with Dick Cheneys’ crowd (voters chad’s and all) again, ha ha ha. Here we are, the sheep, going about our business, just grazing. Along comes a fractal, a shard, of Germany s’ old fascist element. No, I won’t go as far as to say that Benji resembles the mustached corporal but I will say that Hitlers’ devil abandoned that corpse and went somewhere, but where? and entered into how many, is the REAL question. After being defeated and shattered, in how many slivers was Hitlers beast reduced and to what regions of the world did they travel??….don’t laugh, but those are the real question(s) to be answered. To make it perfectly clear, there are hidden forces behind Netanyahu’s incessant rants and we must discover who they are and what exactly it is, that they want or want to achieve. Names baby, we need real names of real people before the usual mechanisms of formal diplomacy can go forward.

    • MA
      September 29, 2012 at 7:51 am

      Israel – classical example of ‘battered baby, batter parent’.

  4. Kenny Fowler
    September 28, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Hey Bibi, the Looney tunes are calling and they want their bomb back!

    • elmerfudzie
      October 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm

      I wish everyone would stop calling him Bibi, it’s too much like the Spanish, BeBe (translation, baby). If there’s one thing Netanyahu isn’t, it’s a Baby! Bebe also reminds me of BeBe Rebozo, Richard Nixon’s (love?)
      In any case the more apropos nickname would be BiBi the Benjamite, the small but fierce tribe of biblical Israel…

  5. September 28, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Never trusted spooky and terrorist Netanyahu. As a dual citizen, he lived under four names; Benjamin Netanyahu, Benjamin Nitai, John Jay Sullivan and John Jay Sullivan Jr. in order to study in the U.S., receive federal loans to cover his education costs at MIT and work legally.

    Like his predessor Jewish leaders, once Netanyahu set his alarm on someone – he never let his victim go. If Romney doesn’t win – Netanyahu will carry another 9/11 to get Americans behind him against Iran in 2013.

    Ooops! Saying that Jews control Romney – is an old-fashioned anti-Semitism.

    http://rehmat1.com/2012/09/28/lobby-jews-dont-control-mitt-romney/

  6. September 28, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    I became an enemy of Israel and lost all confidence in the Government of the US and President Johnson in 1967 Israeli dustup with the Egyptians and the rest of the mid east.

    I happened to be on watch in the CommCenter when the traffic came in about the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty and the murder of 38 of my Shipmates and Brothers. This was an act of war by Israel and an act of treason by President Johnson and to my dying day I will never again trust either government as both seem to believe that the end justifies the means even if it means committing war crimes.

    I do know of what I speak, I packed a TS Crypto Clearance for over 20 years and all the lies and bullshit was noted for all those years. I never mentioned any of this until I became a naturalized citizen of a government that would never allow my return to Fascistan, nor do I or would I ever want to return to the country of my birth.. Too many bad memories and treacheries that were carried out for “Freedom”, smoke and mirrors and slight of hand. No thank you, I will stich with my adopted country, I have trust and faith in them and none in Fascistan or Bloody Britain

    Just this old Chief’s 2 cents

  7. F. G. Sanford
    September 29, 2012 at 1:09 am

    It crossed my mind that Bibi’s visual aid could be construed as a progress chart for how many “settlers” Israel has packed into occupied territory. The “red line” would indicate the point of no return for a two-state solution. “Red lines” and “facts on the ground” are just part and parcel of the semantic gymnastics used to obfuscate reality. It looks like a short fuse on that bomb, courtesy of the “Acme Bomb Company”. When it goes off, Palestinian genocide will be a done deal. Once again, Bibi has successfully deflected the world’s attention away from the real issue, and he has done it with something as childish as a Yosemite Sam cartoon motif. You gotta hand it to him…he correctly identified the level of intellectual prowess required to bamboozle the American public once again.

    • Louis Wellberg
      September 29, 2012 at 2:27 am

      “Bibi has successfully deflected the world’s attention away from the real issue, and he has done it with something as childish as a Yosemite Sam cartoon motif…

      He correctly identified the level of intellectual prowess required to bamboozle the American public once again. ”

      I think he is making a fool of himself and is no longer taken seriously by anyone. I read some European newspapers and they are laughing at him and his silly drawing, calling him a manipulator and a flip flopper, just like Romney.

      • F. G. Sanford
        September 29, 2012 at 4:35 am

        I hope you’re right, but in America, the right wing loonies are singing his praises claiming, “He’s fighting for the very existence of his country”. I quote Mike Huckabee here. Romney may be a flip-flopper, but unless there is a drastic change in Congress, current policy will not change much. AIPAC will still be calling the shots.

  8. rosemerry
    September 29, 2012 at 2:40 am

    “these lethal weapons are in the hands of the world’s most dangerous terrorist regime”
    He speaks the truth: Israel has 300 or so; the USA over 5000 and has used them on cities. Iran has attacked nobody for 300 years.

  9. Chaunticlear
    September 29, 2012 at 2:53 am

    Ray,
    Please give us your opinion regarding the facts about the draft intel report as shown in the article at the link below.

    http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/08/28/us-preparing-for-a-post-israel-middle-east/

    Do you have a copy of the draft intel report?

    Thanks, Ray.

  10. jerry gates
    September 29, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Mt recent employment building a stone wall in my dad’s neighbors back yard has me watching Fox News with him at lunch time, or should I say nap time, dad is 90 years old but still quite happy and healthy and also active for his age, his attendance at Fox news is at record proportions, I shared a few pundits observations with a blond haired reporter in the center of the screne flanked by pro Israel and perhaps less so pro Israel pundits sparring in a fisticuffs sort of civilised way. The gist of my story boring though it is, is this, the Gal in the middle of the screne has traditionally been quite dead pan in her expert and professional delivery but when it became fodder for discussion that Wiley Coyote with his face burnt from a bomb of his own making had surfaced as Netenyhau’s own mug on a Washington Post blog, she cracked the prettiest smile I ever saw and couldnt contain her comment that while it may not seem funny to some the humor of it all, perhaps after kissing Bibis friends network asses for so long, wasnt lost on her, nor myself, the analogy is as comedic as it gets and who doesnt love that poor wiley coyote. Her smile was worth it, madeline albright thinks killing people is worth the objective, I think smiling people is worth it, go figure,

  11. Chris Brandt
    October 3, 2012 at 9:54 am

    It is a hoot to see Bibi the Clown doing his standup routine, an impression of a grade school show-and-tell – I guess the really serious deliberations of the UN require the occasional comic relief.

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