Monday, November 10, 2014

Israel, Iran and the Nuclear Dilemma

The recent news that President Obama has sent a "secret letter" to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, a reformist, about assisting in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/IS, has stirred up a hornet's nest.  In this letter, the existence of which the White House will neither confirm or deny, the President is alleged to have told Khameini that they have a shared interest in fighting the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria but that any co-operation between the two nations in this fight would hinge on resolving the issue of Iran's nuclear program.  Iran is currently negotiating its nuclear future with a six nation group known as P5+1 including the United States, Russia, Germany, China, Britain and France which has been in negotiations since it was formed in 2006.  After three rounds of technical level meeting, Iran and P5+1 agreed on the following Joint Plan of Action which was signed by Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif and Catherine Ashton, head of the P5+1 negotiating team:

There is a six month timeframe for the first phase of the deal which began on January 20th, 2014.  Further discussions are being held with a negotiating deadline of November 24th, 2014.  The main point of contention is Iran's desire to keep operating about 10,000 centrifuges for the next few years and then to expand its program to make fuel for the Bushehr power reactor after its nuclear fuel deal with Russia expires in 2021.  Iran's negotiators also believe that the West should be happy with a deal that allows for monitoring and verification that would prevent it from making weapons-grade fuel.  The negotiators for P5+1, on the other hand, believe that Iran should operate a limited enrichment program sufficient to supply fuel for its nuclear research reactors and to produce medical isotopes but that any fuel needed for its power reactor program should come from Russia for the time-being.

As a bit of background, let's look at this speech that was given by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, a noted hardliner, to the  60th United Nations General Assembly Summit back in September 2005:

Please note that in point 1, the President of Iran states:

"The Islamic Republic of Iran reiterates its previously and repeatedly declared position that in accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited."

This follows on the heels of the statement issued by the Supreme Leader himself stating that nuclear weapons (and other weapons of mass destruction) are against Islamic law as shown in this quote:

"According to our faith, in addition to nuclear weapons, other kinds of WMD, such as chemical and biological weapons also constitute a serious threat to humanity. The Iranian nation, which is a victim of the use of chemical weapons itself, feels the danger of the production and stockpiling of such weapons and is ready to employ all its means to counter them. We consider the use [کاربرد] of these weapons as haram [prohibited under Islamic law], and the attempt to immunize human kind from this great disaster the responsibility of all."

Now, let's look at what Israel had to say about the Iranian nuclear program on October 1, 2014 (well before President Obama's alleged letter) as taken verbatim from the Knesset website :

"Knesset Speaker Edelstein to Austrian president: Israel reserves the right to defend itself if it deems Iran nuclear deal unacceptable

Publicized: October 1, 2014 

Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein met with Austrian President Heinz Fischer Wednesday morning at the Presidential Palace in Vienna. During the meeting, Edelstein presented Israel`s uncompromising stance regarding the Iranian nuclear program. 

”Unfortunately, many in the international community are treating the new Iranian regime with forgiveness,” he told President Fischer. 

”Israel will welcome an agreement only if it completely forbids Iran from developing nuclear arms. A scenario in which Iran is permitted to develop its nuclear program for `peaceful purposes` or to produce nuclear energy will be unacceptable,” the Knesset speaker declared. 

Edelstein told Fischer that the agreement with Libya was a good one because the North African country gave up on its entire nuclear program. ”On the other hand, we all saw what happened with North Korea, which possesses atomic weapons and poses a threat.” 

Fischer said he hopes the agreement with Iran will be one that Israel could live with. 

Asked by Fischer how Israel would respond if it finds the agreement to be unacceptable, Edelstein said ”Israel reserves the right to defend its citizens and state in every way possible.” " (my bold)

It will be interesting to see what transpires between the United States, Israel and Iran, particularly now that the United States has a lame-duck President and a Congress that is under the control of the Republicans who are noted for their pro-Israel stance as shown on this graph:

With a November 24th, 2014 deadline, one wonders if the haste to make a deal will create more instability in the Middle East, particularly between Israel and Iran. 


  1. It is difficult to overstate the degree of distrust Israelis have for Iran, a country they see as being the principal financier of its main adversaries (Hamas, Hizbollah) as well as the sponsor of attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets generally (e.g. destruction of the Israeli embassy and the Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires in the early 1990s). Also important to note that both Israel and the USA are home to tens of thousands of Iranian Jews who fled (or are descended from those who fled) the Islamic Revolution there.

    1. Many Jews still live in Iran and claim to be overall happy.

    2. This is true, but they are the remnant of a formerly much larger community. The vast majority of the Jewish population of Iran left the country.

      There are likely more Iranian Jews in the greater Los Angeles area than there are Jews left in all of Iran.

  2. It is interesting to observe to what lengths the USA and allies are willing to go in order to preserve Israel's regional nuclear weapons monopoly.

    Whether Israel actually requires nuclear weapons to acquire full control of territory taken in 1967 is an interesting question. But as long as new settlements continue to be built, it would appear that nuclear weapons can also be used for offensive purposes.

    This does not bode well for those seeking anti-proliferation and it means the threat of blow back on American and Israeli targets is virtually guaranteed.