Monitoring developments in international security

Posts tagged “Israel

Iran: The ongoing debate

In an attempt to make transitioning back into posting articles here as smooth as possible, this first update is simply a collection of interesting articles regarding the strikingly public debate about a possible military strike on Iran.

Foreign Affairs

Israeli policymakers are ignoring several of the potential longer-term aspects of a strike: the preparedness of Israel’s home front; the contours of an Israeli exit strategy; the impact on U.S.-Israel relations; the global diplomatic fallout; the stability of world energy markets; and the outcome within Iran itself. 

As part of a larger package on the Iranian debate, Foreign Affairs recently posted an article titled ‘What Happens After Israel Attacks Iran.’ The author begins by reminding the reader of the Israeli strikes of 1981 and 2007 on Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors, which notably did not lead to a larger conflict. He quickly shifts attention to the main topic of his article: for all its preparedness for ‘the day after’ a military strike, Israel is not properly considering the longer-term effects of an attack. The arguments on each of the points alluded to in the quote above are cogent, historical references to past Israeli military action abound, and Mr. Eiran gives a nice insight into the minds of senior Israeli officials.

Al Jazeera (video)

 The so-called ‘Iranian Threat’ is a narrative being constructed by the US media all by itself – with scant public support from the Obama administration.

Al Jazeera’s Listening Post takes a look at the misinformation being spread in America through the media’s oftentimes sensationalist conjecture on Iranian capabilities and intentions. The report draws damning parallels with media coverage leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Here’s one telling fact: 7 out of 10 Americans believe that Iran has a nuclear weapon.

The Economist

Short of occupation, the world cannot eliminate Iran’s capacity to gain the bomb. It can only change its will to possess one. Just now that is more likely to come about through sanctions and diplomacy than war.

The author concedes that a nuclear-armed Iran is in no other nation’s interest and has the very real potential of setting off a a regional and perhaps multi-regional nuclear arms race. However, he argues, a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities will only delay and not entirely prevent the Persian nation from acquiring a bomb. Indeed, while in the short term an air strike could set back Iran’s nuclear progress several years, more significant longer-term issues arise. The program would ‘figuratively and literally’ go underground and the nuclear ‘know-how’ of Iranian scientists would be unaffected. Additionally, a strike would further galvanize already-popular support for the nuclear program and could serve as a much-needed boost to the low popularity of Iranian leaders.

Photo credit: lead image

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US and Israel attempt to find common policy ground

The US and Israel appear to be at major policy intersection following the events of this past week. On Thursday President Obama delivered a speech in which he supported Israel negotiating a peace deal with the Palestinians from the ‘1967 borders.’ These are the borders Israel had before the 1967 Six-Day War in which the Jewish state launched a preemptive strike against Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel criticized the call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, calling them ‘indefensible.’

  










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While President Obama did put public pressure on Israel to discontinue its illegal settlements and to come to terms with the reality of an eventual Palestinian state, he also sought to reassure America’s ally. He criticized plans later this year to hold a UN General Assembly vote on the creation of a Palestinian State. He also put himself in the shoes of Israeli leaders in light of the recent announcement of the Fatah-Hamas unification by musing, ‘How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?’

Regardless of the protective, reassuring statements the President directed at Israel or even, for that matter, the criticisms; the truth is that Israel is facing a challenging future. The Arab Spring protests erupting around the Middle East serve as a great inspirational backdrop for the Palestinian statehood movement. Indeed, every one of Israel’s neighbors has experienced some form of anti-government action. The UN vote on a Palestinian state, which will likely take place later this year, could serve as a humiliation for Israel, especially if the US is one of only a few prominent nations to vote against it.* So while Israel may show public consternation at President Obama’s speech on Thursday, the fact is that both nations need to rely on some old-fashioned diplomacy to convince states like Britain, France and Germany not to further make a pariah out of Israel.

*(It’s my understanding that the US, regardless of the outcome of the vote, would be able to use its veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to avoid the vote translating into an actual statehood.)

A few relevant links: NYTimes on Obama and Netanyahu, CBS on the legal concerns of a UNSC veto, Al-Jazeera hosts a scathing op-ed on Obama’s speech


Syria on the brink

Syria continues its brutal suppression of anti-government protests as the EU and US consider imposing further sanctions against the Middle Eastern nation. Reports pour in of Syrian forces opening fire against protesters as videos emerge on youtube of the atrocities. It’s interesting to examine what a dramatic role social networking sites have had on the futures of a number of Middle Eastern countries.  The amateur video of the violence in Syria particularly reminds me of the Iranian protests in 2009 following the rigged presidential election. The video below instantly brought up memories of the Neda incident.

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Sending a message

Every year Palestinians protest the foundation of Israel, during which hundreds of thousands were forcibly relocated, dubbing the object of their anger a ‘catastrophe.’ (Note that these protests are unrelated to the anti-government protests discussed above). But while the Israeli borders with Lebanon and the West Bank remain volatile, Syria has traditionally maintained strict control of its border, even preventing its own citizens access to it. Sunday was this year’s date for the protest and thousands of protesters came from the Syrian side.

While the spirit of the protests and ire of its participants was genuinely directed at Israel, the protesters themselves were no doubt serving as pawns for Damascus. Allowing the anti-Israel protesters unprecedented access to the Israeli border, the Assad regime was sending a powerful message that only through its will has the border has remained peaceful for the last 40 years. The message is sure to present an all-too-familiar dilemma to Israel and the US in how to approach the Arab Spring: the choice between the status quo or the risky protesters. While the Middle East can hardly be called peaceful in the traditional sense of the word, there’s at least some degree of confidence in expectations for the future if current governments stay the same. And although Syria is allied with distinctly anti-Israel entities like Iran and Hezbollah, its own Golan Heights border with Israel has seen little action since 1974. So while Israel and its supporters might sympathize with the pro-democracy protests in Syria, the Assad regime sent an important message to its Jewish neighbor on Sunday by allowing the protesters to storm the Israeli border: you might not like us, but you had better hope that we stay in control.

Related links:

Spotlight Syria

Message for Israel


Iran’s nuclear trouble continues

A new computer virus that seemed to be targeting Iranian government facilities has been discovered. Iranian officials announced last week that they had detected a new attempt to infiltrate government computers. Public acknowledgement of this new virus, now called ‘Stars’, comes less than a year after the 2010 revelation that a separate virus, Stuxnet, was responsible for the difficulty the Persian nation has encountered in operating its uranium centrifuges. Iranian officials, along with several prominent western cyber-security experts, have attributed the origin of Stuxnet to the United States and Israel. Neither the US nor Israel has accepted responsibility for the virus. Little information is as yet publicly available about the newer Stars virus although it reportedly takes the form of official-looking data and is ‘hard to eliminate in its original form.’ [GSN]

ahmajinedad

Ahmajinedad inspects Iranian centrifuges

Iran has acknowledged that its enrichment efforts had been delayed by the earlier Stuxnet virus. The virus violently manipulates the spinning speed of rotors inside centrifuges used to separate isotopes of uranium. While doing so, it reports normal operating conditions to the control mechanism thus avoiding an emergency shutdown. The P1 centrifuges being used by Iran are highly sensitive machines and the sudden increases and decreases in speed that Stuxnet subjected them to would have undoubtedly rendered them inoperable. Some speculate that code contained in Stuxnet could cause the centrifuges to literally explode.

Ralph Langer explains Stuxnet

Experts believe that Stuxnet has set back any Iranian program towards a nuclear weapon – real or imagined – by several years. This no doubt gives Israel some breathing room in its debate about a possible preventive strike, ala its universally condemned 1981 destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor which was under construction in Iraq. (It’s worth noting that while the Osirak facility was destroyed, many contend that the strike may have actually accelerated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.) Regardless, with the emergence of this new cyber attack, it’s clear that somebody has decided to devote considerable resources to sabotaging the Iranian nuclear program. The level of sophistication and explicit objectives of these viruses, coupled in consideration with last year’s assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, certainly limits that list of potential somebodies.

Extras:

Richard Betts on the Israeli decision to strike Osirak

Arms Control Wonk breaks down the components of a centrifuge

In an Israeli cockpit during Operation Opera