Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Elephant in the Room

"Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother." Moshe Dayan
"Israel is preparing for a war, nuclear if need be, for the sake of averting domestic change not to its liking, if it occurs in some or any Middle Eastern states." Israel Shahak, Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear & Foreign Policies, pp 43-44

Here's a conversation between two people. Mark knows there's an elephant in the room. Patti's* in denial:-

[*"... all of her colleagues call her Patti..." http://law.wlu.edu/magazine/negotiator.asp]

Mark: The other really big non-proliferation hotspot, of course, is the Middle East. Seymour Hersh, the investigative journalist has a piece in the latest New Yorker, which suggests that the Bush administration has just diverted quite a large sum of money to intelligence on Iran's nuclear program and to operations inside Iran. Do you have any comment on that?
Patti: Yeah, you know, I've never seen a writer get it wrong so many times and still get credence every time he writes something. Our ambassador in Iraq was very clear in his statements and he called them completely incorrect and not accurate. So let our ambassador speak for the United States on that.
Mark: So what is the US position at the moment on Iran's nuclear program?
Patti: The US is working through the so-called P5+1 process, working together to push the Iranians to reassess their decision to pursue a nuclear program through the UN Security Council. We have outlined a number of sanctions, measures, that are binding in all states. And we've also said that we're going to stop those sanctions if Iran ceases its enrichment reprocessing activities. And additionally we've created a package of incentives that, were Iran to cease its enrichment and reprocessing activities, we are prepared to negotiate a number of benefits that flow from that package, including even development of civil and nuclear energy cooperation in a way that is obviously not proliferation sensitive.
Mark: Meantime, though, there's a constant drumbeat, particularly from Israel, saying you've got very little time to do anything about this and that Iran may be a year, 2 years, 3 years away from a nuclear weapon, and the suggestion is that the Israelis may do something about it.
Patti: Obviously, Israel sees Iran as the existential threat, [and] will obviously look at its own strategic interest. Our national intelligence estimate says the worst case scenario is 2009, but more likely the development of the fissile material needed for a nuclear weapon would occur into the next decade. So there is some time to make diplomacy work, not a lot of time, and we are committed to work through the diplomatic path. A mix of sanctions, of pressure, a collaboration with our partners. Not only in the P5+1, but also in the Gulf region, as well as working closely here in Asia. Many of the supplies and the (inaudible) items that are getting to Iran for these programs have a source here.
Mark: Whenever we look at this subject on this program, I get emails and letters from people saying, 'Well, Israel's got the nuclear bomb. Why is there not similar outrage about that? Because they're outside the non-proliferation treaty too'.
Patti: Well, Iran is a member of the non-proliferation treaty. They ratified it, they committed to implement it, and we believe they are acting in contravention to that binding legal committment that they took. And so, this process...
Mark: That really doesn't answer the question about Israel though, does it?
Patti: You know, I think in terms of the Israel question we certainly have not seen any indication that Israel is ready to introduce nuclear weapons as a weapon into the region.
Mark: What do you mean?
Patti: And they have always indicated as a better policy that is not... that they will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the region.
Mark: You mean no first strike? I mean that doesn't say they haven't got them.
Patti: You know, I sort of don't want to articulate their policy, that's something that they've done.
Mark: So the US doesn't believe Israel has a nuclear weapon?
Patti: I really wouldn't want to characterise what the US calculations, our assessments are on that point. My major point would be that Iran is pursuing its nuclear weapons in contravention to its legal commitments. Iran is also a deep, destabiliseding force in the region.
Mark: What I'm asking you [is] that people write in and they say, 'Why get so worried about Iran's nuclear weapons, when everybody knows that Israel has nuclear weapons?'
Patti: I think we all need to be worried about Iran. It's a destabilising influence in the region. It's supplying arms, not only to Iraqi insurgents, but even to its sworn enemy, the Taliban. It's supplying support to Hezbollah, it's supporting actions on the part of Syria. So it is having a large destabilising influence in the region. It also has the potential for the nuclear cascade. If you look at countries in the Gulf states, they look to Iran, and were Iran to acquire nuclear weapons capability, the potential for further acquisition of nuclear weapons capabilities in that region would certainly augment in the view of many who have assessed that region.
Mark: Patricia McNerney, Acting Assistant Secretary for International Security and Non-Proliferation with the US State Department.

That was part of an interview (US State Department representative speaks on nuclear weapons, 1/7/08) with Patricia McNerney, Acting Assistant Secretary for International Security and Non-Proliferation with the US State Department by Mark Colvin on ABC Radio National's PM program. The interview began with a discussion of North Korea's recent demolition of the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear power plant. To his credit (and this is unusual for the mainstream media) Mark had his eyes open.

Here's a paragraph from an article by a man who literally worships the ground the elephant in the room walks on (formerly known as Palestine in case you're interested). He knows that most of us are not as enamoured of the beast as he, and so would rather not draw too much attention to the object of his love. However, given the monstrous proportions of the creature, its swaggering, aggressive movements and loud trumpetings, he finds he has little choice but to acknowledge its presence in some way. And so, blinded by love, he tries his best to convince his readers that the elephant is really a gazelle:-

"Iran possessing nuclear weapons would be the final crack in the global non-proliferation regime. Despite parallels drawn to Israel's alleged nuclear capability, Israel is not violating international commitments (it didn't sign the NPT); it hasn't threatened to use nuclear weapons against its neighbours (it doesn't even confirm it has them); and its neighbours haven't sought a similar hedge against it."

That paragraph was part of an opinion piece (Diplomacy with Iran must be backed by a threat of force, 7/7/08) published in The Age. It was written by Dr Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).

Here's a letter from a man who loves the beast as ardently as the former, but can see no reason not to shout it from the rooftops. In fact, he believes that the entire Middle East should be rezoned as an off-leash area for the impetuous pachyderm, and being a lawyer, he has the legal gobbledegook at hand to justify any murderous rampage it may choose to undertake:-

"As a matter of policy, any first use of nuclear weapons is an extremely momentous decision and can be justified only in the most dire of circumstances. Any first use of nuclear weapons by Israel would be an even more momentous decision, given the unfortunate 'double standard' which the international community applies to judging all of Israel's military actions. However, given Ahmadinejad's declaratory policy of seeking to obliterate Israel, an Israeli decision to launch a preemptive strike against an entire array of Iran's nuclear targets would be justifiable in certain circumstances. (I assume that given the number of Iranian nuclear targets, their dispersal and 'hardness', Israel would not have high confidence in conventional strike options.) These circumstances would basically have to entail an imminent deployment of nuclear weapons by Iran, coupled with the realisation that there are no other viable options left for blocking Iran from such a deployment. While an Israeli first nuclear use against Iran would be certainly justifiable in such circumstances, you should be under no illusion as to what kind of reaction it would elicit; Israel would encounter a howl of international condemnations, boycotts, and diplomatic isolation the likes of which it has never seen. Its nuclear strike against Iran is also likely to trigger a regional arms race and precipitate many other dangerous and unpredictable consequences.

"As far as the law is concerned, despite the existing ICJ advisory opinion concerning nuclear weapons, I don't believe that there is any binding norm of international law that governs their utilization or prohibits nuclear use. Thus, the normal principles of jus ad bellum - governing the circumstances where the resort to force is legitimate - and jus in bello - governing the ways in which force can be used - would apply to any nuclear use by Israel. It would have to take exceptional care to ensure that it attacks only military targets and keeps collateral damage to the minimum levels possible. I have no doubt that IDF planners will endeavor to comply fully with all of the relevant jus in bello norms."

That was David Rivkin of Baker Hostetler LLP, a Visiting Fellow at the Nixon Center etc, etc. His letter appeared in the Israeli English language daily Haaretz on 23/6/08.

Finally, here's guy who not only knows there's an elephant in the room but loudly warns that it's a rogue:-

"The conflict currently underway between the US and Iran is, first and foremost, a conflict born in Israel. It is based upon an Israeli contention that Iran poses a threat to Israel, and defined by Israeli assertions that Iran possesses a nuclear weapons program. None of this has been shown to be true, and indeed much of the allegations made by Israel against Iran have been clearly demonstrated as being false. And yet the US continues to trumpet the Israeli claims, and no individual more loudly so than the US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton*."

[*Surprise, surprise, Patti's former boss.]

That's Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, from his 2006 book Target Iran (p 208)

Be afraid, be very afraid.

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