|Israel and the US Face the Realities of the Arab Spring and Nuclear Iran|
by Jerry Gordon and Mike BatesIsraeli Prime Minister Netanyahu meets President Obama in Washington on March 5th for discussions. There is yet another emerging impasse on which option to pursue with a truculent nuclear Iran and concerns about the rise of an Islamist alliance in Syria should the brutal Assad regime be toppled.
That Islamist alliance ringing Syria and supported by the Obama Administration, includes Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. The main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), while nominally including Kurds, Christians and other minorities has prominent Muslim Brotherhood leadership. The Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis on February 25th with more than 60 delegations voiced “legitimacy” but refrained from full recognition of the SNC. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Hague endorsed the SNC. The Friends of Syria Tunis gathering ended with calls for a possible international peacekeeper force and tougher sanctions against the Assad regime in Damascus. Both Russia and China were condemned by Secretary of State Clinton at the Tunis conference for vetoing UN Security Council Resolutions condemning the Assad Regime for its brutal repression. Meanwhile, a majority of Syria’s diverse population sat on the sidelines cowed by the brutality of the Assad Regime. The Free Syria Army, composed of mainly Sunni defectors from the Syrian Army, has the endorsement of Ayman al-Zawahiri of al Qaeda. Al- Zawahiri ascended to the leadership of al Qaeda following the assassination of Osama Bin Laden last May. Al-Qaeda cadres from both Libya and Iraq are reported to have entered Syria. Qatar, which supplied weapons to the Libyan militias, has been reported to be supplying weapons to insurgents in southeastern Syria via Jordan. Presently, the repressive Assad campaign is wreaking havoc daily on the embattled city of Homs. Estimated casualties are approaching 7,000 after a nearly year-long effort by the Alawite minority led Syrian military to stifle open revolt. Moreover, there is rising concern in official Washington of possible use of Syria’s vast caches of unconventional chemical and biological warfare weapons against its people and the threat of their possible transfer to terrorist groups in neighboring countries if the Assad regime is toppled.
There is major concern in both Israel and America that the Obama Administration may have condoned support for Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt and the Kingdom of Jordan where King Abdullah II has engaged in a risky dialogue with the Islamic Action Front (IAF). The IAF is a Muslim Brotherhood party with Salafist supporters. There are daily protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo alternating between marginalized secularists demonstrating against the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and the Muslim Brotherhood protesting the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). SCAF is led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a colleague of deposed former Egyptian strongman, Hosni Mubarak. Salafists in Egypt have been perpetrating pogroms against Christian Copts. Libya is in disarray in the wake of the collapse and murder of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi and appears to have devolved into tribal warfare. A major concern in Libya is the absence of control over Islamist militias, including former al Qaeda fighters, and their sophisticated weaponry, some of which has appeared recently in Gaza. Tunisia, which sparked the Arab Spring in December 2010, has an Islamist leader Rashid al-Ghannouchi. He is President of the Tunisian Ennahda Party which formed an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. Yemen’s strong man Ali Abdullah Saleh has reached a compromise with the opposition who has assented to his number two assuming the top leadership position. Yemen’s al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula may have been marginalized with the assassination of American-born radical Imam, Anwar Al-Awlaki in September 2011.
Overarching all of these developments has been the question of whether Israel would undertake unilateral action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Both Israeli and US assessments generally agree that the nuclear denouement will soon be at hand. Announcements by the Islamic Republic late in February may indicate that Iran has transferred stocks of low enriched uranium to Fordow facility deep in a mountain near the holy city of Qom. The resulting fissile material could be used for assembly of an estimated four or more bombs. In which case, Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has commented that the Islamic Republic may shortly reach the “zone of immunity” where military action might not be able to cause sufficient damage to halt the Iranian nuclear program. One independent assessment made by Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman (see our interview with him published in the February 2012 NER) suggested that the Netanyahu government might be on the verge of making a decision to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Meanwhile both Defense Minister Barak and PM Netanyahu have indicated that the decision has yet to be taken. US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Dempsey, made a trip to Israel to consult with IDF and senior security officials. Gen. Dempsey has publicly cautioned Israel that such action would be inadvisable. Instead, Israel, the US and the EU would like to see whether recently adopted tougher sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank, a moratorium against purchases of Iranian oil by EU members and denial of access to the international payments system would disrupt Iran’s economy halting the enrichment process. The Obama Administration does not want military action in Iran to delay economic progress in the US in the midst of a Presidential election campaign. It also holds out for possible dialogue with the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile the P5+1 (Permanent Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) were poised to hold discussions with Iranian officials after receipt of a letter from President Ahmadinejad.
Many observers feel that despite Iran’s economy being in virtual free fall with rapidly escalating inflation and a devaluing currency, the Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Khamanei, and President Ahmadinejad will not be deterred in achieving their nuclear objectives. They declared their possession of nuclear technology for alleged peaceful means,”non-negotiable.” Evidence of that stiffening stance came in late February. IAEA inspectors abruptly left Iran following denial of entry to a leading military research site at Parchin involved with possible explosive testing. This was followed by reports that enrichment of transferred uranium may have been accelerated at both Natanz and the deep underground enrichment facility of Fordow near Qom. These developments may have mooted the renewed P5+1 discussion with nuclear Iran abandoned over a year ago. Reports released on February 23rd by the Washington, DC based Institute for Science and International Security appear to have confirmed the creation of a parallel Military Nuclear Research Program at Iran’s Physics Research Center. Further, the Islamic Regime had warned about reprisals against Israel, the EU and America. Evidence of their intentions was reflected in the dispatch of Qod Force units who attempted bombings of Israeli embassies and personnel in New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok. There are indications that Iran might unleash attacks in the US against American Jewish institutions and military personnel as possible reprisals in the event of an attack on their nuclear facilities.
Against this background “Your Turn” host Mike Bates, of radio station 1330AMWEBY of Pensacola, Florida, Senior Editor Jerry Gordon of the New English Review, Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research and Emanuele Ottolenghi, Senior Fellow of Washington, DC- based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies held a radio round table discussion.
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