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Obama says Iran “year or so” away from nuclear bomb. Did he imply U.S. might hit Iran? Is it a credible threat?

US President Barack Obama being interviewed by Channel 2's Yonit Levy Photo: Courtesy US Embassy/Jerusalem Post

US President Barack Obama being interviewed by Channel 2′s Yonit Levy Photo: Courtesy US Embassy/Jerusalem Post

As his trip to Israel draws closer, President Obama gave an interview to Israeli Channel 2 news in which he spoke directly to the Iranian nuclear threat. He discussed how much time the world may have to prevent the mullahs from getting The Bomb.

One thing is clear: the President thinks there is still “a year or so” until Iran builds an operational nuclear bomb. By contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said the “red line” will be reached by spring or summer, and both are coming up fast.

Some commentators believe the President implied in the interview the U.S. might hit Iran if other options fail. If he did, the real question is whether he is serious. I

‘m cautious, to say the least. After all, if Mr. Obama is serious about hitting Iran, why did he choose a Defense Secretary who once called such a strike a ridiculous ”Alice in Wonderland” fantasyland? Why did the President pull a carrier battle group out of the Persian Gulf region?

I don’t want to be cynical. But at the moment, based on the President’s history, I’m skeptical that he will take decisive action. He was opposed to military force in Iraq. He’s been committed to removing U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Do we really believe he is going to start a war with Iran? To the contrary, I’m concerned the President is more likely to miscalculate and wait too long. That is what Damascus Countdown is about: a novel in which a fictional President who waits too long and the Iranians get not just one nuclear warhead but a small arsenal. Then Israel decides it cannot wait any longer and launches a massive preemptive strike that sets the whole region aflame, against the President’s wishes.

The stakes are high for the President’s upcoming visit. It will be fascinating to see what unfolds.

>> Obama Sets Timeline on Iran Nuclear Bomb: Ahead of Israeli Visit, U.S. Leader  Says Tehran Is a Year or More Away from Atomic Weapon; Netanyahu Has Different View (Wall Street Journal)

“US believes that right now it would take Iran ‘over a year or so’ to develop a nuclear bomb if it decided to do so, US President Barack Obama said in an interview aired Thursday, six-days before his much anticipated trip to Israel,” reports the Jerusalem Post.

“In the White House interview with Channel 2′s Yonit Levy — Obama’s first shot at talking directly to the Israeli public, something widely acknowledged as one of the main purposes of his visit – the president said the US did not want to go down to the deadline with the Iranians,” noted the Post.

“Obviously we don’t want to cut it too close,” he said.

“Obama deflected the notion that part of his message to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be to try and reign in any possible Israeli military action, saying ‘my message will be the same as before: If we can resolve this diplomatically, that is a more lasting solution; and if not, I continue to keep all options on the table….When I say all options are on the table, all options are on the table, and the US obviously has significant capabilities. Our goal is that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or trigger an arms race in the region that would be extremely dangerous.”

The Times of Israel is reporting that President Barack Obama implied in the interview “that should diplomatic efforts fail this year or early next year, America will be forced to carry out military action against Iran. Contrary to statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the moment of truth concerning Iran’s nuclear program was spring 2013, Obama said that the US estimates that Iran can produce a bomb only in about a year given its current rate of progress.”

>> Obama’s visit to Israel criticised as a ‘maintenance trip’ without peace plan: President’s three-day Middle East trip heavy on sight-seeing but will not involve any new drive for peace, White House confirms (The Guardian)

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Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Does Iran already have The Bomb with North Korea’s help? One expert raises a disturbing question.

In The Tehran Initiative and Damascus Countdown, I imagine a scenario in which Iran already has nuclear warheads and Israel is forced to take action.

In The Tehran Initiative and Damascus Countdown, I imagine a scenario in which Iran already has nuclear warheads and Israel is forced to take action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

>> Dennis Ross, former senior advisor to President Obama on Iran issues, tells AIPAC: Bibi, Obama Mulling when Force against Iran is Inevitable

The biggest threat to U.S. and Israeli interests in the Middle East is the possibility that our President has miscalculated and that Iran already has nuclear weapons and is now expanding its arsenal while the mullahs fool the world into thinking they’re not quite there yet. Now a national security expert is suggesting that this might, in fact, be the case.

“During Secretary of State John Kerry’s listening tour of the Middle East, one troubling regional issue might go unspoken: the possibility that Iran already has nuclear weapons capability,” writes James Robbins, a national security expert with the American Foreign Policy Council. “That will certainly change when President Obama lands next month in Israel,  where the issue is at the top of the agenda. The emergence of an Iranian atomic bomb would represent a U.S. foreign policy failure of historic proportions. It is not the kind of crisis that Kerry would like to face in his first month on the job or that Obama would like to shape his second term.”

>> Report: North Korean test may mean Iran has a nuclear missile warhead

“So far, the case that Iran already has the bomb is largely circumstantial,” notes Robbins, but his attention is being drawn — as mine as been — to the connection between Iran and North Korea. “Shortly after North Korea announced this month that it had successfully carried out its third underground nuclear test, Saudi Arabian news media reported that Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, a leading Iranian nuclear scientist, was on hand for the blast. This should come as no surprise. Iran and North Korea have long cooperated on nuclear and ballistic missile technologies.  Iran’s ballistic missiles are based on North Korean designs, and the two countries have long exchanged  defense scientists and engineers. Perhaps more important, the RAND Corporation reports that the third North Korean nuclear test appears to many experts to be fundamentally different from its previous two efforts. North Korea’s first tests used plutonium to trigger the nuclear explosion. This one, according to some atmospheric tests, likely used highly enriched uranium, exactly the form of nuclear weapon pursued by Iran. The question is whether the weapon North Korea tested  this month was its own, Iran’s or a joint project. A senior U.S. official told The New York Times, ‘It’s very possible that the North Koreans are testing for two countries.’ It would be foolish for Iran to test a nuclear weapon on its own soil. Nuclear weapons cannot be detonated in secret; they leave unique seismic markers that can be traced back to their source. An in-country test would simply confirm the existence of a program that  for years Iran has denied.”

“Days after North Korea’s nuclear test, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reiterated that his country did not want to build atomic weapons, but that if it ‘intended to possess nuclear weapons, no power could stop us.’ This strange construction — saying the Islamic Republic does not desire nuclear weapons but there was no way to prevent it from having them — might have been the first in a series of diplomatic signals intending to inform the United States that, with North Korea’s help, the game is already over and Iran has won.”

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Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Iran’s “Plan B” for a nuclear bomb. Nuclear talks fail again. “Some think Israel’s red line for military action is before Arak comes online.”

Crackpot Preppers
Water vapour, circled, is seen being emitted from forced air coolers at the Arak heavy water production plant earlier this month, showing that the facility is operational Photo: DigitalGlobe Inc/McKenzie Intelligence Ltd

Water vapour, circled, is seen being emitted from forced air coolers at the Arak heavy water production plant earlier this month, showing that the facility is operational Photo: DigitalGlobe Inc/McKenzie Intelligence Ltd

“The Telegraph can disclose details of activity at a heavily-guarded Iranian facility from which international inspectors have been barred for 18 months,” reports the London Telegraph. “The images, taken earlier this month, show that Iran has activated the Arak heavy-water production plant. Heavy water is needed to operate a nuclear reactor that can produce plutonium, which could then be used to make a bomb. The images show signs of activity at the Arak plant, including a cloud of steam that indicates heavy-water production.”

“The striking image of steam over the Arak heavy-water complex is a vivid demonstration that the regime has more than one pathway to a potential nuclear weapon,” notes the Telegraph. “Previously, international talks on Iran’s nuclear programme have focused on the Islamic Republic’s attempts to enrich uranium at plants including Fordow. But the new images of Arak highlight the progress Iran has made on facilities that could allow it to produce plutonium, potentially giving the country a second option in developing a nuclear weapon….Iran has told the IAEA that it will begin operating the reactor at Arak in the first three months of 2014. The country still lacks the technology to reprocess plutonium and use it for a weapon. But North Korea has successfully developed that technology, and some analysts speculate that Iran could do the same.”

“Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department official at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, suggested that Arak could be part of a process that might trigger Western strikes on Iran,” reports the Telegraph. “One option for the Iranian regime would be to acquire the necessary reprocessing technology from North Korea, he said. ‘By then, the option of a military strike on an operating reactor would present enormous complications because of the radiation that would be spread,’ he explained. ‘Some think Israel’s red line for military action is before Arak comes online.’”

UPDATE: “I think there’s time, but there’s not much time” for sanctions to work, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren told USA Today. “There’s a window for diplomacy, but the window is closing….We know that given the centrifuges that they have now, they will pass a red line. That’s the point where we will no longer be able to prevent them from making a nuclear weapon, and that line is coming up in the summer. If they install the next generation of centrifuges — and they’re installing them right now — (and) if those centrifuges begin to spin, then the time will be even shorter.”

Key headlines I’m tracking:

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Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Netanyahu says North Korea nuclear bomb test proves sanctions not enough to stop Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel (photo credit: Dave Bender, Jewish Agency for Israel/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel (photo credit: Dave Bender, Jewish Agency for Israel/Times of Israel)

“The nuclear test carried out by North Korea last week proves that economic sanctions alone cannot stop a rogue regime from acquiring nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, warning that leaders should apply the lessons of Pyongang to Tehran,” reports the Times of Israel. “Netanyahu told the Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel in Jerusalem that sanctions would only work on Iran’s nuclear program if they were coupled with a robust military threat, repeating a popular refrain and perhaps offering a preview of what he will tell US President Barack Obama during a visit next month.”

“Only sanctions combined with a robust, credible military threat might stop Iran,” Netanyahu said, according to the Times, warning that “an Iranian nuclear weapon would transform the Middle East into a tinderbox, changing the world as we know it.”

“We need to seek a realistic peace process with the Palestinians, one which guarantees peace and security,” Netanyahu also said. “I don’t want to waste another four years negotiating about the negotiations. I place no preconditions for negotiations. I wish this were true for the Palestinians. The visit of President Obama is an opportunity to reset this.”

“The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency comprises organizations from around the world,” notes the Times. “It meets three times a year to hold strategic discussions about issues affecting the Jewish world and Israeli society and to formulate Jewish Agency policy.”

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Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog