In an op-ed on February 9, I suggested that Israel’s opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, should stand alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before Congress on March 3, to underline “their common conviction that the regime in Tehran cannot be appeased and must be faced down.”
On Monday evening, as details of the looming US-led deal with Iran emerged from Geneva, Israel’s most respected Middle East affairs analyst, Channel 2 commentator Ehud Ya’ari, made precisely the same suggestion. So problematic are the reported terms of the deal, Ya’ari indicated, that Israel’s two leading contenders in the March 17 elections, Netanyahu and Herzog, need to put aside their differences and make plain to US legislators that the need to thwart such an accord crosses party lines in Israel and stands as a consensual imperative.
After anonymous sources in Jerusalem leaked to Israeli reporters in recent weeks the ostensible terms of the deal being hammered out, various spokespeople for the Obama administration contended that the Netanyahu government was misrepresenting the specifics for narrow political ends. They sneered that Israel didn’t actually know what the terms were. And they made the acknowledgement – the astounding acknowledgement for a United States whose key regional ally is directly and relentlessly threatened with destruction by Iran – that the Obama administration is consequently no longer sharing with Jerusalem all sensitive details of the Iran talks.
And yet among the terms of the deal being reported by the Associated Press from Geneva on Monday are precisely those that were asserted in recent weeks by the Israeli sources, precisely those that were scoffed at by the Administration. Centrally, Iran is to be allowed to keep 6,500 centrifuges spinning, and there will be a sunset clause providing for an end to intrusive inspections in some 10-15 years. If anything, indeed, some of the terms reported by the AP are even more worrying than those that were leaked in Jerusalem: “The idea would be to reward Iran for good behavior over the last years of any agreement,” the AP said, “gradually lifting constraints on its uranium enrichment program and slowly easing economic sanctions.” There is also no indication of restrictions on Iran’s missile development – its potential delivery systems.
In his TV commentary on Monday night, Ya’ari highlighted that the deal could further embolden Iran as it expands its influence throughout this region, and he noted that the isolation of Iran even by Israel’s key allies was already cracking, with the firmly pro-Israel foreign minister of Australia, Julie Bishop, announcing an imminent visit to Tehran – the first Australian foreign minister to make such a trip in a decade.
Ya’ari also noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency has made clear that it lacks the tools to effectively monitor the kind of nuclear program that Iran will be allowed to maintain under the emerging deal – incapable, that is, of ensuring that Iran does not fool the West as it has done in the past.
The devil of such deals is generally in the detail. But the devil, here, is in the principle as well — the principle that the P5+1 is about to legitimize Iran as a nuclear threshold state. From there, it will be capable of rapidly breaking out to the bomb, well aware that the international community lacks the will to stop it.
The Obama administration would evidently like to believe that 10-15 years from now, the ayatollahs will be gone, Iran will have a different leadership, and the threat of what Netanyahu has repeatedly called “the most dangerous regime in the world attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world” will have passed.
But if the deal now taking shape is indeed finalized, the chances of the regime being ousted from within, or effectively confronted from without, will drastically recede. This deal, indeed, will help cement the ayatollahs in power, with dire consequences for Israel, relatively moderate Arab states, and the free world.
It goes without saying that this weekend’s developments in Geneva have only bolstered Netanyahu’s determination to sound the alarm before Congress next Tuesday. It’s also still clearer today why the Obama administration has been so anxious to query his motives and seek to discredit his concerns.
I headlined my February 9 op-ed “Who to believe on Iran: Obama or Netanyahu?” I think we know now.
The news media broke (or were given) the story that President Obama penned a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader:
The letter appeared aimed both at buttressing the campaign against Islamic State and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal.
Mr. Obama stressed to Mr. Khamenei that any cooperation on Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program by a Nov. 24 diplomatic deadline, the same people say. The October letter marked at least the fourth time Mr. Obama has written Iran’s most powerful political and religious leader since taking office in 2009 and pledging to engage with Tehran’s Islamist government.
Writing one letter, let alone four, is among the dumbest moves in a foreign policy with far too many blunders in it already. Even worse, Obama seemed to be suggesting just the sort of alliance critics have suspected was his objective all along and which will certainly terrify Israel and our Sunni allies.
Along with outgoing intelligence chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) a number of senators blasted the move:
Senate Armed Services Committee Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina upbraided Obama’s actions:
“It is outrageous that, while the cries of moderate Syrian forces for greater U.S. assistance fall on deaf ears in the White House, President Obama is apparently urging Ayatollah Khamenei to join the fight against ISIS,” the senators said in a joint statement.
Graham and McCain, frequent critics of the Obama White House foreign policy, added that cooperating with Iran would “harm U.S. national security interests” and allies with Arab partners.
Later Friday, Sen. Ron Johnson said the report further indicated Obama’s “weakness” in foreign affairs.
“It’s just a further demonstration of this president’s weakness on foreign policy,” the Wisconsin Republican said on MSNBC.
They are right to be concerned. Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams told me, “We are casting ourselves as an inferior power pleading with Tehran to be reasonable. That regime respects only power, and its disrespect for the United States must grow and grow.” At a time when we have leverage we seem only to want to throw it away. ” After all, oil prices are dropping through the floor and yet we still importune them?” says Abrams. “In our shoes, they would be squeezing us to death, so they must see this most recent letter as a sure indication we are desperate and are incapable of making life hard for them.”
And to boot, this comes at a time Iran is defying inspection obligations that would be essential to any final deal. The latest International Atomic Energy Agency’s report confirms Iran’s “consistent failure to address inspectors’ concerns” that it had a full-blown nuclear weapons program which “may be on-going today.” Moreover, Iran’s human rights atrocities continue to mount. In an op-ed by Sens. Marc Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) the senators observe:
The world is rightly focused on Iran’s growing nuclear threat and the regime’s destabilizing support for international terrorism. Yet Iran’s state of injustice—the regime’s systematic human rights abuses and suppression of the Iranian people’s aspirations to be free – deserves equal attention.
A new report by the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, helps cast light on the regime’s dark record.
The Shaheed report blasts Iran’s growing use of executions, with 687 in 2013 and already 411 in the first half of 2014. Under Iranian law, citizens can face executions for a shockingly broad range of non-violent crimes, including “adultery, recidivist alcohol use, drug possession and trafficking” and corruption, in addition to moharebeh (sometimes translated as “enmity against God”). Indeed, the report observes that the regime in Tehran, in practical terms, is disproportionately executing individuals from religious and ethnic minority groups “for exercising their protected rights, including freedom of expression and association.”
We have not heard of any senior official using a barnyard epithet in regard to the mullahs, or even becoming irate about their monstrous regime.
Pro-Israel groups, shell-shocked from this president’s stream of invectives against our ally Israel and worried about a rotten deal, are also up in arms. An official of one group emails, “As has been said, Iran is the arsonist not the firefighter in the region. Any demonstration of obsequiousness to the Supreme Leader will be seen as a clear indication of weakness and will be deeply counterproductive.”
What is so stunning is how little the president has learned in 6 years. “The letter… is the latest of a series of such blunders where the Obama Administration does the exact opposite of what it should to advance U.S. strategic interests,” says the CEO of the pro-Israel group JINSA, Mike Makovsky. “If the reports are true, it is another incident where the Obama Administration: looked weak and a supplicant of Iran, thereby further undermining our leverage with Iran in the nuclear negotiations, linked the nuclear talks with ISIS, suggesting again that we need Iran and thus weakening our hand further with the nuclear talks; reinforced the view of our Israeli and Arab allies that they can’t depend upon us to confront Iran and that we’ve realigned our interests against them and in favor of Iran and its allies; enticed other regional powers on the fence to accommodate Iran; and abandoned our pledge to support the removal of Assad regime and weaken the forces supporting it, which further alienates our Arab allies and complicates help we could use from Turkey.”
Congress, when it returns, should pass a resolution condemning Iran’s failure to cooperate with inspectors and enacting new sanctions that go into effect Nov. 25, if there is no final deal on the deadline the day before. Congress should also make clear that all these schemes for unplugging equipment or relying only on inspections (!) are grossly insufficient and not in the country’s interest.
Each passing day sees more resistance to the Obama Administration’s announced handover of Internet domain supervision to an as-yet undetermined global agency. There’s still plenty of support for the move as well, but the pendulum seems to be swinging against it this week.
“If the Obama Administration gives away its oversight of the Internet, it will be gone forever,” wrote Daniel Castro, a senior analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
Castro argued that the world “could be faced with a splintered Internet that would stifle innovation, commerce, and the free flow and diversity of ideas that are bedrock tenets of world’s biggest economic engine.”
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, called the announcement a “hostile step” against free speech.
“Giving up control of ICANN will allow countries like China and Russia that don’t place the same value in freedom of speech to better define how the internet looks and operates,” she said in a statement.
It’s hard to argue with Mr. Castro’s point; there will be no way for the United States to regain oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers once it’s been handed off to some global body. And there are good reasons for Rep. Blackburn to worry about what the composition of that global body might be, as National Journal notes “China, Russia, Iran, and dozens of other countries are already pushing for more control over the Internet through the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency.”
The Administration has promised that it won’t accept foreign governments controlling ICANN, and has specifically promised the International Telecommunications Union won’t be involved. And we all know how calmly and logically these decisions tend to be made, once they’re handed off to the “international community.” Just look at how swimmingly the United Nations’ effort to halt Russian annexation of Crimea is going!
It’s somewhat annoying to hear American supporters of the ICANN handover doing their level best to validate the narrative that their own country can no longer be trusted with oversight of the Internet, while actual users point out that U.S. supervision has been working out quite well, as in these quotes from a Politico story:
If the agency hadn’t relinquished its oversight, the ITU could continue to argue that ICANN functioned as a pawn for the U.S. government, said former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who oversaw the Energy and Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over ICANN. “This will reduce the level of global controversy.”
The uncertain path forward still has some in the business community concerned.
“I don’t see how the future ends up being better than the last decade of responsible stewardship by the U.S.,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of the trade association NetChoice, which counts Yahoo and Facebook as members. “Once the contract leverage is gone, what’s to prevent ICANN from being more significantly influenced by [specific] governments… The devil is in the details.”
So let’s hear those iron-clad, foolproof plans to keep authoritarian regimes from getting their hands on ICANN once America casts it adrift into the uncertain waters of the international community.
Iran now has all the technical infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons should it make the political decision to do, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote in a report to a Senate intelligence committee published Wednesday. However, he added, it could not break out to the bomb without being detected.
In the “U.S. Intelligence Worldwide Threat Assessment,” delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Clapper reported that Tehran has made significant advances recently in its nuclear program to the point where it could produce and deliver nuclear bombs should it be so inclined.
“Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas – including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles – from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons,” Clapper wrote. “These technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.”
In the past year alone, the report states, Iran has enhanced its centrifuge designs, increased the number of centrifuges, and amassed a larger quantity of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride. These advancements have placed Iran in a better position to produce weapons-grade uranium.
“Despite this progress, we assess that Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough WGU [weapons grade uranium] for a weapon before such activity would be discovered,” he wrote.
He said the increased supervision and other “transparency” to which Iran has agreed under the new interim deal, reached with the world powers in Geneva in November and finalized last week, could offer earlier warning of a breakout to the bomb. Should Iran cooperate with the interim deal, halt enrichment, and “provide transparency,” then “This transparency would provide earlier warning of a breakout using these facilities.”
Clapper told the Senate committee that the interim deal will have an impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program’s progress and “gets at the key thing we’re interested in and most concerned about,” namely, Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium.
Iran had also worked hard to advance its program at the Arak heavy water facility, wrote Clapper. Its ballistic missiles, he noted, of which it has “the largest inventory in the Middle East,” are “inherently capable of delivering WMD.” And its space program gives it the means to develop longer-range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons,” Clapper wrote. But he noted that Iran’s overarching “strategic goals” were leading it to pursue the capability to do so.
The national intelligence director reiterated that imposing additional sanctions against Iran would be “counterproductive” and would “jeopardize the [interim] agreement.” He advised that additional sanctions against the Islamic Republic should only be kept “in reserve.”
The report was released a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the interim nuclear agreement only set back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program by six weeks.
“This agreement merely set Iran back six weeks – no more – according to our assessments, in relation to its previous position, so that the test, as to denying Iran the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons, has been and remains the permanent agreement, if such [a deal] can indeed be achieved,” Netanyahu said at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
Last Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the Obama administration of mischaracterizing the terms of an interim nuclear deal. “We did not agree to dismantle anything,” Zarif told CNN.
Zarif repeated that “we are not dismantling any centrifuges, we’re not dismantling any equipment, we’re simply not producing, not enriching [uranium] over 5%.”
The six-month deal freezes key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, while allowing limited enrichment to continue, in exchange for some economic sanctions relief. It went into effect on January 20.
The next round of international nuclear negotiations with Iran is expected to be held in New York next month, according to officials involved in the planning.
Israel has threatened to attack Iran should it not back off from its alleged pursuit of a military nuclear capability.
On Tuesday, UN nuclear inspectors arrived in Tehran to visit Iran’s Gachin uranium mine for the first time in several years, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. The visit was part of the framework of a separate deal between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency in November.