The Middle East arms race begins.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Post.
It is happening in slow motion, to be sure.
But we are witnessing how a nuclear armed Iran is changing the face of the Middle East.
For years, US leaders, including President Barack Obama, warned that a nuclear armed Iran would spark a regional arms race.
And this is happening.
As the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens (a former Jerusalem Post editor in chief) noted this week, Turkey signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan that includes “a provision allowing Turkey to enrich uranium and extract polonium, a potential material for nuclear weapons.”
Saudi Arabia has long had a nuclear cooperation deal withPakistan, whose nuclear weapons program the Saudis financed.
Jordan and Egypt have both raised the prospect of developing nuclear programs.
And in 2007, Israel bombed a Syrian nuclear installation built for it by North Korea and paid for by Iran.
In his article, Stephens cited a recent report by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board stating that the world is entering into “a new nuclear age” that, as we see is characterized by everyone, including non-state actors, seeking to develop and proliferating nuclear capabilities.
Iran’s nuclear status has opened the floodgates to this era of nuclear chaos.
Also in response to Iran’s nuclear progress, Gulf states and others are treating Iran with newfound deference. Kuwait,Qatar and Oman all seem to be breaking ranks with Saudi Arabia by expressing support and indeed obedience to Iran.
Shortly after word broke in late November that the US and its partners had reached an interim nuclear deal with Iran, Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammed Javad Zarif took a victory lap in Kuwait and Oman.
In his press conference with his Kuwaiti counterpart, Zarif said, “We believe that a new era has begun in ties between Iran and regional states which should turn into a new chapter of amicable relations through efforts by all regional countries.”
Zarif also visited Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. In Beirut, he took on the role previously held by the US and France when he mediated between Hezbollah and the March 14 movement to form a new government.
The fact that Hezbollah has since reneged on its agreement to the deal doesn’t mean that Iran is weaker than it thought. Hezbollah is Iran’s proxy. Its refusal to join the government means that Iran is now demanding better terms than it previously accepted. Its new terms require total Hezbollah domination of the country.
As Michael Rubin reported in Commentary this week, the Iraqi Kurds, who have been US allies for decades, have now accepted Iranian mediation of their leadership crisis.
All of this newfound deference toward Iran owes entirely to Iran’s new nuclear status.
In Washington, the Obama administration placed the full weight and prestige of the White House on its campaign to derail a widely supported bill in Congress to install additional sanctions against Iran in six months if Iran fails to comply with its obligations in the interim Joint Plan of Action. Over the past week, due to administration pressure, the Senate buried the sanctions bill.
Far from feeling the need to protect its agreement with the mullocracy, it appears that the administration’s main goal in that campaign was to weaken and discredit AIPAC, which supported the sanctions bill.
As Lee Smith noted this week in Tablet, weakening the pro-Israel advocacy group has become one of the administration’s major second-term goals.
AIPAC was the target of the administration’s campaign rather than the sanctions themselves because the sanctions regime against Iran – painstakingly cobbled together over a decade – disintegrated last November. When word of the interim deal got out, the stampede of European businessmen to Tehranbegan.
This week’s delegation of a hundred French businessmen to Iran in search of deals that could bring as much as $20 billion into the country was just the latest demonstration that the entire debate about sanctions is an irrelevant sideshow.
Just as its leaders have always believed, Iran’s new nuclear status is its economic salvation.
Most observers are missing Iran’s rise to the stature of regional hegemon because the Iranian regime has yet to try out its new power against Israel. With Iran and its Syrian and Hezbollah proxies tied up in their jihads in Iraq and Syria, they haven’t yet been able to turn their guns on Israel. But when the fighting in those theaters abates, there can be little doubt that Israel will move to the top of their target list.
And as Jonathan Schanzer pointed out in Foreign Policy this week, the Middle East is being flooded with advanced weapons that erode Israel’s qualitative military edge over its adversaries.
Hezbollah and Hamas have 60,000 missiles in their arsenals – three times the number they possessed at the end of the 2006Second Lebanon War. And as Schanzer noted, these missiles are far more powerful and precise than the ones they fielded eight years ago. Hezbollah’s Yakhont missiles can strike naval vessels within 120 kilometers of Lebanon’s coast. Hamas has advanced anti-aircraft missiles that threaten the air force.
As for the air force, its fleet of F-15s and F-16s is already a decade old.
Syria, of course has retained more than 95 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal. And its forces are more battled hardened than ever before.
Iraq, now largely an Iranian satellite, is receiving advanced drones from the US. There is no reason to trust that those drones will not be shared with Iran and Hezbollah.
In his interview last month with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, President Hassan Rouhani stated unequivocally that contrary to claims by Obama administration officials, Iran will never “under any circumstances” destroy any of its centrifuges.
Zakaria said that means the negotiations for a final nuclear deal with Iran will end in “a train wreck,” since the sides’ conceptions of what was agreed to “look like they are miles apart.”
But Zakaria is wrong. The talks won’t end in a train wreck. Indeed, they may never end at all.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’ foreign policy chief, said Sunday that negotiations with Iran may well go on after their six-month deadline in July.
Moreover, whether the negotiations go on forever or end at a certain point, the result won’t be a train wreck. It will be Iran with a nuclear bomb or nuclear arsenal in its basement, waiting for a propitious moment to conduct a nuclear weapons test or attack.
Last spring, Rouhani gave a television interview explaining how he used his position as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in 2003 to facilitate Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Rouhani boasted that they massively expanded uranium enrichment at Natanz, and constructed the nuclear reactor at Bushehr and the heavy water plant at Arak under the cover of the negotiations.
In testimony last month before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that Iran has already reached the breakout point where it can assemble nuclear weapons at will. In his words, Iran’s “technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons.”
Obama and his advisers claim that the US has the intelligence capability to know if and when the Iranians move from breakout capacity to actual bomb making.
But as Stephens reported, the Defense Science Board report rejects that conclusion. According to the board, the US does not have the capability to know when a country moves from breakout capacity to an actual arsenal.
So given Rouhani’s previous subterfuge, there is every reason to assume that Iran is using its current negotiations to move from breakout capacity to a nuclear arsenal.
This state of affairs has grave implications for Israel.
Today it is no longer self-evident that Israel has the capacity to effectively strike Iran’s nuclear installations.
Through deed and word, the White House has made clear repeatedly that it prefers a nuclear- armed Iran to an Israeli strike to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
As it has done several times over the past six years, the Obama administration can be expected to continue to use the many means it has at its disposal to prevent Israel from launching such an attack.
Moreover, with each passing day Iran’s nuclear sites become more and more difficult to attack successfully. And Iran’s technological capabilities have vastly expanded over the past decade.
Today Iran can replace damaged or destroyed centrifuges much faster than it could in the past.
Iran’s ally North Korea has also expanded its nuclear capabilities and its arsenal. Pyongyang is ready and willing to sell Iran replacements for any nuclear components that might be destroyed in a military strike.
Finally, Iran recognizes the implications of growing European and US hostility toward the Jewish state. It knows that if Israel openly attacks Iran and sets back its nuclear weapons program, the EU and the US will punish Israel, and express sympathy with Iran, and so give the Iranians cover to rapidly rebuild any lost capabilities.
Iran’s achievement of breakout capacity and seemingly unfettered path to a bomb in the basement, and its consequent rise to the position of regional hegemony, is the greatest Israeli foreign policy failure since the 1993 Oslo Accord with the PLO.
Our leaders on the Right failed us. They were too weak to pay the diplomatic price for attacking Iran’s nuclear installations when Israel could have easily set the program back for a decade or more.
Our leaders on the Left failed us. Their messianic faith that America will protect us from Iran if we just surrender to Palestinian terrorists lulled us to sleep at the watch when we needed to be most vigilant.
Today, due to the administration’s full-bore assault on Israel’s right to defensible borders and to our historic heartland, we have devoted ourselves to a fruitless and irrelevant discussion of how much of our land and our security we need to give up to appease the Palestinians who will never, ever be appeased.
Our leaders continue to hope that a proper mix of concessions to the PLO will convince Obama to stand by his empty pledge to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Obama will do no such thing. Concessions to the Palestinians will weaken us militarily and politically. And they will give us no advantage over Iran. While it is important to deal with the administration’ hostile insistence on unreciprocated Israeli concessions to the PLO, we cannot ignore Iran.
Iran either has a bomb already or is about to get one. And, having been abandoned by the White House, we face this threat alone.
We must now, immediately and consistently, do whatever we can still do to diminish the Iranian threat.
Caroline Glick’s new book, The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East, is due out on March 4.
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