Speaking to the Saban Forum in Washington on Saturday, Vice-President Joe Biden said that the talks with Iran, which began about a year ago and recently were extended for another seven months, had “brought significant benefits” and slowed down Iran’s nuclear program.
Biden added that the talks were providing time to “see if it’s possible to reach a comprehensive agreement that can peacefully ensure that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon,” and that “all of this was accomplished with very modest sanctions relief.”
The speech also included very positive words about Israel and the U.S.-Israeli alliance. Israel, however, needs more than words.
On Sunday, one day later, Israeli national security adviser Yossi Cohen gave a briefing to the Israeli cabinet that contradicted Biden on every point.
In a statement that later was issued by the office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Cohen said that Iran was continuing to pursue a nuclear weapon, that the extension of the talks was enabling it to maintain and even strengthen its nuclear capabilities, and that the sanctions are “in danger of collapse. This is something that could lead to a regional nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
Cohen also said Israel had played an important role in ensuring that the U.S.-led P5+1 countries did not reach a “bad” agreement with Iran last month, but that meanwhile Iran was continuing a huge military buildup and masterminding terrorism all over the globe.
That was Sunday morning. On Sunday afternoon two sites near Damascus were bombed from the air. Although Israeli officials are not saying a word about the incident, reports outside of Israel, as well as statements from Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah, say Israel was responsible.
In a commentary, Israeli military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps was
continu[ing] to play with fire by equipping Hezbollah with arms that have the capability to cause widespread losses and destruction in Israel…. It is widely believed that shipments of missiles and other arms destined for Hezbollah land in Iranian cargo jets at the airport in Damascus, then [are] transferred to a Syrian military storage site, until they are sent over the border to Lebanon.
On Monday, Arab media were cited as reporting that
the airstrikes destroyed a storage facility housing anti-aircraft missiles and drones belonging to Hezbollah, and cut off the power supply from Damascus International Airport.
It was also reported that “two Hezbollah militants were killed” during the strikes, one of them a “senior military official.”
According to reports outside of Israel, never officially confirmed by Jerusalem, in 2013 Israeli planes struck at least five weapons consignments in Syria that were on their way to Hezbollah, and earlier this year struck a Hezbollah base within Lebanon.
Although in most of these cases Hezbollah and the Syrian regime, both of them embroiled in the fighting in Syria, have refrained from retaliating, accounts say that in this latest case Israeli forces have been on high alert for a possible counterstrike.
Meanwhile it was also reported on Monday that Russia was “demand[ing] an explanation” for Israel’s “aggressive action” in Syria and was “deeply worried by this dangerous development.”
And finally, a Reuters report bears out the words of the Israeli national security adviser and belies the cheerful words of Vice-President Biden:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will hike military spending by more than a third in the next fiscal year despite presenting a “cautious, tight” budget to parliament on Sunday in response to falling oil prices…. [D]efense expenditure will rise 33.5 percent to about 282 trillion rials, most of which will be assigned to the elite Revolutionary Guards…. Iran is stockpiling rockets, missiles and other conventional weapons…. Nuclear talks between Iran and six powers have been extended until June. In the meantime, Iran can still access $700 million per month of frozen oil revenue held abroad.
In other words: thanks to the talks Iran can keep funding its needs.
This confluence of events gives rise to two points.
One is that a belligerent, confident Iran, a belligerent, intrusive, and threatening Russia, is how the Middle East looks at a time of feckless U.S. policy based—at best—on self-delusion.
The other is that, even though Netanyahu’s government now faces an election campaign and is in a lame-duck status, no one should think it will take its eye off the ball.
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