Ya'alon: Iran is laughing all the way to a bomb

Former Pentagon official says the question is ‘whether Israel trusts the US to do what it says.’

By
May 31, 2012 02:16
3 minute read.
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe 'Bogie' Ya'alon.

yaalon office 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Iran continues to laugh all the way to a nuclear bomb, despite intensive pressure and the current negotiations, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Wednesday.

Ya’alon said that in the last three months, even as Iran was in talks with world powers, Tehran had enriched 750 kg. of uranium to 3.5 percent, or 10% of what it had enriched over the last five years; and 36 kg. of uranium to 20%, which was 20% of all the uranium it had enriched to that level.

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The problem, the minister said at the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS) annual conference in Tel Aviv, was that the leaders in Tehran were not convinced that the West was willing to go “all the way,” either with sanctions or through military action, because of the impact it would have on global oil prices.

But Michele Flournoy, who up until February was the third top official in the Pentagon and a key architect of US President Barack Obama’s national security policy, said there should be no questioning Obama’s determination.

“My experience with the president is that he doesn’t bluff,” she said, adding that he was careful with what he said, and then followed up on it.

Flournoy argued that there was no “daylight” between the US and Israel about the objective to stop Iran – not contain it – and keep it from getting nuclear weapons. The ultimate question, she said, was whether Israel trusted and believed that the US would back up its statements with actions.

“Actions speak louder then words,” she said, and added that this US administration had backed up its commitments to Israel’s security with action.



While Israel has been critical of world powers for not demanding at the Baghdad talks that Iran stop all uranium enrichment, transfer all enriched uranium out of the country and close the underground facility at Qom, Flournoy said that the demands placed on Iran in Baghdad – which were short of those objectives – were only the first step.

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“Don’t confuse the first step with the end state,” she said.

US Ambassador Dan Shapiro told the conference that the US had no illusions that Iran might use the negotiations to buy time, but that Washington was not reducing its demands on Tehran and simply would not accept a nuclear Iran. He said that the toughest sanctions on Iran were still to come.

Former Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin, who now heads the INSS, said that the price of a nuclear Iran was higher for Israel than the cost of attacking the country to prevent it from reaching that point.

He said neither Iran’s military capabilities nor its possible reaction to such an attack should be exaggerated, and that the Islamic Republic had no reason to set the whole region on fire because “those living off oil will be the first to burn.”

Yadlin laid out three conditions to place on Iran that were somewhat softer than those Netanyahu has continuously repeated: removal of most enriched uranium, tighter supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a halt to work at the Qom facility.

If those actions were taken, he said, it would preserve a two-year gap before Iran had the ability to assemble a bomb.

He said it was important for Israel to act only after there was legitimacy in the world to do so. Otherwise, he warned, Israel could attack and set back the program, but the world would not step up afterward to ensure that the Iranians didn’t rebuild the program again.

Former Mossad head Meir Dagan reiterated his position that an attack now would only lead the Iranians to speed up the program afterward, and unite the ethnically divided country around the regime.

Dagan advocated a policy of sanctions and covert actions that would place Iran in the dilemma of having to choose either the bomb or survival.

While a regime change there might not mean that the country would abandon its nuclear dreams, it might lead to more rational and moderate leaders who were not willing to pay the price.

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi recommended a continuation of covert action to buy time, tightening economic sanctions and retaining the threat of military action.

He said that without those three elements, it would be difficult to deal with the problem.

Like Yadlin, Ashkenazi said that Iran’s retaliatory abilities were exaggerated, especially if Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad were to fall in Syria.

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