‘Red lines’ at the ‘Post’ conference

While we cannot promise clear-cut conclusions, we can promise a stimulating and well-informed discussion of the issues.

Panel at Jpost Conference 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Panel at Jpost Conference 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In recent days there has been much talk of “red lines.” On the Syrian front, the IDF’s top intelligence analyst, Brig.-Gen. Itai Brun, said that President Bashar Assad had on several occasions used chemical weapons, including sarin gas, against opposition forces. Brun’s assessment, made during a conference organized by Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, seemed to hint that Assad had crossed the figurative red line US President Barack Obama had drawn. In August, Obama said that use of chemical weapons would be a “game changer” and hinted that a US military response would follow any such use.
Meanwhile, on the Iranian front, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, former director of Military Intelligence, warned that Israel was “headed toward a collision course” with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program “by the end of the year.” The Iranians, Yadlin said during the same INSS conference, would undoubtedly cross the red line drawn by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his speech in September before the United Nations.
Both the Iranian and the Syrian red lines will be the focus of The Jerusalem Post Second Annual Conference entitled “Fighting for the Zionist Dream” which takes place this Sunday at the Marriot Marquis in New York City.
Yadlin, who is slated to address the conference and to participate in two panel discussions, will discuss both the Syrian and Iranian red lines with other IDF and intelligence figures of the past and present such as former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, former Mossad head Meir Dagan, former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and Minister of Intelligence, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz.
Regarding Syria, while it is true that use of chemical weapons is a clear violation of basic morality as well as international law and failure to respond could, as Brun noted, “signal that [such use] is legitimate,” the US is justifiably wary of getting bogged down in another conflict in the Middle East based on what Secretary of State John Kerry referred to as “inconclusive evidence.”
And while prevention of the use of chemical weapons is a moral imperative shared by the US, Israel and most other countries, toppling the Assad regime might lead to unwanted consequences such as the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood or the massacre of the non-Sunni population.
As for the Iranian red line, Netanyahu attracted world attention when he drew one across an image of a bomb to emphasis that the US and other Western forces had to commit themselves to preventing the mullahs from obtaining enough 20-percent enriched uranium to reach the “breakout point,” the point at which they could dash from reactor-grade to bomb-grade fuel within 30 to 40 days.
The problem is that Washington and Jerusalem do not necessarily agree on when Tehran will have reached this red line. While Israel might forecast Iran crossing this red line as soon as this summer, as Yadlin warned, the US might push off this critical point of no return to the fall, the winter or even to next year.
Further complicating matters is the Iranian decision, first detected by the International Atomic Energy Agency last fall, to divert some of the 20-percent enriched uranium in its possession into a less worrisome oxide form.
Should this be interpreted as evidence that Netanyahu’s red line speech or the ongoing sanctions or both have deterred the Iranians, or, as suspected by the IAEA’s former deputy director-general for safeguards and senior nuclear inspector Olli Heinonen, is this just an Iranian ploy to fool the international community? There are no easy answers to these questions and others that are sure to come up during the Post conference.
However, some of the people most qualified to answer them will be participants in the conference.
And while we cannot promise clear-cut conclusions, we can promise a stimulating and well-informed discussion of the issues.