Israel and Iran – NYT Editorial

The New York Times editorial yesterday was about Israel and Iran. Here it is, with my comments embedded throughout:

Israel and Iran

New York Times Editorial. Published: August 13, 2012.

Israeli leaders are again talking about possible military action against Iran. This is, at best, mischievous and, at worst, irresponsible, especially when diplomacy has time to run.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are clearly dangerous to the region. Iranian leaders operated a nuclear program in secret for two decades and continued to invest in it even after its discovery in 2002. The government is outspoken in its hatred of Israel. It supports President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and extremist groups like Hezbollah. If Iran gets a weapon, other countries in the region may want one, too.

The Iranian government is not merely “outspoken in its hatred of Israel”. It calls, almost on a daily basis, for the destruction of Israel. Cato would have been proud of their tenacity.

But while Israel’s defense minster, Ehud Barak, suggested on Israel Radio Thursday that Iran had made significant progress toward acquiring weapons capability — citing what he said was a new American intelligence report — there is no proof that Iran is at the point of producing a weapon. Obama administration officials would not confirm the existence of such a report, and, in any case, continue to insist strongly that Iran is not on the verge of achieving a weapon.

Barak’s main point was not that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons capability. His main point was that the timeframe for an effective military strike by Israel acting alone is short. After a certain point in the not too distant future, Israel’s capabilities will not be sufficient to cause enough damage to Iran’s defenses. This means Israel would need to rely on the US to do the job. Would the US rely on another country to protect itself?

As for the Obama administration not confirming the existence of the intelligence report, one should remember this is the same intelligence service that published an assessment in 2007 saying that Iran had discontinued its nuclear programme since 2003, only to take its words back this year.

It is impossible to know what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning or why he has ignored American entreaties to give diplomacy a reasonable chance. There is, however, persistent speculation in Israel that Mr. Netanyahu wants to attack in the coming weeks in the belief that President Obama will be forced to support the decision because of his political needs in his re-election campaign. Such a move would be outrageously cynical.

Better be “outrageously cynical” than dead. And since when has cynicism been banned from international relations?

Military action is no quick fix. Even a sustained air campaign would likely set Iran’s nuclear program back only by a few years and would rally tremendous sympathy for Iran both at home and abroad. The current international consensus for sanctions, and the punishments, would evaporate. It would shift international outrage against Mr. Assad’s brutality in Syria to Israel. Many former Israeli intelligence and military officials have spoken out against a military attack. And polls show that many ordinary Israelis oppose unilateral action.

Oh my, “international outrage” will shift from Syria to Israel. What international outrage? Hundreds of innocent civilians are murdered weekly in Syria. I haven’t seen the world translating its “outrage” to any meaningful actions against Assad. I guess Israel will take the risk of living with such “outrage”.

Even so, Mr. Netanyahu’s hard-line government has never liked the idea of negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue, and, at times, seems in a rush to end them altogether. On Sunday, the deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, told Israel Radio that the United States and the other major powers should simply “declare today that the talks have failed.”

Hasn’t the world negotiated with Iran on the nuclear issue for years? Can someone point to any progress in such negotiations?

By the way, didn’t the world “negotiate” also with Pakistan and North Korea when those countries were developing nuclear capabilities? As is plain for all to see, those negotiations ended with both countries going fully nuclear. Diplomacy failed miserably, why would it succeed now?

Of course, it is disappointing that the negotiations have made so little progress. No one can be sure that any mix of diplomacy and sanctions will persuade Iran to give up its ambitions. But the talks have been under way only since April, and the toughest sanctions just took effect in July.

Wrong. The talks with Iran have been going on for years. In 2007 Iran signed an agreement with the IAEA to cooperate in resolving the remaining issues around international inspections of Iran’s nuclear plants. Numerous IAEA reports since have highlighted the non-cooperation from Iran’s side.

There is still time for intensified diplomacy. It would be best served if the major powers stay united and Israeli leaders temper loose talk of war.

So bottom line NYT is proposing that what has failed in Pakistan and North Korea will work with Iran. Why is that proposition hard for Iran’s neighbouring countries to accept? After all, it is them who will need to live with the consequences of a nuclear Iran, not the New York-based editors of NYT.

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