Commentary Magazine


Topic: director general

Time to Inspect Syria

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and an impressively bipartisan group of Capitol Hill signatories, just sent a letter to President Obama asking him to urge the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) to “immediately conduct on-site ‘special inspections’ in Syria.” They point out that since an Israeli air strike took out the Dair Alzour nuclear reactor in 2007, the Syrians’ cooperation with the IAEA has been “alarmingly inadequate.” The organization’s director general, Yukia Amano claims that “with the passage of time, some of the necessary information concerning the Dair Alzour site is further deteriorating or has been lost entirely.” There are also unanswered question concerning three other related locations.

This should be a no-brainer for the administration. First, it has bipartisan support—something that’s become so rare it’s almost touchingly quaint. The signatories include Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman, Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Edward Markey, and Republicans Jon Kyl and John Ensign.  Obama should move ahead on this and then talk it up as evidence of critical cooperation. Second, urging IAEA special inspections fits in perfectly with Obama’s dream of a nuke-free world via international cooperation. Syria is, after all, a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Either international agreements mean something or they do not. In October, the Departments of State and Treasury decided to sanction North Korean parties that provided nuclear-weapons assistance to Syria. (It is believed that North Korea assisted the Syrians with the Dair Alzour project.) The letter is merely asking for enforcement on the other end of that equation. Most important, with a non-deterrable nuclear North Korea antagonizing American allies and an Iran poised to do the same, the administration cannot afford to have another bad actor go nuclear on its watch.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and an impressively bipartisan group of Capitol Hill signatories, just sent a letter to President Obama asking him to urge the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) to “immediately conduct on-site ‘special inspections’ in Syria.” They point out that since an Israeli air strike took out the Dair Alzour nuclear reactor in 2007, the Syrians’ cooperation with the IAEA has been “alarmingly inadequate.” The organization’s director general, Yukia Amano claims that “with the passage of time, some of the necessary information concerning the Dair Alzour site is further deteriorating or has been lost entirely.” There are also unanswered question concerning three other related locations.

This should be a no-brainer for the administration. First, it has bipartisan support—something that’s become so rare it’s almost touchingly quaint. The signatories include Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman, Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Edward Markey, and Republicans Jon Kyl and John Ensign.  Obama should move ahead on this and then talk it up as evidence of critical cooperation. Second, urging IAEA special inspections fits in perfectly with Obama’s dream of a nuke-free world via international cooperation. Syria is, after all, a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Either international agreements mean something or they do not. In October, the Departments of State and Treasury decided to sanction North Korean parties that provided nuclear-weapons assistance to Syria. (It is believed that North Korea assisted the Syrians with the Dair Alzour project.) The letter is merely asking for enforcement on the other end of that equation. Most important, with a non-deterrable nuclear North Korea antagonizing American allies and an Iran poised to do the same, the administration cannot afford to have another bad actor go nuclear on its watch.

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Ben Smith Spills the Beans: Obama’s Middle East Policy Is a Disaster

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem: Read More

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem:

[T]he American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances – the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma. A Jerusalem Post poll in May found 9 percent of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 48 percent say he’s “pro-Palestinian.” …

“Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naivete and inexperience.

“The naïve liberals who are at the heart of the administration really believe in all the misconceptions the Palestinians and all their friends all over the world are trying to place,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former high-ranking military intelligence officer who is now deputy director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

But in some sense, Ben Smith’s account is too generous. It is not merely that Obama has made hash out of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; it is that he has undermined American stature more broadly in the Middle East. Yes, the Israelis and the PA regard him as foolish, but what’s even more important is that so do the Syrians, Saudis, and Iranians. He has wasted time on the non-peace process and in fact exacerbated tensions as the other nations looked on. The aging Sunni leaders regard him with alarm: has he no idea what to do about Iran? The mullahs regard him with contempt: he has already told them that they need not worry about military action.

Obama is right — there is such a thing as linkage, but not in the way he imagined. The progress of the Middle East non-peace talks is irrelevant to the threat of an Iranian nuclear power. But what is highly relevant, and deeply troubling, is the perception of an American administration in over its head, disloyal to friends, and anxious to make a deal at any cost to preserve the patina of competency it is struggling to maintain. And to make matters worse, it’s fair to conclude that beyond the Middle East — in China, Russia, and North Korea — they are learning the same lesson.

One final note. The well-sourced and dead-on report comes from Ben Smith, not the nominal foreign affairs reporter for Politico. This is because the latter, a former Journo-list member, is among the worse and least-informative foreign affairs “reporters” out there. In fact, she’s no more than a scribe for the Obami and the J Street crowd. And that explains why none of the material, widely available to followers of the mainstream media, was ever reported by her. Maybe it’s time to get a full-time person on the foreign affairs beat who actually reports rather than regurgitates the left’s take on American foreign policy.

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Finally, an IAEA Report That Pulls No Punches

The IAEA’s latest report was leaked yesterday and is available here. It makes, as usual, some pretty technical reading, but it has some important insights to offer that deserve notice.

First, the tone of the report is less circumspect about slapping Iran around for its noncompliance. The report explicitly and unambiguously states and explains why Iran is in noncompliance of many of its obligations — something obvious perhaps to readers of this blog but that was lacking from previous reports. The report makes it clear that Iran is continuing to defy the international community.

Second, the report highlights a number of troubling developments. Iran has succeeded in increasing enrichment levels to 19.8 percent. It has transferred most of its stockpile of Low Enriched Uranium to the feed station of the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz, where it intends to enrich uranium for its Tehran Research Reactor as fuel to produce medical isotopes. As David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan note in their report analysis, “Iran may plan eventually to convert most of its accumulated stock of LEU hexafluoride to 20 percent LEU, a quantity far in excess of the TRR’s needs (this quantity of LEU hexafluoride would yield just under 200 kg of 19.75 percent LEU).”

Given that Iran does not need to convert all its stockpile immediately, one must question the motives for such a move — especially since, in parallel, Iran is preparing the Esfahan site to start producing uranium metal, and the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz has seen a considerable number of centrifuges sitting idly by, with some more being dismantled. And since Iran’s Fordow site (designed to host 3,000 centrifuges) may well suit a military program but ill suits a civil one, and since uranium metal is needed for weapons production and 200 kilograms of 19.75 percent LEU far exceed Iran’s medical needs, one must suspect the combining of these activities.

The IAEA has just given a sterling performance. And why is this report so much blunter than anything seen previously?

Mohamed ElBaradei is no longer the director general.

The IAEA’s latest report was leaked yesterday and is available here. It makes, as usual, some pretty technical reading, but it has some important insights to offer that deserve notice.

First, the tone of the report is less circumspect about slapping Iran around for its noncompliance. The report explicitly and unambiguously states and explains why Iran is in noncompliance of many of its obligations — something obvious perhaps to readers of this blog but that was lacking from previous reports. The report makes it clear that Iran is continuing to defy the international community.

Second, the report highlights a number of troubling developments. Iran has succeeded in increasing enrichment levels to 19.8 percent. It has transferred most of its stockpile of Low Enriched Uranium to the feed station of the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz, where it intends to enrich uranium for its Tehran Research Reactor as fuel to produce medical isotopes. As David Albright, Jacqueline Shire, and Paul Brannan note in their report analysis, “Iran may plan eventually to convert most of its accumulated stock of LEU hexafluoride to 20 percent LEU, a quantity far in excess of the TRR’s needs (this quantity of LEU hexafluoride would yield just under 200 kg of 19.75 percent LEU).”

Given that Iran does not need to convert all its stockpile immediately, one must question the motives for such a move — especially since, in parallel, Iran is preparing the Esfahan site to start producing uranium metal, and the fuel-enrichment plant in Natanz has seen a considerable number of centrifuges sitting idly by, with some more being dismantled. And since Iran’s Fordow site (designed to host 3,000 centrifuges) may well suit a military program but ill suits a civil one, and since uranium metal is needed for weapons production and 200 kilograms of 19.75 percent LEU far exceed Iran’s medical needs, one must suspect the combining of these activities.

The IAEA has just given a sterling performance. And why is this report so much blunter than anything seen previously?

Mohamed ElBaradei is no longer the director general.

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Two Years from Never

George Mitchell, perhaps the least effective Middle East envoy ever (maybe the least effective envoy to any region of the world), was interviewed by Charlie Rose. The interview will air in full tonight, but Politico has this tidbit:

“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time,” Mitchell tells Rose. “We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

“I want to emphasize, political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth so that when the Palestinian state is created, it is capable of functioning effectively from day one,” Mitchell said.

What is he talking about, really? He has a predetermined time frame for how long the negotiations should last, but there’s no one at the bargaining table and no Palestinian leader invested with the authority or political will to make a deal. And the Israeli government is, at best, wary of the Obama team, which spent a year trying to stuff a unilateral settlement freeze down its throat. Contrast Mitchell’s surreal obsession with conferences and time lines with what is really going on, as this report makes clear:

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests. “Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran,” Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. “They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland.”

Doesn’t sound as though the Palestinians are ready for the bargaining table, does it? But Mitchell is not to be dissuaded by the lack of will or of bargaining parties. He’s got it down pat: the process has to include “political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth.” Earth-shaking and revolutionary! Well, if you’ve been dozing off for 20 years or so and missed the entire failed “peace process,” this would seem innovative.

It’s useful when Mitchell goes on like this, however. When he does, one comes to fully appreciate just how divorced from reality he and the administration are. Back in November, even Thomas Friedman could see that the peace process has become a farce:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen.

Months later Mitchell is still playacting. Meanwhile, the real Middle East crisis — the steady progress of Iran’s march toward inclusion in the club of nuclear powers — grinds on. And while Mitchell has been blathering on, Iran has been busy:

Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Well, you see why the striped pants set at Foggy Bottom and the frequent-flier champ Mitchell would rather be planning out peace conferences with no agenda, no attendees, and no hope for success.

George Mitchell, perhaps the least effective Middle East envoy ever (maybe the least effective envoy to any region of the world), was interviewed by Charlie Rose. The interview will air in full tonight, but Politico has this tidbit:

“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time,” Mitchell tells Rose. “We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

“I want to emphasize, political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth so that when the Palestinian state is created, it is capable of functioning effectively from day one,” Mitchell said.

What is he talking about, really? He has a predetermined time frame for how long the negotiations should last, but there’s no one at the bargaining table and no Palestinian leader invested with the authority or political will to make a deal. And the Israeli government is, at best, wary of the Obama team, which spent a year trying to stuff a unilateral settlement freeze down its throat. Contrast Mitchell’s surreal obsession with conferences and time lines with what is really going on, as this report makes clear:

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests. “Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran,” Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. “They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland.”

Doesn’t sound as though the Palestinians are ready for the bargaining table, does it? But Mitchell is not to be dissuaded by the lack of will or of bargaining parties. He’s got it down pat: the process has to include “political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth.” Earth-shaking and revolutionary! Well, if you’ve been dozing off for 20 years or so and missed the entire failed “peace process,” this would seem innovative.

It’s useful when Mitchell goes on like this, however. When he does, one comes to fully appreciate just how divorced from reality he and the administration are. Back in November, even Thomas Friedman could see that the peace process has become a farce:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen.

Months later Mitchell is still playacting. Meanwhile, the real Middle East crisis — the steady progress of Iran’s march toward inclusion in the club of nuclear powers — grinds on. And while Mitchell has been blathering on, Iran has been busy:

Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Well, you see why the striped pants set at Foggy Bottom and the frequent-flier champ Mitchell would rather be planning out peace conferences with no agenda, no attendees, and no hope for success.

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Slow-Motion Train-Wreck Watch

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

If train wrecks really happened in slow motion, observers might have time to note carelessness and irrelevance in the human actors involved. Metaphorical train wrecks certainly afford us such opportunities. The State Department bracketed a busy weekend for the Iran problem with a bit of both. In the daily briefing on Friday, spokesman Robert Wood responded to a point-blank question on why we are stretching out the time line on negotiations with this affirmation:

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are — we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. Iran has had plenty of time to consider this proposal. We still hope that they will reconsider and give the IAEA Director General a yes. But that’s up to Iran.

Iran had already, last week, given the IAEA director general a “no,” rejecting the P5+1 proposal to ship Tehran’s low-enriched uranium out of the country and offering a counterproposal: to exchange higher-enriched uranium for Iran’s current stock, simultaneously and inside Iran. In support of this negotiating ploy, the regime launched a major joint-forces exercise over the weekend, punctuating it with air-defense drills around the nuclear sites. In case the message was unclear, a senior Revolutionary Guard official emphasized the “deterrence power” of Iran’s ballistic missiles and threatened Tel Aviv with them. Meanwhile, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, with Ahmadinejad at his side, affirmed Iran’s right to civil nuclear technology and criticized “attempts to isolate Iran,” a condemnation that included the imposition of further sanctions.

So it’s not clear what gave Wood hope that Iran might reconsider. Monday’s laconic briefing from Ian Kelly projected a peculiar air of detachment, revealing mainly that there was no new policy guidance on Iran since Friday. There were some laughs, however. Kelly alluded, in suggesting that Iran seize a “fleeting opportunity,” to Friday’s thrice-repeated theme that the diplomatic window for Iran won’t be open forever. This led to a humorous exchange in which the word “fleeting” was suggested to amount to “new guidance.”

Surreal levity aside, Iran’s strategic wisdom in making a counterproposal, to which the P5+1 will have to take time in responding, has probably guaranteed that “fleeting” will not accurately describe the window bounded by negotiations. What the State Department has to show for eight years of business-as-usual negotiations is an Iran much closer to a working nuclear weapon. Robert Wood, in that sense, was exactly right: as long as we have a diplomacy-only approach, it is up to Iran. The only way to change that is to pose the credible threat of involving a different department of the U.S. government.

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Beyond Farce

Thank goodness we have a president who is willing to “listen” to foreign governments, to “create space” for conflict resolution, to break America’s habit of “dictating” to those with whom it disagrees, to invite international institutions to “share” in the process of mitigating the world’s dangers. Without persistent Dr. Phil-diplomacy, we never could have achieved this:

United Nations and Iranian officials have been secretly negotiating a deal to persuade world powers to lift sanctions and allow Tehran to retain the bulk of its nuclear programme in return for co-operation with UN inspectors.

According to a draft document seen by The Times, the 13-point agreement was drawn up in September by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in an effort to break the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear programme before he stands down at the end of this month.

Forget the cooperation of Russia; forget the cooperation of Iran. The most benign and internationally beloved president in modern history can’t keep the intermediary bodies from secretly plotting against us. It’s useful to keep today’s revelation in mind when people go on about how George W. Bush spurned international bodies or about how the U.S. can’t be the world’s police. Perhaps Obama will get tough on the IAEA and register one of his bone-chilling warnings about his patience not being endless.

There are a slew of synonyms for the kind of popularity Obama has conferred upon America: adoration, affection, favor, and so on. But there is no usable replacement for respect. Respect comes when you draw a line. For this administration, there is no line. The uncooperativeness (forget evil) of bad actors never gets fully recognized. Because there is no line, the administration’s claims of progress are unfalsifiable. That is, they can never be disproved. Everything is endlessly encouraging.

Hey, you can’t blame ElBaradei for wanting to secure his legacy. You know what they say: You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many Nobel Peace Prizes.

Thank goodness we have a president who is willing to “listen” to foreign governments, to “create space” for conflict resolution, to break America’s habit of “dictating” to those with whom it disagrees, to invite international institutions to “share” in the process of mitigating the world’s dangers. Without persistent Dr. Phil-diplomacy, we never could have achieved this:

United Nations and Iranian officials have been secretly negotiating a deal to persuade world powers to lift sanctions and allow Tehran to retain the bulk of its nuclear programme in return for co-operation with UN inspectors.

According to a draft document seen by The Times, the 13-point agreement was drawn up in September by Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in an effort to break the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear programme before he stands down at the end of this month.

Forget the cooperation of Russia; forget the cooperation of Iran. The most benign and internationally beloved president in modern history can’t keep the intermediary bodies from secretly plotting against us. It’s useful to keep today’s revelation in mind when people go on about how George W. Bush spurned international bodies or about how the U.S. can’t be the world’s police. Perhaps Obama will get tough on the IAEA and register one of his bone-chilling warnings about his patience not being endless.

There are a slew of synonyms for the kind of popularity Obama has conferred upon America: adoration, affection, favor, and so on. But there is no usable replacement for respect. Respect comes when you draw a line. For this administration, there is no line. The uncooperativeness (forget evil) of bad actors never gets fully recognized. Because there is no line, the administration’s claims of progress are unfalsifiable. That is, they can never be disproved. Everything is endlessly encouraging.

Hey, you can’t blame ElBaradei for wanting to secure his legacy. You know what they say: You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too many Nobel Peace Prizes.

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Iran Fails Another Test

IAEA director general Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, interviewed by Newsweek in October 2007 a few weeks after he negotiated a workplan with Iran on its nuclear program, said that

[i]f Iran were to prove that it was using this period for delaying tactics and it was not really acting in good faith, then, obviously, nobody–nobody–will come to its support when people call for more sanctions or for punitive measures. That is a point that has been made very clear to them by everybody, including myself. If we come [back] with a negative report after three months, I don’t see that anybody will come and say, well, give them another chance.

ElBaradei proposed this as a “litmus test.” This test–as all diplomatic tests should–had a timeline and a deadline: three months. Today, nearly nine months later, a Washington Post editorial notes that Iran has failed.

Will El Baradei hold to the resolution he proposed in 2007? Hard to believe. After all, Iran was given deadlines aplenty by the international community to come clean on its nuclear cover-up. And each time, deadlines came and went, with the international community scrambling for months afterwards to find a new consensus to pressure Iran once again. This was true of the June 6, 2006 incentives that Iran was offered in exchange for suspending enrichment. This was true of the August 31, 2006 deadline set by Security Council Resolution 1696 as well. And it is true today of the workplan that El Baradei negotiated in October 2007. Every time, the IAEA and the Security Council have shown that their deadlines are not serious. Now, unsurprisingly, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is about to embark on a trip to Tehran, where he will offer Iran a more attractive incentive package than the one offered two years ago.

The New York Times hopes that this package will be more enticing than the previous one: “Before Mr. Solana goes, the major powers need to come up with a more compelling list of rewards and punishments.” But it’s the list of punishments that needs the most work from the international community. Otherwise, Tehran will never even begin to take the West seriously.

IAEA director general Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, interviewed by Newsweek in October 2007 a few weeks after he negotiated a workplan with Iran on its nuclear program, said that

[i]f Iran were to prove that it was using this period for delaying tactics and it was not really acting in good faith, then, obviously, nobody–nobody–will come to its support when people call for more sanctions or for punitive measures. That is a point that has been made very clear to them by everybody, including myself. If we come [back] with a negative report after three months, I don’t see that anybody will come and say, well, give them another chance.

ElBaradei proposed this as a “litmus test.” This test–as all diplomatic tests should–had a timeline and a deadline: three months. Today, nearly nine months later, a Washington Post editorial notes that Iran has failed.

Will El Baradei hold to the resolution he proposed in 2007? Hard to believe. After all, Iran was given deadlines aplenty by the international community to come clean on its nuclear cover-up. And each time, deadlines came and went, with the international community scrambling for months afterwards to find a new consensus to pressure Iran once again. This was true of the June 6, 2006 incentives that Iran was offered in exchange for suspending enrichment. This was true of the August 31, 2006 deadline set by Security Council Resolution 1696 as well. And it is true today of the workplan that El Baradei negotiated in October 2007. Every time, the IAEA and the Security Council have shown that their deadlines are not serious. Now, unsurprisingly, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is about to embark on a trip to Tehran, where he will offer Iran a more attractive incentive package than the one offered two years ago.

The New York Times hopes that this package will be more enticing than the previous one: “Before Mr. Solana goes, the major powers need to come up with a more compelling list of rewards and punishments.” But it’s the list of punishments that needs the most work from the international community. Otherwise, Tehran will never even begin to take the West seriously.

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One Step Closer . . .

Since Iran’s nuclear program was exposed in August 2002, Tehran has protested its innocence and claimed its nuclear program has only civilian purposes. The IAEA has just produced its latest report and it is not expressing confidence in Iran’s version of the facts. The IAEA pressing Iran on a number of findings about clandestine military activities–a diagram for an underground testing arrangement, the testing of explosive bridgewire detonators normally used for nuclear weapons, and documents about modifying the Iranian Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear warhead. And the report includes the following statement:

The Agency has also inquired about the reasons for inclusion in the curriculum vitae of an IAP [Institute of Applied Physics, a military-linked institute implicated in some of Iran’s nuclear activities] of a Taylor-Sedov equation for the evolving radius of a nuclear explosion ball with photos of the 1945 Trinity test–the July 16, 1945 US test of a nuclear plutonium bomb in the New Mexico desert.

Iran has denied that there is any connection to nuclear weapons, just as it denied that it had asked for a nuclear warhead design it obtained from the network of Pakistani scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan. But these denials are starting to ring more and more hollowly, even to the ears of IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, not exactly unsympathetic to Iranian arguments. The IAEA has now verified that the design Iran has is identical to the one Pakistan has–so we now know that Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon from the Khan network, built an underground testing range, developed special detonators for a nuclear weapon, modified its long range missiles to fit a nuclear warhead, and has set physicists to studying nuclear blasts. What more does the international community need to know about this program before it recognizes that stronger measures are needed to prevent Iran from achieving its goals?

Since Iran’s nuclear program was exposed in August 2002, Tehran has protested its innocence and claimed its nuclear program has only civilian purposes. The IAEA has just produced its latest report and it is not expressing confidence in Iran’s version of the facts. The IAEA pressing Iran on a number of findings about clandestine military activities–a diagram for an underground testing arrangement, the testing of explosive bridgewire detonators normally used for nuclear weapons, and documents about modifying the Iranian Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear warhead. And the report includes the following statement:

The Agency has also inquired about the reasons for inclusion in the curriculum vitae of an IAP [Institute of Applied Physics, a military-linked institute implicated in some of Iran’s nuclear activities] of a Taylor-Sedov equation for the evolving radius of a nuclear explosion ball with photos of the 1945 Trinity test–the July 16, 1945 US test of a nuclear plutonium bomb in the New Mexico desert.

Iran has denied that there is any connection to nuclear weapons, just as it denied that it had asked for a nuclear warhead design it obtained from the network of Pakistani scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan. But these denials are starting to ring more and more hollowly, even to the ears of IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, not exactly unsympathetic to Iranian arguments. The IAEA has now verified that the design Iran has is identical to the one Pakistan has–so we now know that Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon from the Khan network, built an underground testing range, developed special detonators for a nuclear weapon, modified its long range missiles to fit a nuclear warhead, and has set physicists to studying nuclear blasts. What more does the international community need to know about this program before it recognizes that stronger measures are needed to prevent Iran from achieving its goals?

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Fool Me Once…

On September 6, 2007, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor at al Kibar. Writing about the raid in the New Yorker on February 11, 2008, Seymour Hersh cast doubt on the contention that it was in fact a nuclear facility:

in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

One of Hersh’s sources was Barack Obama’s non-proliferation adviser, Joseph Cirincione, who told Hersh flatly that

Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing.

In the face of unequivocal evidence, Cirincione has acknowledged his error, saying “no one bats 1000.” That of course is true. And the difficulty of assessing what Syria was up to was certainly compounded by Syrian deception. David Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, has put out an important study (complete with photographs) of the “extraordinary camouflage” methods the Syrians employed to disguise the facility.

In assessing the track record of an expert like Cirincione, let’s also keep in mind that tight secrecy, camouflage, and deception in nuclear affairs are nothing new. On the eve of the first Gulf war, thanks to secrecy, the United States was almost completely in the dark about the far-reaching scope of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.

In the run-up to the second Gulf war, the problem was reversed. The intelligence community persuaded itself that Saddam had an active nuclear program when in fact he had none.

One would expect experts to draw appropriate lessons from both experiences. First among them is that humility and a measure of self-doubt are important when trying to penetrate other countries’ secrets.

Such qualities were conspicuously absent in Cirincione’s analysis of al Kibar: “There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political,” is what he categorically told Hersh.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

On September 6, 2007, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor at al Kibar. Writing about the raid in the New Yorker on February 11, 2008, Seymour Hersh cast doubt on the contention that it was in fact a nuclear facility:

in three months of reporting for this article, I was repeatedly told by current and former intelligence, diplomatic, and congressional officials that they were not aware of any solid evidence of ongoing nuclear-weapons programs in Syria. It is possible that Israel conveyed intelligence directly to senior members of the Bush Administration, without it being vetted by intelligence agencies. (This process, known as “stovepiping,” overwhelmed U.S. intelligence before the war in Iraq.) But Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations group responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said, “Our experts who have carefully analyzed the satellite imagery say it is unlikely that this building was a nuclear facility.”

One of Hersh’s sources was Barack Obama’s non-proliferation adviser, Joseph Cirincione, who told Hersh flatly that

Syria does not have the technical, industrial, or financial ability to support a nuclear-weapons program. I’ve been following this issue for fifteen years, and every once in a while a suspicion arises and we investigate and there’s nothing.

In the face of unequivocal evidence, Cirincione has acknowledged his error, saying “no one bats 1000.” That of course is true. And the difficulty of assessing what Syria was up to was certainly compounded by Syrian deception. David Albright’s outfit, the Institute for Science and International Security, has put out an important study (complete with photographs) of the “extraordinary camouflage” methods the Syrians employed to disguise the facility.

In assessing the track record of an expert like Cirincione, let’s also keep in mind that tight secrecy, camouflage, and deception in nuclear affairs are nothing new. On the eve of the first Gulf war, thanks to secrecy, the United States was almost completely in the dark about the far-reaching scope of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.

In the run-up to the second Gulf war, the problem was reversed. The intelligence community persuaded itself that Saddam had an active nuclear program when in fact he had none.

One would expect experts to draw appropriate lessons from both experiences. First among them is that humility and a measure of self-doubt are important when trying to penetrate other countries’ secrets.

Such qualities were conspicuously absent in Cirincione’s analysis of al Kibar: “There was and is no nuclear-weapons threat from Syria. This is all political,” is what he categorically told Hersh.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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ElBaradei Responds

Responding to revelations about the Israeli strike on a Syrian nuclear facility last September, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director General, Mohammad ElBaradei, issued an angry statement. According to the Agency,

The Director General deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the Agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the Agency’s responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts. Under the NPT, the Agency has a responsibility to verify any proliferation allegations in a non-nuclear weapon State party to the NPT and to report its findings to the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council, as required.

In light of the above, the Director General views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime.

Having spent six years NOT stopping Iran from pursuing its nuclear goals, having been remarkably unsuccessful in his efforts to stop North Korea from proliferating, having been completely in the dark about Libya’s attempts to proliferate, and having also failed to disrupt A. Q. Khan’s black market nuclear tech network, ElBaradei has little standing to decry Israel’s action as undermining “the due process of verification.”

The only real cause of upset for ElBaradei, I’d wager, is the lack of what he calls “due process:” namely, a role in these events for himself and his agency. But given the success and freedom from interference IAEA-examined proliferators currently enjoy–consider Iran and look no further–perhaps the occasional surgical bombing should be welcomed, not chastised, by those who wish to see effective checks on proliferation.

Responding to revelations about the Israeli strike on a Syrian nuclear facility last September, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director General, Mohammad ElBaradei, issued an angry statement. According to the Agency,

The Director General deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the Agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the Agency’s responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts. Under the NPT, the Agency has a responsibility to verify any proliferation allegations in a non-nuclear weapon State party to the NPT and to report its findings to the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council, as required.

In light of the above, the Director General views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime.

Having spent six years NOT stopping Iran from pursuing its nuclear goals, having been remarkably unsuccessful in his efforts to stop North Korea from proliferating, having been completely in the dark about Libya’s attempts to proliferate, and having also failed to disrupt A. Q. Khan’s black market nuclear tech network, ElBaradei has little standing to decry Israel’s action as undermining “the due process of verification.”

The only real cause of upset for ElBaradei, I’d wager, is the lack of what he calls “due process:” namely, a role in these events for himself and his agency. But given the success and freedom from interference IAEA-examined proliferators currently enjoy–consider Iran and look no further–perhaps the occasional surgical bombing should be welcomed, not chastised, by those who wish to see effective checks on proliferation.

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A False Iraq Analogy

Discussing Iran on “Hardball,” John McCain explained that the case for war against Iran would be hard to make with the American people because of a “credibility gap” generated by the WMD flop in Iraq. According to Reuters,

Senator McCain said he would have to make an “even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

One cannot but concur with Senator McCain that among the arguments voiced to shield Iran from Western pressure–including, possibly, a military strike–there’s the analogy with Iraq. Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made that argument recently in The Guardian:

Iraq had been placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative, a doomed process which led to war. I am fearful that the EU-3 is repeating this same process, demanding Iran refute something that doesn’t exist except in the overactive imaginations of diplomats pre-programmed to accept at face value anything negative about Iran, regardless of its veracity. The implications of such a morally and intellectually shallow posture could very well be disastrous.

One must be mindful of the kind of arguments our allies and friends across the Western world consider serious and legitimate–though Ritter and the Guardian may not necessarily qualify as either. But Senator McCain should also know that this analogy is false.

Firstly, the IAEA says very clearly that the Iranian nuclear program looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. Is it not, then, a duck? As IAEA director general, Dr. Mohammad El-Baradei wrote in November 2003,

Iran’s nuclear programme, as the Agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.

Iran was given over five years to prove otherwise. So far, Iran has failed to reassure the international community on the nature and aims of its nuclear program. The passing of three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran–two unanimously, one with Indonesia abstaining–indicates that the entire international community is concerned about Iran’s motives for such a reckless pursuit of nuclear power.

So how, you ask, is Iran’s case different from Iraq’s? Precisely because of the absence of an existent Iraqi weaponization program. In Iran, the evidence is in plain sight. IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring a program that (even in its publicly visible parts) should make everyone anxious, especially in light of the fact that Iran concealed its existence for at least eighteen years and procured its initial blueprints and technology A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. According to the IAEA’s report of February 22, 2008, Iran did not deny having received from Khan the designs for a nuclear warhead in 1987. It only lamely protested that it did not ask for them. Doesn’t this admission, coupled with the subsequent two decades of concealment, comprise grounds for further suspicion?

Iran also has an advanced ballistic missile program with links to North Korea, a nuclear power with a strong record of proliferation, as well as operational missiles that can strike as far as Israel and southern Europe, and it is developing longer-range ones, too: up to 4,000 miles.

Missiles with such range make sense, strategically, only if they carry unconventional warheads. In its most recent report, the IAEA cites evidence of Iranian designs for a nuclear warhead for Iran’s existing missiles, notably the Shihab-3 (based on a North Korean design).

inally, there is the mountain of circumstantial evidence which, in light of Iran’s history of concealment and deception, should put all doubts to rest: the fact that Iran does not need to enrich uranium, since the fuel for its reactor at Bushehr is being supplied by Russial; that fact that Iran’s nuclear power infrastructure does not require a heavy water facility, like the one Iran is building in Arak. Such reactors are useful only for producing plutonium, which Iran has no use for as a reactor fuel. The only conceivable reason Iran has for trying to produce plutonium is to make nuclear weapons.

There is, in other words, a very long list of reasons why Iran is not Iraq. Senator McCain is right to be cautious in his statements. But one hopes he is aware of the difference and, when the time comes, will not abide by this false analogy.

Discussing Iran on “Hardball,” John McCain explained that the case for war against Iran would be hard to make with the American people because of a “credibility gap” generated by the WMD flop in Iraq. According to Reuters,

Senator McCain said he would have to make an “even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

One cannot but concur with Senator McCain that among the arguments voiced to shield Iran from Western pressure–including, possibly, a military strike–there’s the analogy with Iraq. Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made that argument recently in The Guardian:

Iraq had been placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative, a doomed process which led to war. I am fearful that the EU-3 is repeating this same process, demanding Iran refute something that doesn’t exist except in the overactive imaginations of diplomats pre-programmed to accept at face value anything negative about Iran, regardless of its veracity. The implications of such a morally and intellectually shallow posture could very well be disastrous.

One must be mindful of the kind of arguments our allies and friends across the Western world consider serious and legitimate–though Ritter and the Guardian may not necessarily qualify as either. But Senator McCain should also know that this analogy is false.

Firstly, the IAEA says very clearly that the Iranian nuclear program looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. Is it not, then, a duck? As IAEA director general, Dr. Mohammad El-Baradei wrote in November 2003,

Iran’s nuclear programme, as the Agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.

Iran was given over five years to prove otherwise. So far, Iran has failed to reassure the international community on the nature and aims of its nuclear program. The passing of three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran–two unanimously, one with Indonesia abstaining–indicates that the entire international community is concerned about Iran’s motives for such a reckless pursuit of nuclear power.

So how, you ask, is Iran’s case different from Iraq’s? Precisely because of the absence of an existent Iraqi weaponization program. In Iran, the evidence is in plain sight. IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring a program that (even in its publicly visible parts) should make everyone anxious, especially in light of the fact that Iran concealed its existence for at least eighteen years and procured its initial blueprints and technology A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. According to the IAEA’s report of February 22, 2008, Iran did not deny having received from Khan the designs for a nuclear warhead in 1987. It only lamely protested that it did not ask for them. Doesn’t this admission, coupled with the subsequent two decades of concealment, comprise grounds for further suspicion?

Iran also has an advanced ballistic missile program with links to North Korea, a nuclear power with a strong record of proliferation, as well as operational missiles that can strike as far as Israel and southern Europe, and it is developing longer-range ones, too: up to 4,000 miles.

Missiles with such range make sense, strategically, only if they carry unconventional warheads. In its most recent report, the IAEA cites evidence of Iranian designs for a nuclear warhead for Iran’s existing missiles, notably the Shihab-3 (based on a North Korean design).

inally, there is the mountain of circumstantial evidence which, in light of Iran’s history of concealment and deception, should put all doubts to rest: the fact that Iran does not need to enrich uranium, since the fuel for its reactor at Bushehr is being supplied by Russial; that fact that Iran’s nuclear power infrastructure does not require a heavy water facility, like the one Iran is building in Arak. Such reactors are useful only for producing plutonium, which Iran has no use for as a reactor fuel. The only conceivable reason Iran has for trying to produce plutonium is to make nuclear weapons.

There is, in other words, a very long list of reasons why Iran is not Iraq. Senator McCain is right to be cautious in his statements. But one hopes he is aware of the difference and, when the time comes, will not abide by this false analogy.

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Be Afraid

The November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate declared flatly in the opening sentence of its key judgments that “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” This categorical statement was accompanied by a footnote which stated that it was excluding from its appraisal “Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.” That was misleading right off the bat because Iran’s civil uranium program is an indispensable part of its nuclear-weapons effort. This “civilian” program continues apace.

But what about the covert military side of the Iranian program itself? Did it really come to a halt in 2003 as the NIE states with “high confidence”? Back in February, reports came to light that an laptop with extensive information on Iran’s covert nuclear program had fallen into the hands of U.S. intelligence in 2004. Comprehensive and alarming stories about what was contained in the laptop appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

The deputy director general of safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency briefed member states, including Iran, about the contents of the laptop in February. The briefing notes have now been posted online by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington D.C.

The IAEA official describes, among other things, instructions on how to communicate  within the Iranian program using only first names and the “timing of firing devices-leading to an explosion at an altitude of about 600 meters.” The IAEA’s evaluation of Iran’s “Tests of High Power Explosives” is unambiguous:  

The high-tension firing systems and multiple EBW detonators fired simultaneously are key components of nuclear weapons.

There are a limited number of non-nuclear applications (high performance technique for exploratory drilling).

The elements available to the Agency are not consistent with any application other than the development of a nuclear weapon.

The Agency does not have sufficient information at this stage to conclude whether the allegations are groundless or the data fabricated

Some U.S. officials initially believed the documents contained in the laptop might have been an elaborate forgery. But a consensus has emerged among Western intelligence agencies that they are in fact authentic. The documents do not indicate whether the covert nuclear program actually came to a halt in 2003 as U.S. intelligence has concluded. Nonetheless, the scale and scope of what Iran was doing up until that point is staggering. The IAEA document is essential reading.

The November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate declared flatly in the opening sentence of its key judgments that “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” This categorical statement was accompanied by a footnote which stated that it was excluding from its appraisal “Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.” That was misleading right off the bat because Iran’s civil uranium program is an indispensable part of its nuclear-weapons effort. This “civilian” program continues apace.

But what about the covert military side of the Iranian program itself? Did it really come to a halt in 2003 as the NIE states with “high confidence”? Back in February, reports came to light that an laptop with extensive information on Iran’s covert nuclear program had fallen into the hands of U.S. intelligence in 2004. Comprehensive and alarming stories about what was contained in the laptop appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

The deputy director general of safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency briefed member states, including Iran, about the contents of the laptop in February. The briefing notes have now been posted online by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington D.C.

The IAEA official describes, among other things, instructions on how to communicate  within the Iranian program using only first names and the “timing of firing devices-leading to an explosion at an altitude of about 600 meters.” The IAEA’s evaluation of Iran’s “Tests of High Power Explosives” is unambiguous:  

The high-tension firing systems and multiple EBW detonators fired simultaneously are key components of nuclear weapons.

There are a limited number of non-nuclear applications (high performance technique for exploratory drilling).

The elements available to the Agency are not consistent with any application other than the development of a nuclear weapon.

The Agency does not have sufficient information at this stage to conclude whether the allegations are groundless or the data fabricated

Some U.S. officials initially believed the documents contained in the laptop might have been an elaborate forgery. But a consensus has emerged among Western intelligence agencies that they are in fact authentic. The documents do not indicate whether the covert nuclear program actually came to a halt in 2003 as U.S. intelligence has concluded. Nonetheless, the scale and scope of what Iran was doing up until that point is staggering. The IAEA document is essential reading.

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No More Carrots for Iran

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

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Asser Levy

It’s seven months late, but we shouldn’t let 2007 pass without noting that it marks a milestone in American Jewish history. Although the first Jews came to New Amsterdam in 1654, it wasn’t until three years later that one of them, Asser Levy, was accorded the rights and status of a burgher, or citizen, of the colony. This year, then, marks the 350th anniversary, not just of the Jewish arrival in a new land, certainly something that had happened many times in the past, but of a much more meaningful passage: into nascent citizenhood, civil protection, and permanence of the Jewish presence in the New World.

Levy, all but forgotten today, was one of 23 Jews who arrived on September 7, 1654 on the bark St. Charles, carrying refugees fleeing Dutch Brazil, which had just been retaken by the Portuguese. Not wanting to run the risk of the New World’s Inquisition, having already escaped the Old World’s, the Jews were on their way back to Holland, where Levy apparently was from originally (his full surname was Levy van Swellem). Captured by pirates and rescued by a French privateer, the penniless Jews were brought to New Amsterdam, where Peter Stuyvesant immediately tried to have them expelled. The Directors of the Dutch West India Company, so the story goes, refused Stuyvesant’s demand, not out of mercy, but because many wealthy Dutch Jews were stockholders in the Company. (This was a lesson not lost on the new Jewish settlers about the importance of self-interest and property.)

The real test, however, started the following year, when Levy, a trader, petitioned to stand guard in the colony, one of the marks of being a burgher. Stuyvesant had excluded Jews from this privilege, and added injury to insult by fining them monthly for their exemption. Levy’s initial petition was rejected, but records later indicate he was permitted to do guard-duty. Soon after, Levy found his ability to trade goods limited by a decree that a “burgher right” was required. He duly petitioned, and after again being denied, appealed to the Company’s Director General. On April 21, 1657, a decree was issued that Jews in New Amsterdam should be admitted as burghers, equal in rights to the Dutch (though they were not allowed to form a religious congregation until nearly a century later). Seven years later, when the English took over New Amsterdam, the civil rights of Jews were upheld.

Levy was a trailblazer, and it is a shame he has been forgotten by those who owe him much. It appears he was the first licensed Jewish butcher (and a kosher one, at that, being exempted from killing hogs) and tavern owner, not to mention litigant in scores of cases. More importantly, Levy was likely the first Jew to own property in America, first in Albany, in 1661, and the following year in New Amsterdam itself, on what is now South William Street (just a stone’s throw from the headquarters of Goldman Sachs, appropriately). But it was Levy’s fight for citizenship 350 years ago that truly marked the beginnings of Jewish settlement in America, which is a date worth celebrating.

It’s seven months late, but we shouldn’t let 2007 pass without noting that it marks a milestone in American Jewish history. Although the first Jews came to New Amsterdam in 1654, it wasn’t until three years later that one of them, Asser Levy, was accorded the rights and status of a burgher, or citizen, of the colony. This year, then, marks the 350th anniversary, not just of the Jewish arrival in a new land, certainly something that had happened many times in the past, but of a much more meaningful passage: into nascent citizenhood, civil protection, and permanence of the Jewish presence in the New World.

Levy, all but forgotten today, was one of 23 Jews who arrived on September 7, 1654 on the bark St. Charles, carrying refugees fleeing Dutch Brazil, which had just been retaken by the Portuguese. Not wanting to run the risk of the New World’s Inquisition, having already escaped the Old World’s, the Jews were on their way back to Holland, where Levy apparently was from originally (his full surname was Levy van Swellem). Captured by pirates and rescued by a French privateer, the penniless Jews were brought to New Amsterdam, where Peter Stuyvesant immediately tried to have them expelled. The Directors of the Dutch West India Company, so the story goes, refused Stuyvesant’s demand, not out of mercy, but because many wealthy Dutch Jews were stockholders in the Company. (This was a lesson not lost on the new Jewish settlers about the importance of self-interest and property.)

The real test, however, started the following year, when Levy, a trader, petitioned to stand guard in the colony, one of the marks of being a burgher. Stuyvesant had excluded Jews from this privilege, and added injury to insult by fining them monthly for their exemption. Levy’s initial petition was rejected, but records later indicate he was permitted to do guard-duty. Soon after, Levy found his ability to trade goods limited by a decree that a “burgher right” was required. He duly petitioned, and after again being denied, appealed to the Company’s Director General. On April 21, 1657, a decree was issued that Jews in New Amsterdam should be admitted as burghers, equal in rights to the Dutch (though they were not allowed to form a religious congregation until nearly a century later). Seven years later, when the English took over New Amsterdam, the civil rights of Jews were upheld.

Levy was a trailblazer, and it is a shame he has been forgotten by those who owe him much. It appears he was the first licensed Jewish butcher (and a kosher one, at that, being exempted from killing hogs) and tavern owner, not to mention litigant in scores of cases. More importantly, Levy was likely the first Jew to own property in America, first in Albany, in 1661, and the following year in New Amsterdam itself, on what is now South William Street (just a stone’s throw from the headquarters of Goldman Sachs, appropriately). But it was Levy’s fight for citizenship 350 years ago that truly marked the beginnings of Jewish settlement in America, which is a date worth celebrating.

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Who is Michael J. Sulick and Does al Qaeda Have a Mole Inside the CIA?

Michael J. Sulick is the man CIA Director General Michael Hayden has put in charge of gathering HUMINT, i.e., human intelligence, i.e., old fashioned man-on-man, man-on-woman, and woman-on-man espionage.

According to Newsweek, “Sulick learned his tradecraft—the James Bond side of spying—in the old Soviet Union. Like other Western spies, he learned to follow ‘Moscow Rules,’ the rigorous countersurveillance measures used to avoid detection by the ubiquitous KGB.”

Sulick quit the agency in September 2004 in a highly public row with Porter Goss, the CIA director who ended getting chewed up by the agency’s permanent bureaucracy, readily helped along in the chewing by his own staff, one member of whom had an old shoplifting charge on his résumé.

The CIA has been repeatedly castigated for weakness in collecting HUMINT. And one root cause of its perpetual weakness is undoubtedly our national fascination with technology, which has led us to invest in hugely expensive satellite-reconnaissance systems while neglecting the relatively cheap art of recruiting spies in enemy ranks.

In the war on terrorism, HUMINT is essential. Satellites are good for tracking tanks and other masses of mobile metal, but communications-interception aside, they are far less valuable for finding out the whereabouts of an Osama bin Laden or a Genghis Khan.

But at the same time, not all HUMINT targets are the same. Soviet diplomats and KGB agents were one kind of target–many of them liked to drink, have sex, and spend money, and some even admired America—all of which made them susceptible to recruitment. Al-Qaeda cell members are something else. They do not like to drink or to admire America; whatever they might do in private with their multiple wives, they are far more puritanical in their attitude toward sex, and among suicide bombers money is seen as having little value in the world to come.

All of this makes them a hard target. And all of this raises a question: if Sulick cut his teeth playing by the “Moscow Rules,” is he the best man for the job?

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Michael J. Sulick is the man CIA Director General Michael Hayden has put in charge of gathering HUMINT, i.e., human intelligence, i.e., old fashioned man-on-man, man-on-woman, and woman-on-man espionage.

According to Newsweek, “Sulick learned his tradecraft—the James Bond side of spying—in the old Soviet Union. Like other Western spies, he learned to follow ‘Moscow Rules,’ the rigorous countersurveillance measures used to avoid detection by the ubiquitous KGB.”

Sulick quit the agency in September 2004 in a highly public row with Porter Goss, the CIA director who ended getting chewed up by the agency’s permanent bureaucracy, readily helped along in the chewing by his own staff, one member of whom had an old shoplifting charge on his résumé.

The CIA has been repeatedly castigated for weakness in collecting HUMINT. And one root cause of its perpetual weakness is undoubtedly our national fascination with technology, which has led us to invest in hugely expensive satellite-reconnaissance systems while neglecting the relatively cheap art of recruiting spies in enemy ranks.

In the war on terrorism, HUMINT is essential. Satellites are good for tracking tanks and other masses of mobile metal, but communications-interception aside, they are far less valuable for finding out the whereabouts of an Osama bin Laden or a Genghis Khan.

But at the same time, not all HUMINT targets are the same. Soviet diplomats and KGB agents were one kind of target–many of them liked to drink, have sex, and spend money, and some even admired America—all of which made them susceptible to recruitment. Al-Qaeda cell members are something else. They do not like to drink or to admire America; whatever they might do in private with their multiple wives, they are far more puritanical in their attitude toward sex, and among suicide bombers money is seen as having little value in the world to come.

All of this makes them a hard target. And all of this raises a question: if Sulick cut his teeth playing by the “Moscow Rules,” is he the best man for the job?

To Sulick’s credit, as evidenced by the talk he gave last month at the Harvard Seminar on Intelligence, Command, and Control, he has an acute understanding of what he is up against:

Unlike the Soviet Union—one large land mass—the terrorists operate in very small cells. They cross borders easily. They’re very compartmented. They screen their recruits probably better than the U.S. government does. They can work in a bank, in the real-estate industry, or for an Islamic relief organization. Basically they are less vulnerable as targets to all the other means of intelligence collection the United States has at its disposal. In the cold war, the satellites in the sky could see if Russian missiles were moving between silos or if troops were moving. The NSA was even able to intercept conversations between members of the Politburo as they traveled around Moscow in their cars. You can’t do that with terrorists. You don’t know where to point those eyes and ears in the sky unless you have a human agent—a spy—who tells you where to direct those things.

Unfortunately, though, Sulick didn’t offer much in the way of a solution beyond having the CIA and FBI work more closely with local police departments in tracking suspects in places like New York City. That’s a great idea, but it’s not the same thing as working to recruit operatives in Londonistan or Waziristan.

In part, the CIA, and Sulick himself, might be hamstrung, and traumatized, by our cold-war past. Key counterintelligence officials—Aldrich Ames in the CIA, Robert Hanssen in the FBI—were working for the other side. Could this happen again?

Sulick not only believes it’s a possibility, he’s actively troubled by it, and believes that the implications would be far graver than they were in the cold war:

What if you had somebody like Robert Hanssen working for al Qaeda? Try to imagine that! All the stuff that Hanssen and other spies gave away was in the cold war. Nobody was locked in combat. There was time to compensate, take countermeasures, for what those spies gave away. You’re not going to have that time in the war on terrorism. Imagine that you hire somebody, because you need a speaker of Farsi or Arabic, and that person is a spy. That allows the terrorists to launch attacks a lot more easily when they know what the intelligence community’s capabilities are and who their assets are. That’s my big bugaboo: the terrorist spy.

In short, we’re engaged in an intelligence war and we’re on the defensive, worried about an al-Qaeda mole in our ranks even as we are unable to place a mole in theirs.

This is not exactly an encouraging indicator of our progress in the war on terrorism. But it is difficult, for one simple reason, to be harshly critical of Sulick and the CIA: I know that I don’t know what I don’t know.

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The Leak Wars

“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

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“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

The conundrum is easily resolved. First, McConnell, as the nation’s top intelligence officer, and unlike any reporter or editor at the Times, is in a position to evaluate whether a given disclosure will cause damage to American security.

Second, McConnell has the authority, under law, to declassify information when he determines it is in the national interest. The New York Times claims the same authority under the First Amendment. But the First Amendment is compatible with a whole range of restrictions on the press, as in the law of libel, the laws governing commercial speech, and so forth. By contrast, the idea that the media is not obligated to follow laws currently on the books restricting publication of national-defense information flies in the face of both reason and precedent.  

Third, in disclosing the success of the U.S. surveillance program in averting a disaster in Germany, McConnell was not revealing anything new. Why not? Because the Times had already compromised the key facts about the scope of National Security Agency surveillance in a series of stories that began in December 2005.

The fact that even after the Times had tipped them off, terrorists continue to use readily interceptible telephones and email demonstrates how difficult it is for them to find alternative means of rapid long-distance communication. But that is by no means a justification for what the Times did. A host of governments officials–Democrats and Republicans alike–have attested to the damage inflicted on U.S. counterterrorism efforts by the Times’s reporting.

CIA Director General Michael V. Hayden, speaking earlier this week at the Council on Foreign Relations, addressed the problem. His words are worth quoting at length:

Revelations of sources and methods or what seems to me to be an impulse to drag anything CIA does to the darkest corner of the room can make it very difficult for us to perform our vital work. When our operations are exposed–you know, the legal, authorized operations overseen by Congress–when those operations are exposed, it reduces the space and it damages the tools we use to protect Americans.

After the press report on how banking records in the international Swiss network could be monitored, I read a claim that this leak–and I’m quoting now–”bears no resemblance to security breaches”. . . I could not disagree more strongly. In a war that largely depends on our success on collecting intelligence on the enemy, publishing information on our sources and methods can be just as damaging as revelations of troop or ship movements have been in the past. Now the compromise to safety can be both immediate and lasting, and it extends beyond specific individuals. Each revelation of our methods in tracking terrorists, tracking WMD, tracking other threats allows our enemies to cover their tracks and change their practices. We’ll respond, but it takes us valuable time to readjust.

Now, some are out there who say there’s no evidence that leaks of classified information have actually harmed national security. As CIA director, I’m telling you there is and they have. Let me give you just two examples. In one case, leaks provided ammunition for a government to prosecute and imprison one of our sources whose family was also endangered. The revelations had an immediate chilling affect on our ability to collect [intelligence] against a top priority target. In another, a spate of media reports cost us several promising counterterrorism and counter-proliferation assets. Sources not even involved in the operation that was exposed lost confidence that their relationship with us could be kept secret and so they stopped reporting.
. . . On their own, journalists often simply don’t have all the facts needed to make the call on whether the information can be released without harm. I’ve heard some justify a release based on their view of the sensitivity of their story’s content with no understanding of the effect the release may have on the intelligence source at the heart of the story. . . [W]he the media claims an oversight role on clandestine operations, it moves that clandestine operation into an arena where we cannot clarify, we cannot explain, we cannot defend our actions without doing even further damage to our national security.

It’s important–as I say this, it’s important to bear in mind that my agency is subject to another oversight mechanism that has full access to our operations and takes our security requirements into account, it’s your representatives in Congress.

George Tenet and Porter Goss, George Bush’s previous CIA directors, never said anything nearly as sustained or lucid on this vital subject–and they and we paid for their silence with an accelerating flow of leaks appearing in the media. It is unlikely that Hayden’s caution will be heeded by many in the press, least of all at the New York Times. But the issue, at least, has finally been joined in a serious way by the Bush administration.

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Who Are the True Jihadists?

The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

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The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

The concept is freighted with memories that go back 1,400 years, to the earliest days of Islam. Whether moderate Muslims like it or not, jihad has a history that extends from Muhammad’s farewell address in 632 (“I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah’”) to Osama bin Laden’s deliberate echo of his words in November 2001. The proclamations of jihad against the West that we have witnessed since the Islamic revolution in Iran are not very different from those of Muslim conquerors throughout history (several of whom came close to fulfilling those proclamations).

Nor, it should be noted, does the fact that some of the Islamic warriors of the past were admired for their chivalry (rather than abhorred for their cruelty, as the Islamists of today are) mean that their concept of jihad was any less warlike and apocalyptic. In 1189, Saladin, the great antagonist of Richard Coeur de Lion, threatened to pursue his jihad across the sea to Europe “until there remains no-one on the face of the earth who does not acknowledge Allah.”

Ignác Goldziher, the Hungarian Jew who pioneered modern Islamic scholarship, began in the late 19th century the long effort by Western orientalists to reinterpret the meaning of jihad—an effort ongoing more or less ever since. But the paucity and insularity of Islamic hermeneutics means that no new interpretation of jihad is likely to gain acceptance in the dominant theological schools of Cairo and Mecca. The Wahhabi interpretation of jihad, which deliberately overlooks the prophetic injunction to practice “greater jihad” (peaceful struggle) as well as “lesser jihad” (war against the infidel), is hugely dominant among them, and will remain so. For these scholars, marooned in the 7th century, war against the infidel is not only legitimate, but laudable and even obligatory—however unholy such war may be in the eyes of more moderate Muslims.

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Backroom Dealing on the Golan

Whether the back-channel “Israeli-Syrian negotiations” whose existence was revealed last week (and expanded upon Sunday) by the Hebrew daily Haaretz were, in fact, as claimed by the newspaper, really government-level talks, or whether they were simply an exchange between two private individuals, ex-director general of Israel’s foreign ministry Alon Liel and Washington-based Syrian businessman Ibrahim Suleiman, is largely an artificial question. Both governments knew of the talks, which reportedly involved an offer on Liel’s part for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the pre-Six Day war lines of June 4, 1967, and both, even if they took no active role in them, could have put a stop to them had they wanted to. They didn’t. Governments that encourage such unofficial mediation are not necessarily committed to its results, but neither are they uninterested in them.

That a government of Israel would consider, as several Israeli governments have done, a withdrawal from the entire Golan in return for a peace agreement with Syria that may or may not be honored in the long run is all but incomprehensible. That an Israeli government would consider withdrawing to the lines of June 4, 1967, at which time the Syrian army was illegally occupying several dozen square kilometers of territory along the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River that were officially part of Israel, is wholly incomprehensible.

There are many excellent reasons why Israel should never cede the whole Golan to Syria—military factors, water rights, tourism, national pride, the untrustworthiness of Syrian intentions, the unpredictability of Syrian politics, and the Golan’s having been officially annexed by Israel in 1982, thus making it as much a part of the country as is Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. But of all possible reasons, none is so logically absurd to overlook as the fact that, by repeatedly demanding an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4 lines, Syria has also repeatedly repudiated the 1923 border between it and Palestine drawn by the then-occupying colonial powers of France and England—the only Israeli-Syrian frontier ever recognized by international law. That a succession of Israeli governments has nevertheless continued to regard this border as a starting point for negotiations with Syria instead of trumpeting Syria’s own, repeated repudiation of it is, to my mind, one of the greatest stupidities of Israeli diplomacy.

Whether the back-channel “Israeli-Syrian negotiations” whose existence was revealed last week (and expanded upon Sunday) by the Hebrew daily Haaretz were, in fact, as claimed by the newspaper, really government-level talks, or whether they were simply an exchange between two private individuals, ex-director general of Israel’s foreign ministry Alon Liel and Washington-based Syrian businessman Ibrahim Suleiman, is largely an artificial question. Both governments knew of the talks, which reportedly involved an offer on Liel’s part for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to the pre-Six Day war lines of June 4, 1967, and both, even if they took no active role in them, could have put a stop to them had they wanted to. They didn’t. Governments that encourage such unofficial mediation are not necessarily committed to its results, but neither are they uninterested in them.

That a government of Israel would consider, as several Israeli governments have done, a withdrawal from the entire Golan in return for a peace agreement with Syria that may or may not be honored in the long run is all but incomprehensible. That an Israeli government would consider withdrawing to the lines of June 4, 1967, at which time the Syrian army was illegally occupying several dozen square kilometers of territory along the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River that were officially part of Israel, is wholly incomprehensible.

There are many excellent reasons why Israel should never cede the whole Golan to Syria—military factors, water rights, tourism, national pride, the untrustworthiness of Syrian intentions, the unpredictability of Syrian politics, and the Golan’s having been officially annexed by Israel in 1982, thus making it as much a part of the country as is Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. But of all possible reasons, none is so logically absurd to overlook as the fact that, by repeatedly demanding an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4 lines, Syria has also repeatedly repudiated the 1923 border between it and Palestine drawn by the then-occupying colonial powers of France and England—the only Israeli-Syrian frontier ever recognized by international law. That a succession of Israeli governments has nevertheless continued to regard this border as a starting point for negotiations with Syria instead of trumpeting Syria’s own, repeated repudiation of it is, to my mind, one of the greatest stupidities of Israeli diplomacy.

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