Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Anti-Iran stratagem bungled

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TEL AVIV -- What was meant to be a co-ordinated campaign to pressure Iran in advance of an International Atomic Energy Agency's report on its secret nuclear activities this week embarrassingly has been derailed by Israeli sloppiness.

The whole thing started late last month when Yukia Amano, the Japanese director of the IAEA, went to the White House to discuss Iranian progress in its efforts to build a nuclear bomb. Based on intelligence given to the international agency by the CIA, the Israeli Mossad and British intelligence agencies, IAEA's experts were able to conclude that, contrary to Iran's persistent denials, it was working on a nuclear weapon at a secret military base called Parchin.

Iran was aided in this effort by Vyacheslav Danilenko, a former Soviet nuclear scientist who had retired from government service many years ago. Danilenko was contracted by Iran about five years ago to assist his Iranian employers through lectures and sharing research papers on the development and testing of a nuclear weapon.

Israel has no evidence that the Putin government knows exactly what Danilenko is doing in Iran. Nor is there evidence in Israel or in the U.S. that Iran has reached a stage where it can produce a nuclear device.

Some Israeli experts, however, are of the opinion that the supreme Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has given the green light for such production.

What is confirmed in Israel is that Iran is very close, a development that had been overshadowed for almost a year by the Arab Spring and its regional ramifications.

The fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, the undecided Syrian insurgency and U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw all troops from Iraq is likely to create a dangerous vacuum in the Persian Gulf that Iran is trying to fill.

Thus, the progress made in Iran's nuclear project constitutes a real threat, not only to Israel but also to American and Western national interests in the Persian Gulf. This was, then, the time for Israel and the West to refocus on Iran and to start sounding the alarm about Iran's nuclear threat.

In his speech to the Knesset last Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "Israel cannot allow Iran to produce a nuclear bomb." He stressed Israel's need to accumulate "enough power" to use responsibly.

In full co-ordination with the U.S., Israel revealed that its air force had conducted long-range training flights with NATO forces in Italy. Then, uncharacteristically, Israel revealed that it successfully tested one of its long-range ballistic missiles, hinting broadly that the missile could hit targets in Iran. Some foreign agencies added that this missile can carry a nuclear device. And Defence Minister Ehud Barak, during a short visit to London, declared that "all options" against Iran are "on the table."

But then came what I call Israeli sloppiness. Despite these public moves, at no time was there any intention to create the impression of an immediate unilateral Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The purpose of this war of nerves was to create an atmosphere for the Security Council to impose harsher sanctions against Iran. It was hoped that the threat of an Israeli strike, combined with the findings of the international watchdog, would convince Russia and China to support harsher sanctions.

Not being privy to the top-secret Israeli-American consultations, and long an opponent of a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran, Meir Dagan -- the former Mossad chief -- sharply attacked Netanyahu and Barak for their planned adventure against Iran.

Dagan told editorial writers in several Israeli dailies that Iran is still years away from nuclear capability.

Rumoured to have political ambitions, Dagan urged Israeli correspondents not to be "manipulated" by the "war mongers" Netanyahu and Barak. Indeed, one Israeli correspondent went so far as to suggest that Netanyahu and Barak were planning a unilateral strike "without American consent."

That was, of course, sheer nonsense. No Israeli government would dare attack Iran without American consent. Thus, if there was even a slight chance of success in securing Russian or Chinese consent for harsher sanctions against Iran, Dagan blew it. That's a pity.

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free

Press Middle East correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2011 A11

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About Samuel Segev

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in the Middle East. He is based in Tel Aviv.

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