Netanyahu speech: putting war off

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel yesterday gave the speech everyone was waiting for. The Netanyahu speech to the UN probably relieved some hearers, and certainly frustrated others. Because the Netanyahu speech put off war until next year. Can he afford to wait? Must he wait?

The Netanyahu speech: details and diagrams

The Netanyahu speech covered more than Iran and enriched uranium. Before the Netanyahu speech came the Abbas speech. In it, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the “Palestinian Authority,” re-wrote thousands of years of Middle Eastern history, as usual. To that Netanyahu said:

We won’t solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the UN.

In other words, Netanyahu called Abbas a liar. He also talked about Jewish history, the Holocaust, Iran’s history in the region, and Iranian attitudes. He took pains to say that Iranian leaders do not think as Soviet leaders did. You cannot deter Iran from making a bomb. That is, you cannot make them afraid. You can only make sure they can’t do it even if they try.

Then Netanyahu said what everyone, including putative President Barack Obama, was waiting to hear: when would he take his country to war with Iran? What would provoke him?

The Netanyahu speech gave the surprise answer: not until next year.

Netanyahu did not say this out loud. He brought a simple progress diagram: an outline of a bomb, with two progress lines on it. He labeled one “70 percent” and the other, toward the neck of the bomb, “90 percent.” But these were not uranium enrichment levels. They were progress marks. Netanyahu said the Iranians have made 70 percent of the progress they must make to make at least one nuclear bomb.

Then he took his red felt-tip marker and drew his red line: below the neck of the bomb, and slightly below the 90 percent progress mark.

Draw that red line, Netanyahu urged the USA and the UN, and “Iran will back down.” Netanyahu said nothing about going to war himself. He made no threats. Threats are almost never wise. (If you threaten to shoot, you might have to do it.) To some, the Netanyahu speech gave the world one last chance to force the Iranians’ hands short of war. But to others, the Netanyahu speech put off, yet again, doing anything that would decide the issue.

Where does Iran stand?

The Netanyahu speech held almost no details on where Iran really stands. CNAV heard him say “20 percent” at least once. That’s the level at which the Iranians have now enriched a stockpile of uranium—20 percent uranium-235, the rest uranium-238. (U-238 will not split; U-235 will.) The uranium one digs out of the ground is only 3.5 percent rich.

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), in June of 2012, gave a more precise figure: 19.75 percent rich. At that level you can run a nuclear reactor, either for civilian power, or on a nuclear-powered ship. Weapons-grade uranium is 93 percent rich. Once you have a stock of 20 percent rich uranium, you at least have the raw material to enrich to 93 percent.

Does Iran have enough 20 percent rich uranium on hand? That depend on whom you ask. ISIS worried, back in June, that Iran could have its stock of 20 percent by year-end. ISIS also warned that the Fordow enrichment site was in such a deep bunker that even the US military might not have the muscle to crack it open.

The Netanyahu speech says that Iran would have that 20 percent stock by next spring, or no later than next summer. The Arms Control Association is not so sure. They say Iran would need 200 kilograms of 20 percent rich uranium before they would risk enriching any of it to the 90 or 93 percent weapons grade. They also have 6,876 kilograms of out-of-the-ground 3.5 percent rich uranium. That could produce enough weapons-grade stock for several bombs. But that would take a lot more time.

(Who are the Arms Control Association? They are a US-based non-partisan group calling for all the world to lay aside nuclear weapons. Wikipedia knows little about them. Would they cover up for Iran? They’ve shown no sign  of that so far. And they still suggest the Iranians should cooperate better with UN agencies.)

So the experts don’t agree. And the Netanyahu speech seems to accept the ACA report, or at least get the same answers from reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency and others.

Why won’t Netanyahu act?

Members of the Israel Defense Forces on the Golan Heights. The Netanyahu speech suggests those troops won't march soon.

Two Tzahal (Israel Defense Force) soldiers walk casually on the Golan Heights. Photo: CNAV.

Everyone expected the Netanyahu speech to beat the war drums. It did not. Netanyahu put off going to war for the rest of the year at least. Ynet News sees it that way. He will not act before the US election. He might not act until the next Presidential term.

Why not? CNN says that Netanyahu does not have US support even for this mild speech. So he has no deal with Obama, unless CNN are missing something.

Might Netanyahu feel that Obama will lose the election, and so he can best wait until Mitt Romney becomes President in his place? Kevin Jackson at The Washington Times speculated on whether Barack Obama, in buying an expensive palace in Hawaii, signaled that he knew he would lose. Obama seems to want that house ready to live in by 2012, not 2016. Could he be admitting to himself that he won’t be living in Washington after this year? Or is he merely fitting out a “Second White House,” like Nixon’s San Clemente home? No man can say. So that’s a mighty risky thing to gamble your country’s fate on!

Yoel Meltzer, also at Ynet, says Netanyahu often puts off until tomorrow what people like Meltzer think he should do today. Meltzer cites Netanyahu’s first term as Prime Minster, and many things that happened then: the Oslo Accords, and pulling out of Gaza. Meltzer sharply criticizes Netanyahu for not accepting a recent report saying that Israel has full right to the lands in Judea and Samaria (“The West Bank”). Is this more of the same? Meltzer thinks so, and he worries.

Even the United Nations, not exactly a good friend of Israel, has recently stated that by February 2013 Iran will have everything [they need] to build a nuclear bomb.

But the Netanyahu speech puts that off until March or April, or even May or June. Why?

Mike Evans at the Jerusalem Prayer Team could probably say why. Eleven days ago, Evans reported “massive troop movements” in Israel. But on September 6, Evans reported something else: Israel is not ready for war. Half the people of Israel did not have gas masks. Evans has said nothing further about this issue since. So Israel is still not ready.

Maybe that’s why the Netanyahu speech hid a conciliation inside a yell for help. Maybe the drills, military and civilian, told a painful truth: if war broke out in the next forty days, Israel might win, but hundreds of thousands would die. Netanyahu might have said earlier that he would accept that. The Netanyahu speech strongly suggests that he will not.