November 2011 Israel and Middle East News Review
By: David Dolan
UN CONFIRMS IRAN GOING NUCLEAR
In a report issued in early November, the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed for the first time that the rogue Muslim country of Iran, whose leaders frequently vow to destroy Israel, is indeed developing deadly nuclear weapons. The UN agency pointed to what it termed "credible intelligence" evidence that the Shiite clerical regime which has governed Iran since 1979 is engaged in various activities known to be essential to the development of powerful nuclear weapons, including high explosives testing, nuclear blast simulation, and production of a trigger used to detonate atomic bombs.
Israeli leaders had consistently warned the world over the past decade that Iran is actively developing nuclear weapons, indicating that they would act to interrupt the program if nobody else was willing to undertake that difficult task. At the start of his first term in office, former President George W. Bush labeled Iran as part of an "axis of evil" nations that also included Communist North Korea and Iraq. However the American focus shifted almost entirely to Iraq after US forces, aided by Great Britain and other allied countries, invaded Saddam Hussein's country in early 2003. Several years later, the CIA issued a report maintaining that while Iran had indeed been working on a nuclear weapons program, it had been completely halted following the US led Iraqi invasion.
Israeli leaders expressed strong disagreement with the CIA report, revealing that they possessed overwhelming intelligence evidence that the Shiite Iranian regime had restarted its nuclear weapons program soon after it was temporarily halted in the wake of the Iraqi invasion. Now, that contention has proven to be true, ratcheting up media speculation during November that the Israeli government may launch a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear targets before the end of this year. This came after PM Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that Iran is in the last stages of producing nuclear weapons. American President Barack Obama reacted to the UN report by stating that "We are not taking any options off the table. Iran with nuclear weapons would pose a threat not only to the region but to the United States." It was the first time the US leader has characterized a nuclear Iran as a threat to the United States.
Meanwhile the crisis in Syria escalated dramatically during the month, with defections from the regime's security forces taking place in many areas. The opposition movement demanding the immediate ousting of the Assad regime from power is now being led by former military commanders, meaning that the level of clashes between the protestors and the regime's loyalists has increased substantially in recent weeks. Meanwhile the Arab League formally suspended the Assad regime from membership in the Arab body after calling upon President Bashar Assad to immediately step down. However the dictator told a British newspaper that "Syria will not bow down, and it will continue to resist the pressure being imposed on it."
The Shiite Lebanese Hizbullah militia added its voice to the growing fray, threatening to carpet Tel Aviv with missile blasts if any foreign military action is taken against the Syrian regime. The tense situation took another step toward all out war during the month when Russia sent warships to patrol off of the Syrian Mediterranean coast. Analysts said the move was a clear warning from the Kremlin that it will not stand idly by if any Western and/or Arab military action is launched against the Assad regime, which has long been Russia's closest Arab ally in the turbulent oil-rich Middle East.
During the month, the Palestinian Authority continued to demand that the United Nations formally recognize "Palestine" as a full-fledged UN member state. The issue was brought before the 15 country UN Security Council during November. However PA leaders admitted that the chances the measure would pass in the Security Council were very low, prompting them to again state that they will take the issue to the General Assembly where it is expected to pass by a wide margin. Meantime PA leaders held further negotiations with the militant Islamic Hamas movement to form a "unity" government. The moves were bolstered when the current PA Prime Minister said he might step aside if this would aid the formation of such a government.
ISRAEL NOT CRYING WOLF
Israeli government authorities have been complaining for many years that the United Nations has vastly underestimated the destabilizing impact of a nuclear armed Iran. As they did so, Israeli leaders were routinely charged with overstating the Iranian regime's determined drive to become a nuclear weapons regional superpower. However with the release of the UN Atomic Agency report on November 11th detailing that Iran's Shiite leaders are in fact far along in a nuclear weapons development program, Israeli officials have been publicly vindicated for their longstanding attempts to prompt the world to deal with the ominous Iranian nuclear threat, warning all along that if the nations do not act, Israel may be forced to take military action on its own. Middle East analysts say the likelihood of that taking place has increased significantly in recent weeks as Iran has begun to move its uranium enrichment program to underground hardened bunkers constructed inside a hill to protect the centrifuges from air force or missile strikes.
The UN report confirmed earlier accounts coming from Western diplomats working with the world body that the Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) possesses "compelling evidence" that the Iranian regime has been clandestinely and studiously working to produce nuclear warheads for some time now. The diplomats revealed that computer simulations of powerful nuclear explosions and related tests have been conducted at the Parchin army base located over twenty miles away from the Iranian capital city, Tehran. One unidentified envoy said that Iran is in what he called "the final stages for producing nuclear warheads." The UN report said that all of the available evidence strongly suggests that Iran is preparing to build nuclear weapons, with some Israeli media accounts saying experts believe that four nuclear bombs could be built and ready to fire by the end of next March.
In typical fashion, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi strongly denounced the Atomic Energy Agency report, as did other senior Iranian officials, characterizing it as a "fabrication" produced by the United States and other governments allied with the detested Jewish state of Israel. Salehi maintained that Iran will "defend its interests" in defiance of UN and other sanctions imposed upon the extremist regime.
The issuing of the UN agency report sparked off new threats by various Iranian officials to wipe Israel off of the world map. A writer known to be close to supreme Iranian clerical leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini wrote an article for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards news agency FARS published on November 6th which maintained that a million Israeli citizens could be slaughtered by no more than four Iranian missiles striking heavily populated targets. Military analysts pointed out that the writer was apparently referring to nuclear warheads, given that it would take thousands of conventional explosive warheads such as the SCUDS Saddam Hussein fired at Israel in 1991 to seriously damage the country. Some Western intelligence agents have pointed to disturbing indications that the Shiite regime was able to purchase several nuclear cruise missiles from the former Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
Three days after the antagonistic article was published, the deputy commander of Iran's armed forces, General Masoud Jazyeri, said that any NATO or Israeli attack upon Iran's nuclear targets would end with the "extinction" of what he termed the "Zionist enemy state." He issued a threat to attack Israel's Dimona nuclear plant near the Negev Desert city of Beersheva, calling it "the most accessible target." As other Iranian officials have done before, the deputy commander also warned that Iran's military response to an attack upon its nuclear facilities "would not be limited to the Middle East." This came as several American media outlets reported that US officials fear Iran may be planning to strike American coastal cities from boats it plans to position off of both the eastern and western seaboards.
ISRAELI CABINET ON BOARD
The issuing of the alarming IAEA UN report produced a flood of Israeli press speculation that a well planned armed attack upon Iran's nuclear targets may be launched in the coming weeks or months. The reports increased after the Obama administration in Washington had no comment on various calls from Israeli officials to move toward an active plan to attack Iran's nuclear targets. Indeed, President Obama stated for the first time that a nuclear armed Iran was against US interests-a comment that was deemed by some Israeli pundits as both obvious and long overdue.
The US President's remarks came after Israeli PM Netanyahu told his cabinet the Sunday after the UN report was issued that Iranian leaders are ready to produce nuclear warheads. In a prepared statement he read out at the beginning of the cabinet meeting, the Israeli leader said that "the international community must stop Iran's race to arm itself with nuclear weapons-a race that endangers the peace of the entire world." He added that the Iranian regime is closer to the nuclear threshold than had been previously thought. In what some saw as an arrow aimed at President Obama, Netanyahu warned that "any responsible government in the world needs to draw the obvious conclusions from the IAEA report." Analysts said this was a thinly veiled appeal to allied countries like the United States, Great Britain and France to take up the military gauntlet being thrown down by Iran's militant leaders. At the same time, the new American Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, told reporters in the wake of the UN report that the US commitment to Israel's security remains "unshakable.
On the same day, the Fox News Network reported that in light of the UN report, several Israeli cabinet ministers who were previously either against authorizing a military strike on Iranian nuclear targets or had been leaning in that direction had changed their positions. The network said Netanyahu can now expect to receive unanimous cabinet backing for any final decision to attack Iranian targets. Meanwhile the Washington Post newspaper reported that scientists from the former Soviet Union, North Korea and nuclear-armed Pakistan have been assisting Iran in its nuclear weapons development program.
Many Middle East analysts say that Israel has already been quite active in launching clandestine assaults upon Iran's nuclear program and personnel connected to it. In the latest chapter, Iranian media reports said Israel might have been behind the mysterious death of 16 Revolutionary Guard members, including Brigadier General Hassan Maqaddam, the man thought to be the architect of Iran's missile development program. The deaths were the result of a powerful explosion at a rocket base located near Tehran. Later, Time magazine quoted a Western intelligence source saying that Israeli Mossad agents were involved in the incident. The blast was said to be designed to warn Iranian officials that they may be personally targeted if warfare breaks out between the two countries. Earlier it was reported that another computer software virus had infected some of Iran's nuclear program computers. Dubbed the "Duqu malware," the virus is now under control one unnamed official told an Iranian media outlet. Israeli agents are suspected of being behind the cyber attacks.
With the international media suddenly filled with stories about the Iranian nuclear threat, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon is responding to growing fears of Iranian intentions from nearby Gulf Arab countries. The US will reportedly sell thousands of powerful "bunker buster" bombs designed to strike targets buried deep inside the earth. The report came as several Saudi leaders were quoted as saying that the
Arab League might be forced to eventually take military action against Iran if Western or Israeli forces do not do so. In neighboring Bahrain, scene of clashes between the Sunni royal government and Shiite protestors earlier this year, police said they had arrested a Shiite terrorist cell that was sent by Iran to attack government instillations.
Although a nuclear armed Iran is an existential threat to Israel's very survival, the scriptures make clear that Israel's Sovereign Lord will not allow His ancient chosen people to be destroyed. "The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble. He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake. The Lord is great in Zion, and He is exalted above all the peoples" (Psalm 99:1-2).
DAVID DOLAN is a Jerusalem-based author and journalist who has lived and worked in Israel since 1980.