Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Iranian Strategy is Working

Israel is busy with its elections, the US is busy with the financial crisis, but for Iran, it’s business as usual, as the centrifuges keep spinning

Photo: AP Photo: AP
It is possible that the most significant defense event of the week took place at a farm in the town of Tir Herfa in southern Lebanon, where Lebanese media reported of a mysterious explosion in a Hezbollah weapon warehouse on Monday morning. Naturally, Hezbollah, on its part, closed the area and did not volunteer any details.

Such an event has the potential to intensify the situation considerably. If Hezbollah decides to openly blame Israel, its response could be to direct fire towards northern Israeli towns, which would result in a serious escalation. This did not happen, this time. Does this mean that Israel was not involved in the explosion? Certainly not. Many Western elements (as well as Arab states) estimated that Israel is behind the explosion, as well as behind a series of explosions from Tehran and all the way to Sudan. It is difficult not to agree with their assessments, especially when the commander of the Israeli Air Force, Major General Amir Eshel, said this week on camera that those who sleep with weapon storehouses should be surprised that they explode.

Whether if Israel is responsible for the explosion or not, the event makes it possible to take another glance to the fascinating web of events, transpiring throughout the Middle East. Even if Hassan Nasrallah is convinced that Israel is responsible for the blast, he has a good reason not to announce it and not to initiate another round of combat against Israel. This is not just due to the deterrence Israel achieved in the wake of the Second Lebanon War: Nasrallah is primarily concerned of the response of his Iranian patrons.

With regards to Iran, the weapon storehouse is a trivial thing compared to the truly bigger picture – Iran built up Hezbollah’s strength after 2006 as a tremendous threat to Israel, which it would operate only in the event of an Israeli or US attack on Iranian soil (in addition to the fire of missiles towards Israel, which would be carried out in Iran). Any other objective is trivial compared to this issue. It is not worth giving Israel a reason to harm the long-range launchers before the “real thing" (such as the damage caused to the long-ranged missiles in the Gaza Strip during operation Pillar of Defense, for example).
Nasrallah was harshly reprimanded for his adventure in the summer of 2006, with the abduction that led to war. Since then, Nasrallah cannot initiate any sort of military measure against Israel without the explicit approval of the bosses from Tehran. There are also internal considerations as to why he shouldn't mess with Israel at this point in time, yet all of his considerations pale in comparison to the orders he gets from the real bosses.
Iran Marches Towards a Bomb
While on the subject of Iran, it is possible to assess that Israel is controlling the height of the flames of the global publications regarding the Iranian nuclear bomb that’s on its way. If the political echelon is interested in it, the issue rises instantaneously to the top headlines around the world. A childish drawing of a bomb in the hands of Prime Minister Netanyahu or a leak by anonymous ‘western’ military sources is enough to make headlines in one of the important US newspapers, which would then be quoted by the rest of the global media.
In recent weeks, in which the continuous tie in the Syrian civil war has broken (in favor of the rebels), the Iranian issue has stayed away from the public agenda. This does not mean that the war over the Iranian bomb is over. It should be assumed that Israel is continuing in efforts to foil the bomb, but the bottom line is worrying: as of now, the Iranian strategy is working. There is a possibility that it will reach the bomb.
Here is a scenario that has chances of materializing: while Israel is busy with its elections, and the US is primarily dealing with the risk of the fiscal cliff at the start of 2013, Iran is currently accelerating its nuclear program. The centrifuges are working at top speeds to enrich uranium. This might not necessarily remain the case - no one in the West would be surprised if next spring, just as the US tries consolidating a coalition to intensify the economic sanctions imposed on Iran (again), Iran would unilaterally announce that it is halting the enrichment process. If this happens, it would not constitute a surrender on Iran’s part, but rather progression according to a pre-prepared plan.
By the spring of 2013, Iran will already possess more than 200 kilograms of enriched uranium, which could be suitable for use in a nuclear bomb (a base of 20% enrichment), a fine quantity. Iran will be able to complete the rest of the planned enrichment process at its own rate, in secret, far from the eyes of the UN inspectors. At the same time, it will be able to conclude the development of the detonator for the nuclear bomb, as well as the adaptation of the future bomb to a launch measure. This includes the conclusion of the Iranian program for developing cruise missiles, based on former Soviet missile technology acquired in the past decade in Ukraine. From this point onwards, Iran will also be able to choose the time at which it will announce the nuclear weapon in its possession.
In recent years, when Israel has spoken of how Iran must be stopped from becoming a ‘threshold state’, this situation is exactly what was being referred to. However, talks did not help, and Iran is on its way there. It's reasonable to assume that Meir Dagan, who is recovering from surgery he underwent in Belarus, had good reasons for his staunch objections against the possibility that Israel will attack the Iranian nuclear facilities on its own. As head of the Mossad, he had access to information that only he and the prime minister knew. What was this information? Either way, Dagan was not alone in opposing an attack.
Former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and head of Shabak Yuval Diskin also sided with him. One of Ashkenazi’s closest aids, who also opposed an Israeli assault in Iran without US coordination was the late Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former IDF chief of staff, who was laid to rest on Thursday.
Mishaps of Pillar of Defense
Another issue that is deeply troubling the IDF are the faults that were revealed in the examinations into operation Pillar of Defense. Nearly a month after the end of the operation, the examinations at the brigade and battalion levels have been completed, and a general staff examination is about to be conducted in several days. As with any operation or exercise, an in-depth investigation reveals countless mishaps. In the case of Pillar of Defense, one of the grave mishaps stood out in a noticeable manner during the days of the operation – the gathering of thousands of reserve soldiers in areas that were exposed to the fire launched from the Gaza Strip.
This was not the only failure, and there were, of course, positive lessons (such as the supplies that the reservists received). However, it is doubtful if the general staff examination will point explicitly to the main problem of Pillar of Defense: one month later, it seems that the operation contributed towards weakening the Israeli deterrence against Hamas and the Palestinians more than towards strengthening it.
There has been total silence in the Gaza Strip since the end of the operation, yet there remains turmoil in the Judea and Samaria area, even if the number of violent events this week was relatively low.

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