Tuesday, September 11, 2012

If it's not called paranoia when the enemy really is out to get you, what's it called when the enemy has out-of-control nuclear and chemical weapons?

If it's not called paranoia when the enemy really is out to get you, what's it called when the enemy has out-of-control nuclear and chemical weapons?

With enemies like Syria and Iran,
who needs a crisis?

What follows is a short series of extracts from a handful of current news reports and analysis. All appeared in the news media in the past 24 hours, but this does not mean the past 24 hours have been particularly fateful or more threatening than those that came before. But for people still in doubt, it's time to understand that we here in Israel see more than enough evidence around of us of serious threats by dangerous people. And without putting too fine a point on it, there is no rush on the part of friendly friends to make these life-changing threats go away.

Worries intensify over Syrian chemical weapons 
[Washington Post yesterday]
  • Western spy agencies suspect Syria’s government has several hundred tons of chemical weapons and precursor components scattered among as many as 20 sites throughout the country... including sizable quantities of battlefield-ready sarin, the deadly nerve agent...
  • Officials are monitoring the storage sites, but they expressed growing fear that they have not identified every location and that some of the deadly weapons could be stolen or used by Syrian troops against civilians.
  • The stockpile appears to be larger and more widely distributed than originally suspected, according to two officials who have seen the intelligence reports. They said the most dangerous chemical stocks are kept in bunkers in about a half-dozen locations, while as many as 14 other facilities are used to store or manufacture components.
  • Some of the officials also conceded that there may be yet-undetected facilities within the country, roughly the size of Washington state. The former U.S. intelligence official said North Korea and Russia have assisted Syria over the decades in constructing weapons facilities that are well-fortified and shielded from spy satellites. “They are masters at concealment,” the former official said.
  • In August, a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, said the Damascus government would never use chemical arms against its people, but he warned that it would unleash the weapons against what he called foreign invaders. He said the military was guarding the stockpile.
  • Syria is thought to possess the world’s third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons after United States and Russia... Syria’s weapons, predominantly deadly nerve agents that can be delivered by artillery rockets, shells and aircraft munitions, were developed for use in a war against Israel...
  • U.S. and Israeli officials fear that the chemical sites could be looted, leading to weapons being sold or given to radical Islamists or to Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters. A single crate of artillery shells or a few barrels of chemical precursors would contain enough lethal poisons for a series of terrorist attacks...
Jeffrey Goldberg's daily report in The Atlantic was devoted yesterday [here] to comments made by the chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers:

Obama Says All Options Are On The Table, But Neither Israel nor Iran Believe Him 
  • Rogers "described Israeli leaders as being at "wits' end" over what they see as President Obama's unwillingness to provide them with his "red lines" in the effort to stop Iran's nuclear program. 
  • "He also said that neither the Israelis nor the Iranians believe that Obama would use force to stop the nuclear program. 
  • Rogers describe the Israeli frustration this way: "I support the sanctions. But if you're going to have a hammer you have to have an anvil. You have to have at least a  credible threat of a military option. So it's having an effect, yes, it's having an effect on the Iranian economy. It is not impacting their race on enrichment and other things, and that's very very clear." 
  • "Rogers had harsh words for the Administration, which he says has made it very clear to the Israelis what they shouldn't do, but hasn't delivered a message to the Iranians with the same clarity...
  • "Right now the Israelis don't believe that the Administration is serious when they say that all options are on the table, and more importantly neither do the Iranians."
Meanwhile over at the Wall Street Journal, there's an analytical piece in today's edition by a couple of serious academics, one of whom is a former top IAEA inspector:

What We Know About Iran's Nukes
  • The world's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency... on Aug. 30 released its latest report on Iran's nuclear activities... The report, written in a mix of bureaucrat-speak and obscure science, nevertheless conveys a worrying message. It shows that Iran continues to expand its capacity for enriching uranium. There are now two new groups of centrifuges installed at Fordow—the hardened site built under a mountain near the holy city of Qom—which signals a doubling of the site's capacity since May.
  • Iran continues to stockpile uranium enriched to 3.5% and 20% purity—levels for which Iran has no immediate use unless it is planning to make an atomic bomb. (Its stockpiles of 20% uranium far exceed Tehran's claimed needs for a reactor making medical isotopes.)
  • Iran is now operating around 11,000 centrifuges categorized as "IR-1," which are based on a Dutch design acquired by the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. This means that, despite international sanctions and surveillance, Iran has acquired (and perhaps continues to acquire) important supplies from abroad, particularly maraging steel and high-strength aluminum... 
  • Given the intelligence uncertainties involved with monitoring whether such a secretive program moves to "break-out," even a stockpile of five or six bombs-worth of 20%-enriched uranium would effectively make Iran a nuclear-weapon state.
  • Cautious politicians will argue there is still time for diplomacy, plus sanctions and military threats, to succeed. But Iranian leaders give little impression they are about to give in to pressure.
  • The IAEA report concludes by saying that Director-General Yukiya Amano "will continue to report as appropriate." But Mr. Amano does not have a sign on his desk saying "the buck stops here." The future of Iran's nuclear program is in the hands of whoever does.
Without in any way diminishing from the scale of the Iran nuclear threat, the Iranians cause plenty of trouble in more conventional ways. One of them is being demonstrated right now in the bloodbath being conducted in Syria.

Iran sends elite troops to aid Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria
  • Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has personally sanctioned the dispatch of experienced officers to ensure that the Assad regime, Iran's most important regional ally, survives the threat to its survival.
  • In addition, Iran has shipped hundreds of tons of military equipment, including guns, rockets, and shells, to Syria through the regular air corridor that has been established between Damascus and Tehran. Intelligence officials believe the increased Iranian support has been responsible for the growing effectiveness of the Assad regime's tactics in forcing anti-government rebel groups on the defensive.
  • "Iran has taken a strategic decision to deepen its involvement in the Syrian crisis," a senior Western security official said. "The Iranians are desperate for their most important regional ally to survive the current crisis. And Iran's involvement is starting to pay dividends."
  • On Thursday [yesterday], Syrian army bombardment was reported to have killed at least 20 people in an area of southern Damascus which houses a large Palestinian community. Assad loyalists have accused Palestinian refugees living in the capital of siding with the rebels, and have retaliated by launching repeated attacks against the Yarmouk refugee camp.
  • Under the Assad regime Damascus has allowed Iran to ship regular supplies of arms and equipment to southern Lebanon to enable Hizbollah to sustain its aggressive stance against Israel. The ayatollahs fear that any change of regime in Syria might cut the supply line.
As sundown approaches on this very hot Friday, we extend our wishes for the blessed peace of Sabbath.