Dazzled by yesterday’s vote on health care, Washington media dropped the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu into the business as usual box. As this column is being posted, Bibi begins his Washington agenda with a visit to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Tonight he dines with Vice President Biden. Tomorrow evening he has the fourth meeting with President Obama since they have been in office. After all this happens, commentators around the world will focus on the recent spat over Israeli housing in the Ramat Shlomo sector of East Jerusalem, and how the prime minister smoothed it over with Washington. But there is an undercurrent in this visit far more significant to the United States and world peace than a mere 1,600 houses.
As in any state visit, senior members of Israel’s government arrived in Washington many days prior to Netanyahu’s arrival. Working with their opposite numbers, they have been quietly plastering over cracks in the U.S. relationship with Israel. Issues important to Washington and Jerusalem were discussed in detail, and concessions and sticking points clearly identified. The final Israeli positions had to be at least minimally acceptable to the White House, or no invitation would have been extended. So, what has the prime minister already agreed to do in order to have a cup of coffee with President Obama?
Israel will: ease the siege of Gaza; release some Palestinian prisoners affiliated with Fatah; agree to indirect talks with the Palestinians; monitor construction in East Jerusalem to slow the pace and avoid violence; and at least discuss problems in the notion of a separate Palestinian state.
But Netanyahu cannot say he will stop housing projects in East Jerusalem. To do so would bring down his governing coalition, something the White House understands well. So compromise, at least, will be reached on all the points the Obama administration considers vital to reviving the peace process. In the unlikely event a joint statement is released after tomorrow’s meetings, it will reflect credit on both sides regarding issues involving the Palestinians and the peace process. Questions from the media will be discouraged—especially questions about discussions with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In that regard, it is easy to guess why Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in Netanyahu’s entourage. He is not here to talk to Secretary Gates about houses—the subject is Iran.
The problem of Iran’s nuclear weapons program is the most vexing and important issue between Israel and the United States, and time available to resolve it grows short. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said this month that action should be taken by August, a date not publically endorsed by Netanyahu. But Lieberman’s right wing party is essential to the coalition government, and he cannot be completely ignored.
For his part, President Obama is determined to avoid a military strike on Iran, and has signaled he believes it is possible for the world to live with Iranian nuclear weapons. Israelis have no such illusions, and they view an Iran armed with nuclear weapons as an existential threat to their country and a monumental danger to regional and global peace. Nevertheless, the Obama administration is trying to persuade Jerusalem to show restraint while at the same time urging Tehran to stop enriching uranium. The result is that Israel grows impatient and Iran ignores White House urgings. Even so, recent news seems to show President Obama’s resolve may be stiffening.
An announcement was quietly made a few days ago that the U.S. is sending a shipload of “bunker buster” bombs to Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean, a B-2 bomber base within easy range of Iran. The cargo includes at least 195 BLU-110 bombs and 192 massive 2,000 pound BLU-117 bombs. Besides some improved in-flight refueling tankers, these are the main weapons Israel needs for a conventional attack on Iran’s centrifuge caverns. Of course, sending bombs by ship means an attack is not very imminent, but it should strain Tehran’s nerves anyway.
Another announcement further heightened the tension. Last week, Haaretz newspaper revealed Iran is indeed determined to acquire nuclear weapons, and tried to buy them from Pakistan in 1987! The source of this startling news is Simon Henderson, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Henderson has documents written by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, obtained when Khan was under house arrest between 2005 and 2009. While in detention, Khan gave Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, the details of his “atomic supermarket” in which he sold nuclear know-how to countries like Libya. According to Henderson, Pakistan gave that information to U.S. and British intelligence, but ISI did not share the report of a visit to Pakistan in 1987 by Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s future Minister of Defense. During that visit Shamkhani offered $10 billion for complete nuclear warheads, was prepared to pay on the spot, and offered to take the bombs home with him. Pakistan apparently refused the offer. Since the visit was authorized by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Henderson’s documents cast a poor light on Iran’s claims that its nuclear program is peaceful, as well as illuminating the thinking of Khamenei.
When the subject of Iran arises, there is a final consideration one hopes Prime Minister Netanyahu will bring up with President Obama tomorrow. The prime minister should politely advise the president he should not doubt that Israel will stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program alone, if need be. He should add that if Israel is not provided bunker buster bombs, refueling tankers, satellite intelligence and electronic jamming, then the cost of a conventional attack in lives and aircraft and materiel cannot be borne by his small nation. And therefore on the day the prime minister decides “business as usual” with Iran must end, he will authorize the use of Israel’s Jericho III missiles. Their warheads will detonate 450 kilometers above Tehran and there will be no mushroom clouds, no radiation, and no blast felt by the people below. But electromagnetic pulses from the detonations will destroy the entire electrical system of Iran. The lights will go out, and those troublesome enrichment centrifuges will cease to turn.
Since President Obama likely knows nothing about electromagnetic pulses, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s thoughtful official gift to the White House should be a copy of my book, IRAN COVENANT. I would be delighted to autograph it.
Chet Nagle is the author of IRAN COVENANT.