Hezbollah’s Situation/ New Iranian stonewalling of IAEA
Sep 6, 2019 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
This Update deal with the situation of Hezbollah in its confrontation with Israel in the wake of a complex series of incidents last Sunday when the group launched cross-border anti-tank missile fire to try to take revenge on Israel for alleged Israeli attacks on Hezbollah sites the previous weekend.
We lead with an exploration of the events of last weekend from veteran Israeli journalist Ben Caspit – as well as subsequent developments, like Israel’s public revelation of a secret Hezbollah missile factory in the Beka’a valley region of Lebanon on Tuesday. Caspit makes the points that the attacks of the last few weeks suggest both Israel and Hezbollah are today abandoning “red lines” they had previously observed – Hezbollah by targeting Israeli soldiers with its anti-tank missiles, Israel by staging raids on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. Caspit stresses that Israel is now making it clear that it is an absolute strategic priority to prevent Hezbollah from developing the ability to build precision missiles within Lebanon, and is willing to risk a war with Hezbollah now to prevent this if necessary, something neither side wants. For Caspit’s important insights on this important new front for Israel, CLICK HERE.
Next up, Lebanon specialist Tony Badran looks at Hezbollah’s overall situation in the wake of recent events. He argues Hezbollah’s situation is deteriorating given both the new Israeli posture of actively targeting Hezbollah’s missile building facilities, constructed with Iranian help, inside Lebanon, and a new willingness by the US Administration to sanction Lebanese institutions that are assisting Hezbollah. Badran also points to some longer-term threats to Hezbollah’s power – particularly demographic changes in Lebanon’s Shi’ite community on which Hezbollah depends for recruits and activists. For his knowledgeable look at the situation both inside Lebanon and Washington’s approach to it, CLICK HERE.
Finally, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens looks at an implication in the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran that Iran is stonewalling the agency on some key questions. Specifically, he notes, Iran is reportedly refusing to answer IAEA questions about an alleged nuclear warehouse in the town of Turquz Abad, outside Teheran, identified by Israel last year – a warehouse where IAEA inspectors later found radioactive particles. Stephens notes that this new sign of Iranian failure to live up to the JCPOA nuclear deal signed in 2015 could have profound implications at a time when the Iranians are increasingly withdrawing from their JCPOA obligations in the wake of the US pullout from the deal and a Trump-Rouhani summit is being discussed. For Stephens’ discussion of these implications in full, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- More analysis of the latest IAEA findings on Iran, from the Institute for Science and International Security. Plus, more comment on the Hezbollah-Israel clashes from Israeli columnists Seth Frantzman and Yoav Limor.
- Iran announces it will stop complying with the JCPOA’s limits on nuclear research.
- Jonathan Tobin on what is and is not appropriate to do to entice Iran back to the negotiating table.
- How will the resignation of US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt affect the imminent planned release of the US Administration’s “Deal of the Century” Israeli-Palestinian peace plan?
- Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, together with Gabi Siboni, explains Israel’s “Campaign Between Wars” strategy to counter Iran’s malign regional influence which he helped develop.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Ahron Shapiro in today’s Melbourne Age on why “We’re right to protect oil supplies against Iranian attack.”
- A video look at antisemitism in Europe today, featuring author and journalist James Kirchick.
Hezbollah, Israel losing red lines
Destroying the precision missile project of Hezbollah and Iran has now become the second-most important priority of Israel after eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat
Al-Monitor, September 4, 2019
The blasts of Kornet missiles fired by Hezbollah at Israel finally went silent on Sept. 1. The dust then settled from the many hundreds of artillery missiles Israel fired in response, and Israeli air force jets patrolling the Mediterranean on high alert finally returned to their bases. Nevertheless, psychological warfare continued unabated. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah appeared in Al-Manar to announce the start of a “new stage” in his organization’s balance of deterrence against Israel, declaring that there were “ no more red lines.” At the same time, he also announced that Hezbollah has no precision missile factories. He was responding to reports that the target destroyed during the “Night of the Gliders” in Beirut a week earlier when two Israeli drones came down on a Beirut suburb was a vital component of his precision missile project.
Shortly before he made this statement, Nasrallah was trolled by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Arabic-language Spokesman Avichai Edrei on social media. “You sure about that? Just watch us,” he challenged Nasrallah in a video clip produced by Israel for the Lebanese public. Before the Hezbollah leader even had a chance to answer, the IDF posted new, detailed documents and photos of a secret factory in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley allegedly used to produce and upgrade precision rockets and missiles. The factory, which is located near the village of Nabi Shayth, was created with Iranian funding and oversight.
The very name of that village would cause any alumnus of Israeli intelligence to tense up. It is right near the site where Israeli navigator Ron Arad was held after he was captured by Amal forces in 1986. Israel has yet to learn where he disappeared to from there.
It was relatively easy for Israeli intelligence to locate the precision missile factory. It then released the names of Iranian experts working there, as well as a record of their movements between Tehran, Damascus and Lebanon over the last few years. Recently, Israel declassified intelligence materials surrounding these factories, and information that was highly confidential until only recently was released to the public. The goal of “incriminating” Iran and Hezbollah no matter the cost and exposing both the precision rocket project and the Iranian presence in Syria and Lebanon was given precedence over any efforts to protect the confidentiality of sources and techniques used to collect intelligence.
An aerial photo of what the IDF says is a Hezbollah facility designed to manufacture engines in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley. (Israel Defense Forces)
Sunday’s brief round of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah lasted just a few hours. It was enough to allow both sides to declare victory and return home in peace, but it could have ended very differently. If the Hezbollah squad that fired the Kornet missile would have been a skilled one and if the missile they fired at an Israeli military ambulance traveling along the northern border had veered just a few meters off course the entire front could have been ignited. It might even have resulted in a third Lebanon war, even though no one really wants that.
Hezbollah fired two missiles at the ambulance after most of the IDF’s stationary targets went silent. The ambulance crew, which included a doctor and four soldiers, violated an order not to move along routes, which were exposed to a potential attack from Lebanon, until the tension along the border was over. The Kornet missiles missed the ambulance by a hair’s breadth. Had they hit the ambulance, Israelis would have woken up the next day to five military funerals and a full-blown war. What helped to bring about a relatively quick cease-fire was an Israeli diversion in which bogus wounded important soldiers were evacuated by helicopter from the site of the missile strike to a hospital in Haifa. Hezbollah was convinced that it succeeded in injuring Israelis and calmed down. By the time they learned that they had been fooled, it was already too late.
A senior military source told Al-Monitor that at the same time, Israeli air force jets flew off the Lebanese coast carrying target missiles and bombs. The jets were under orders to release their loads at targets associated with the precision project of Nasrallah and Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, which are scattered across Lebanon. It is thought that one of the targets was supposed to be the same factory, whose existence Israel exposed 48 hours later. Israel would not have been able to constrain itself had five soldiers really been killed.
In fact, it was this exact same scenario that led to the outbreak of Israel’s second war in Lebanon in 2006.
Had Hezbollah hit the soldiers in the ambulance, it is most likely the IDF would have taken advantage of the opportunity to deliver a paralyzing blow to the project, which has been the focus of intense attention by Israeli intelligence for the past few months. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently ordered the IDF to move the precision missile project to second place in its list of major threats, right after the Iranian nuclear reactor. “Right now, most of our efforts are going into blocking and even eliminating the project,” a senior Israeli military source told Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity. “The Iranian presence in Syria has dropped to our No. 3 priority for now. They have suffered some severe blows, and the threat they pose is not as urgent. Nasrallah must be made aware that Israel will do everything it can to keep him from using precision rockets and missiles, and when I say everything, I mean everything,” said that senior source.
In other words, based on its signals, Israel is prepared to launch a third war in Lebanon to block the precision missile project. The project threatens to make Hezbollah capable of paralyzing Israel militarily and economically through the use of tens of thousands of precision missiles. “Nasrallah is well aware of this,” a top Israeli security source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. The source added, “It is not at all certain that war is in his interests right now.”
Once the factory’s existence was revealed, Hezbollah began removing manufacturing lines and important components from the site as quickly as it could. This could be seen in satellite photographs, which were also released to the public. The current assessment in Israel is that Hezbollah will now spread its manufacturing capabilities among various population centers, particularly Beirut, so as to reduce the risk of an Israeli attack. Nevertheless, last week’s attack in Beirut’s Dahiyeh suburb has also been attributed to Israel, indicating that both sides are rapidly losing their red lines. The Israelis are also speaking more openly about it. In briefings to the Israeli media, Netanyahu himself admitted to recent attacks. He then went on to humiliate Nasrallah by claiming that during Sunday’s clashes, the secretary-general himself asked for a cease-fire and appealed to at least three foreign states to act as mediators. Meanwhile, Nasrallah continues to threaten Israel. When or if a third Lebanon war breaks out, what happened this Sunday will go down as a significant step toward it by both parties.
Ben Caspit is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers and has a daily radio show and regular TV shows on politics and Israel.
Any Way You Slice it, Hezbollah had a very bad month
Israeli strikes inside Lebanon together with new U.S. sanctions suggest a significant change in policy toward the terror group
After a period of relative calm on Israel’s northern border, the past two weeks have seen a sudden spate of attacks and counterattacks between Israel and Hezbollah. The escalation began on Aug. 24 when Israeli Defense Forces thwarted a planned Iranian and Hezbollah drone attack from the Golan Heights. The IDF’s strike killed two Iranian-trained Hezbollah operatives in their compound near Damascus. Israel reportedly followed this operation with another, hitting components of Hezbollah’s missile infrastructure in the heart of its Beirut stronghold. Hezbollah retaliated this past Sunday by attacking an IDF vehicle in northern Israel, prompting a volley of Israeli artillery fire into southern Lebanon.
The dust is still clearing, but what’s clear is that Israel’s operation reflects a new security footing towards Hezbollah that is being put into effect at the same time the U.S. increases pressure on the group on other fronts. All told, it’s plain that August did not end auspiciously for Hezbollah. First, Israel seemingly resumed operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Iranian missile capabilities. Then shortly after, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Lebanon-based Jammal Trust Bank, which it described as Hezbollah’s “bank of choice.” These actions mark an important shift in both Israeli and U.S. policies, which is likely to deepen Hezbollah’s strategic dilemma.
For the past decade, Hezbollah’s strategy has relied on two key conditions both of which now appear to be coming to an end. The first condition was that the U.S. would continue to pay into the myth of an independent Lebanese state that exists separate and autonomous from the terror group. That indulgence has granted Hezbollah the critical freedom to operate through the auspices of Lebanese institutions like the armed forces and banking system, without facing penalty from the U.S. The second condition on which Hezbollah relied, an outgrowth of Syria’s civil war, was Israel’s general avoidance of conducting military operations inside Lebanese territory. Events over the past month suggest that these twin pillars of the Hezbollah edifice, behind which sits Iran’s designs for the Middle East, are wearing down as the Trump administration’s new security approach to the Middle East opens up new possibilities in the region.
The limited skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah this past Sunday might have looked familiar, only they reflected a shift in the conflict. In a similar incident in January 2015 Hezbollah responded to an Israeli strike on its cadres in southern Syria by firing antitank missiles on IDF vehicles from the Israeli-controlled Shebaa Farms area near the Golan Heights. Sunday’s attack was also carried out in retaliation for an Israeli strike on Hezbollah operatives in southern Syria, and followed an alleged Israeli operation in Dahieh, one of the main Hezbollah-controlled neighborhoods in Beirut, and once again utilized antitank missiles fired on an IDF vehicle—but, unlike in 2015, this time the attack was carried out from inside a Lebanese village, underscoring the shift to Lebanon as the front from which the group now retaliates.
The operation, reportedly involving a drone attack, marked the end of an almost six-year hiatus, during which time the Israelis limited their strikes against Hezbollah and Iranian assets to targets in Syria. Israel’s tacit agreement not to conduct operations inside Lebanon, which was intended to prevent an escalation into full-on war, had jibed well over the past six years with a U.S. policy that prioritized “preserving Lebanon’s stability.” Unable to respond directly to Israel’s ongoing operations in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah launched a project to upgrade the precision of Hezbollah’s stockpile of missiles inside Lebanon.
Two crates reportedly belonging to Hezbollah containing critical technical machinery that were destroyed in a drone strike attributed to Israel in Beirut on August 25, 2019. This attack apparently spelled the end of a hiatus in Israeli attacks on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon (Twitter).
For the Israelis, this was a red line. About two years ago, Israeli officials began exposing and speaking openly about this emerging threat. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the matter at the U.N. General Assembly last September, displaying a map with the location of missile sites in Beirut. The Israelis also began exposing Iranian commercial flights to Beirut Airport carrying components to turn rockets into precision missiles. The Israelis, communicating through French diplomatic channels, warned: “The Lebanese government must be careful when it comes to Hezbollah’s rocket factories. If the issue isn’t dealt with through diplomatic means by the Lebanese government, Israel will act on its own.” The U.S. has impressed the same point on Lebanon’s government, including most recently during Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri’s visit to Washington last month. Hariri revealed that U.S. officials raised this issue with him again—this after Hariri had accused Israel of fabricating the whole thing. But, Hariri told reporters in D.C., “we are not a policeman for Israel, which continues to violate UNSCR 1701.”
The many warnings went unheeded, and it appears that Israel took action. Reports from late August claimed that the target of what appear to have been drone attacks in Beirut was an industrial planetary mixer, “a vital component in the machinery used to build a precision-guided missile, which requires solid fuel. The item is thought to be manufactured in Iran.” Following these reports, the IDF publicized declassified information on the precision missile project in Beirut, and exposed the Iranian figures leading the effort in Beirut.
The reaction of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to this blow threw his dilemma into sharp relief. It wasn’t just that a number of his promised retaliatory steps were pitiful—namely, vowing to shoot down Israeli drones in Lebanese skies, or demanding that the Lebanese government go and ask the Americans to put pressure on Israel. It’s also that his very threat to retaliate “from Lebanon” itself reflects his and Iran’s failure.
Nasrallah had hoped to transfer the active front against Israel from Lebanon to Syria, so as to create an alternative launching pad for operations against Israel without risking devastation in Lebanon. The plan foundered as Israel’s relentless blows against Hezbollah and the Iranians in Syria, and more recently in Iraq, reached a point where Nasrallah was forced to revive the Lebanese front. In July, for instance, he announced his group would respond “from Lebanon” to any Hezbollah death at Israel’s hands in Syria. He might have thought that such an announcement would deter the Israelis, but instead it has put him in a corner. All he could do, as Hezbollah fired across the border on Sunday at an IDF vehicle, was to hope for low IDF casualties, and for the Israelis not to retaliate with disproportionate force.
Hezbollah’s furious messaging before and after its retaliation, insisting that it does not seek to provoke a broader conflict with Israel at this time, only emphasized the group’s dilemma: It has not deterred Israel, nor can it afford to fully activate the Lebanese front. Consequently, Hezbollah’s response was weak. The Israelis anticipated it, suffered no casualties, and staged a mock evacuation of “wounded” soldiers designed to have Hezbollah declare the end of this round.
The episode is not over yet, as Hezbollah’s retaliation for Israel’s alleged drone attack in Beirut is still presumably forthcoming. The problem for Hezbollah is that it will not deter additional Israeli strikes against its precision missile project.
Meanwhile, the position of the Lebanese government has been instructive, if entirely predictable. Hariri and the government he nominally heads lined up behind Nasrallah to endorse any Hezbollah attacks launched from Lebanese territory against Israel. Moreover, the U.S.-supported Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which constitutes the centerpiece of Amerian policy in Lebanon, also lined up behind Hezbollah and opened fire on Israeli reconnaissance drones in southern Lebanon. For cheerleaders of the U.S. policy of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the LAF, on the grounds that “Lebanese state institutions” are not only distinct from Hezbollah but also key to weakening it, this should be cause for embarrassment.
Following Nasrallah’s instruction to call on the Americans to rein in the Israelis, the Lebanese government did try to cash in on U.S. investment in their “state institutions.” It didn’t pan out as planned. Instead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered full-throated support for Israel’s actions against Iranian threats. But it was a senior administration official, responding to a question from Tablet on a background press call on Thursday, who gave the clearest message to the Lebanese (and the Iraqis). “It’s our position,” said the senior official, “that if neighbors of Israel allow a malign third country that does not share a border with Israel to use their sovereign territory as holding ground for increasingly sophisticated dangerous weapons, the only purpose of which is to attack Israel, I think those governments, if they cannot curb or control those elements, are going to have to be prepared to be responsible for them.”
Holding the Lebanese government responsible for what occurs in its own sovereign territory might sound like a basic, commonsensical point, but it had been entirely absent from the past U.S. approach. Instead, American policy had indulged an obviously fictional separation between Lebanon and Hezbollah, a convenience that absolved Lebanese officials and institutions of all responsibility. They were victims or hostages; certainly not accomplices. To be sure, that’s still the prevalent view in D.C., but perhaps, slowly, the kid gloves are coming off.
Right after Israel released the declassified intelligence about the precision missile project in Beirut, the Treasury Department announced the designation of Jammal Trust Bank.
Treasury’s press release described the bank’s relationship with Hezbollah as follows: “Jammal Trust knowingly facilitates the banking activities of U.S.-designated entities openly affiliated with Hizballah, Al-Qard al-Hassan and the Martyrs Foundation, in addition to services it provides to Hizballah’s Executive Council.”
New US sanctions on the Hezbollah-linked Jammal Trust Bank suggest a growing willingness by Washington to target Lebanese institutions aiding Hezbollah.
The bank is not a major financial institution in Lebanon. Still, this was the first action the U.S. government has taken against a Lebanese bank since the Treasury Department identified the Lebanese-Canadian Bank as a front operation in 2011. Hezbollah laundered hundreds of millions of dollars a month in drug money through the bank.
In 2015, the Treasury Department sanctioned Lebanese businessman Qassem Hejeij for his direct ties with Hezbollah financier Adham Tabaja, the alleged co-leader of the group’s Business Affairs Component. At the time, Treasury disclosed that “Hejeij has helped open bank accounts for Hizballah in Lebanon and provided credit to Hizballah procurement companies.” Hejeij was the chairman and founder of the Middle East and Africa Bank (MEAB).
Both MEAB and Jammal Trust Bank are named in the U.S. lawsuit filed by the families of 400 American nationals who were killed or injured in Iraq between 2004 and 2011 in attacks for which they allege Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are responsible. The complaint documents extensive alleged dealings by these banks with Hezbollah, underscoring the group’s thorough penetration of the Lebanese economy and financial system.
You get the picture. Hezbollah is present in every nook of the “Lebanese state,” including the banking sector. And the banks’ dealings with Hezbollah appear to continue until the moment the U.S. slaps sanctions on a particular individual and entity. After all, the Treasury Department’s press release on Jammal Trust Bank notes its relationship with Hezbollah since the mid-2000s. Still, U.S. officials persist in the delusion that the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank is a “partner” in rooting out Hezbollah’s illicit financial activities. The delusion, of course, is only a residue of the grand fantasy about independent Lebanese “institutions” separate from Hezbollah. Sooner or later, as the logic of events drives toward confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel, while Lebanon’s U.S.-backed government and official institutions operate in lockstep with Hezbollah, the lie at the core of American policy becomes untenable.
And that time might be fast approaching. According to a senior U.S. official who spoke to Tablet, the designations reflect a series of staffing and regulatory decisions across the Trump administration that suggest cracks are forming in the longtime consensus that Lebanese state institutions are untouchable. The argument for Lebanon’s “stability” had been prevalent and often had overruled more aggressive action. “These new sanctions suggest willingness to sideline this position and its advocates,” the senior official added.
Tony Badran, Tablet magazine’s Levant analyst, is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
What was Iran hiding in Turquz Abad?
By Bret Stephens
The New York Times, Sept. 5, 2019
Iran’s Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Gharib Abad, speaks to the media after the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, July 10, 2019 (Ronald Zak | AP Photo).
Reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency don’t usually make for riveting reading, so you may have missed last Friday’s latest, soporifically headlined “Verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 (2015).”
Don’t be fooled. Buried in the report are two oblique sentences hinting at a mystery about which you may soon hear a great deal.
“Ongoing interactions between the Agency and Iran relating to Iran’s implementation of its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol require full and timely cooperation by Iran,” the report says. “The Agency continues to pursue this objective with Iran.”
That’s an exquisite way of saying that Iran is stonewalling the agency. The question is, over what?
Last September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly that Iran had a “secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and material from Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.” Those amounts added up to an estimated 300 tons of stuff, including about 30 pounds of radioactive material. He then urged IAEA chief Yukiya Amano to “inspect this atomic warehouse immediately.”
The warehouse, which Iran said was a carpet-cleaning facility, is on the outskirts of Tehran in a village called Turquz Abad. Commercial satellite photography purchased by the Washington-based, nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security shows the site being gradually emptied of multiple large containers between July and September of 2018, following Israel’s heist earlier that year of a huge cache of Iranian nuclear documents.
Satellite images of the alleged atomic warehouse at Turquz Abad, showing materials later removed before UN inspections could take place. (Google Earth image annotated by the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.)
As for the IAEA, the agency only got around to inspecting the site earlier this year, long after the suspicious materials had vanished, and Amano died in July. But nuclear inspectors were nonetheless able to detect radioactive particles, corroborating Israeli claims about the purpose of the warehouse. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran is now refusing to answer the agency’s questions about just what material was stored at the warehouse — and, more importantly, where it might be now.
So what’s new?
Some defenders of the 2015 nuclear deal are prone to answer: Not a lot. Traces of radioactive material may be the residue of Iran’s old nuclear-weapons program, which is generally thought to have been shuttered around 2003. Tehran has always been notoriously recalcitrant when it comes to responding to the IAEA. And after the Iraq WMD debacle, it’s wise to avoid drawing stark conclusions from incomplete and possibly false nuclear evidence.
Then again, the history of nuclear inspections has more false negatives than it does false positives, including the agency’s past failures to find Iran’s secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Arak. Its unwillingness to follow up promptly and effectively on Israel’s allegations about Turquz Abad, along with its reluctance to disclose what it found, inspire little confidence in the quality of its inspections and even less in its willingness to call out cheating.
As for Iran, hiding nuclear materials is a violation of its basic reporting obligations to the IAEA. It’s also further evidence that Tehran was in violation of the nuclear deal from the moment it was signed. “If Iranians aren’t cooperating, it tells you that potentially they are hiding more,” notes the Institute for Science and International Security president, David Albright, adding that the Turquz Abad findings are “a big deal.”
Especially this week. On Wednesday, Iran indicated that it would take further incremental steps to openly breach the nuclear deal, partly as an effort to get Europe to extend an economic lifeline, and partly as an opening gambit in a new round of negotiations with the United States — something Donald Trump keeps saying he’s open to.
That is bound to spark fears in Jerusalem that the administration will pull the same 180-degree policy turn with Iran as it did with North Korea, sharply constraining Israel’s potential military options while negotiations take place. So it’s notable that Netanyahu made a snap decision to meet Thursday with new the U.S. defense secretary, Mark Esper, in London to discuss “Israel’s security needs.”
That could be a political stunt connected to Israel’s upcoming elections. Or it might concern Israel’s expanding bombing campaign against Iranian military targets in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Or, more likely, both.
But the question of what Iran might have been storing in that warehouse, where it is now, what else it might be hiding, and what that all suggests about Iran’s “breakout time” — that is, the speed with which it could race to a bomb — is sure to be under discussion.
Netanyahu has been thwarted before, both by his own generals and the Obama administration, from conducting a strike on Iran’s nuclear sites. Yet the desire on his part is clearly there, the diplomatic window is still open, and Israel’s air force is more capable now than it was in 2012. Nobody should rule out the possibility of an Israeli surprise.
Many readers of this column, Iran watchers and proliferation experts especially, no doubt fear the possibility. If they’re serious about averting it, they could play a helpful part by demanding more credible inspections and honest reporting from the IAEA, starting with a thorough accounting for what went mysteriously missing from Turquz Abad.