Where are Obama and Netanyahu’s nuclear clocks?
DEBKAfile Special Report December 26, 2012, 10:00 PM (GMT+02:00)
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his deputy, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, suddenly woke up Tuesday, Dec. 25, when at the launch of their Likud-Beitenu election campaign, they were asked what had happened to the dire Iranian nuclear threat. “It will soon be back in the headlines,” they said. “Not a day goes by without it receiving our attention,” said sources close to the prime minister. “The nuclear clock is still ticking” – and it is fact that National Security Adviser Yaacov Amidror has made several recent trips to Washington to discuss the issue with American colleagues. “Now we are waiting for Barack Obama to form his new government,” Yaalon remarked.
But Obama and his government will only be sworn in on January 21, and the next day Israel itself goes to the polls. On past performance, an incoming Israel prime minister takes weeks, if not months, to assemble a new government. Iran has therefore been given the gift of at least three months to play with before either administration is ready for strategic decision-making with regard to preemptive action against its nuclear program. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei can therefore rest easy until the late spring of 2013.
Dennis Ross, Obama’s former adviser on Iran, who is well versed in White House thinking and has good access to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, said in an interview Monday that, for the moment, the Iranians “are not convinced we are prepared to use force.” Speaking to the Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post, Ross said he believed 2013 would be the critical year.
DEBKAfile connects this remark to a comment President Obama made while campaigning for reelection: He spoke of Iran attaining “breakout capacity” next year – a development which must be prevented, because it means, “we would not be able to intervene in time to stop their nuclear program.”
For breakout capacity, Iran would have to acquire the materials – highly-enriched uranium and components for a weapon – and the knowhow to build nuclear weapons quickly if it is so decided. A decision could be too fast for US intelligence, or presumably Israel, to catch in time to take action. It was this eventuality which Obama said must be prevented.
The current situation poses two problems. Although the US president has often expressed his determination to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, he has never explained how he would achieve this, or promised to use force if nothing else availed. The other problem is that, according to DEBKAfile’s intelligence and Iranian sources, Tehran has already reached “breakout capacity.”
This phrase has therefore become a convenient slogan for delayed action, another red line to be missed, like the ones set by Netanyahu in his cartoon presentation to the UN Assembly last September, such as 20-percent enriched uranium.
Khamenei has rejected the stipulations the United States laid down in the secret direct negotiations held earlier this month for settling the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program. And there are no signs he is worried about repercussions. The only true words about the current stalemate were heard from Dennis Ross, that the Iranians “are not convinced we are prepared to use force.” The rest is spin.