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Two Old Foes Unite Against Tehran

November 19, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Israelis and the Saudis both know that the Mullahs in Iran do not take the Obama’s threat of using force seriously, that they are great iran_1_385653kcheaters and can easily evade the international observers, and that they are just buying time to get the nuclear bomb. [DID]

ONCE they were sworn enemies. Now Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency is working with Saudi officials on contingency plans for a possible attack on Iran if its nuclear programme is not significantly curbed in a deal that could be signed in Geneva this week.

Both the Israeli and Saudi governments are convinced that the international talks to place limits on Tehran’s military nuclear development amount to appeasement and will do little to slow its development of a nuclear warhead.

As part of the growing co-operation, Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran.

Both sides are now prepared to go much further. The Sunni kingdom is as alarmed as Israel by the nuclear ambitions of the Shi’ite-dominated Iran.

“Once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs,” said a diplomatic source.

The source added that Saudi co-operation over the use of rescue helicopters, tanker planes and drones would greatly assist an Israeli raid.

Last month The Sunday Times reported that the Israeli air force had staged a long-range bombing exercise over Greek airspace to demonstrate that it would be prepared to go it alone if necessary and bomb Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

The Saudis are also believed to have invested heavily in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme as an insurance against Iran, according to an investigation by the BBC that found that nuclear devices were ready to be shipped from Pakistan at short notice.

Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is co-ordinating a whirlwind round of diplomacy, dubbed the “axis of resistance”, to form an international coalition to derail the Geneva talks or insist that much tighter safeguards are imposed on Tehran.

“No deal is better than a very bad deal,” he said, adding that Iran could “hit the jackpot” if negotiations fail to stop its nuclear programme.

Netanyahu will today meet François Hollande, the French president, who emerged as a significant obstacle to a deal, which had appeared to be close before the talks were suspended last weekend.

Hollande, who will address the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, will be warmly received in Jerusalem, where he is expected to reiterate France’s determination to prevent nuclear proliferation.

On Wednesday, as the Geneva talks resume, Netanyahu will head to Moscow for an urgent meeting with President Vladimir Putin in a bid to convince Russia that it should take a firmer stand in the talks.

He has also sent Naftali Bennett, his economy minister, to Washington to lobby Congress to demand that rather than make limited concessions, Iran must drop its nuclear ambitions altogether.

President Barack Obama hopes to achieve a comprehensive deal that would overturn 34 years of hostility between the US and Iran. John Kerry, the secretary of state, travelled to Riyadh to reassure its leadership of American security support, while Obama appealed to Congress not to go ahead with new sanctions that would destroy his efforts.

Although some hardliners in Iran are aghast at the idea of a deal with the country they call the Great Satan, President Hassan Rouhani’s government made conciliatory gestures last week. Rouhani moved to fulfil an election promise to relax Iran’s strict Islamic dress code and announced that the notorious morality police would no longer be able to arrest women they deemed inappropriately dressed.

Prospects for a breakthrough were also improved by the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which concluded that for the first time in years there was hard evidence that Iran had put the brakes on its nuclear expansion.

This did not convince Netanyahu. “Iran needs no expansion of its nuclear programme. They have enough fissile material,” he said.

Public opinion appears to be firmly on his side. A Rafi Smith poll last week for Israel Radio found 55% believed they could not count on America in the Iranian negotiations, against 31% who thought they could.

Netanyahu hopes the Russians will give Washington a hard time in Geneva, although it is not believed that Moscow will scupper the agreement.

Israel is concerned that negotiations appear to be focused on uranium enrichment, rather than on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. It fears Iran is already close to having sufficient enriched uranium to build up to four warheads.

Ephraim Asculai, an Israeli nuclear expert, recently explained his country’s thinking. “One [bomb] to test, a second one for a second test, as the first will probably fail, and the remaining two warheads for deterrence,” he said.

The Israelis are also convinced that Iran still has secret enrichment sites undetected by the West. Such sites in Natanz and Qom were hidden until detected by British and Israeli intelligence services.

Israeli president presses for peace

The Israeli president, Shimon Peres, says a deal with Iran to halt its nuclear programme is inevitable and has warned that his country cannot risk falling out with America over the issue, writes Christina Lamb in Jerusalem.

His comments put him at odds with the hardline stance of Binjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister.

“We need it and they [the Iranians] will do it,” Peres said last week in an interview with The Sunday Times. “They’re ready and willing and don’t have a choice.”

Peres, 90, who has served twice as prime minister in a political career spanning more than six decades, said the recent turmoil in the Middle East showed that “occasionally history is a galloping horse and you either mount it or the horse will gallop without you”.

He added that the Iranian leadership had no choice but to come to terms with the West because of the economic pressure of sanctions and the demands for freedom from its youth.

“In the beginning Iran divided us, now we’re dividing Iran,” he said. “Their young people don’t have food; their girls don’t want head covers at universities.”

Although the Israeli presidency is symbolic, Peres’s status, experience and contacts give him considerable influence.

He said it would be a mistake for Israel to underestimate the importance of its friendship with America. “Our relationship with the USA is not to be taken for granted,” he said.

He also said the turmoil in the Arab world has given his country a historic opportunity to make peace with the Palestinians.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, persuaded Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, back to negotiations earlier this year following a three-year impasse over Israel’s continued building of settlements in the West Bank after Netanyahu agreed to release some Palestinian prisoners.

The settlements remain an important matter of contention, however. Last week Netanyahu ordered a halt to plans to build 24,000 new homes in the West Bank.

Kerry has told the Israelis the US will release its own proposals in January if the two sides cannot reach an agreement.

Peres said he continued to hope that a deal would be signed before his term ends next July. “We have too much fear and not enough trust,” he said. “Both among Arabs and Jews so many sons and daughters have been lost.”

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Uzi Mahnaimi – The Sunday Times

November 17, 2013

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