Last month, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, made two announcements regarding his country’s stance on the Iranian nuclear programme.
First, he said that Israel would not be going ahead with a unilateral military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities this year, abandoning the much feared “October surprise.” Secondly, he spelled out a new “red line” that Iran will not be allowed to cross as far as its nuclear activities are concerned. This will be the moment when Iran has acquired enough more highly enriched uranium to build one nuclear bomb – a moment that in Mr Netanyahu’s view may come by next summer.
In recent days, Israeli officials visiting London have spelled out the details regarding this new red line. In their view, Iran by next summer will have acquired some 240kg of more highly enriched uranium (that is uranium at a 20 per cent concentration). This could be converted by Iran into enough weapons grade uranium (at a 90 per cent concentration) to provide Iran with one nuclear weapon.
The difficulty for the Israeli government is that while western leaders are relieved that Mr Netanyahu postponed plans for a strike this autumn, they don’t regard his new red line as having much credibility either. Read more
Under normal circumstances, an American president running for re-election would do his utmost to avoid a row with the Israeli prime minister. But I wonder whether President Obama really will be damaged by his semi-public clash with Benjamin Netanyahu?
The conventional argument is that the Jewish vote is very important in two vital swing states, Florida and Ohio. The major American-Jewish organisations are passionate in their support for Israel and their concerns about Iran. So being perceived to be tough on Israel and weak on Iran is dangerous for Obama. Read more
Tobias Buck, our esteemed Jerusalem correspondent, dropped into my office the other day. He told me (tactfully) that I was probably wrong, in my recent blog post, to give such credence to the idea that Israel is on the point of bombing the Iranian nuclear programme. I should return to my previous scepticism.
As it happens, I had already reconsidered, after reading this analysis by Shai Feldman. Feldman stresses the significance of the recent public opposition to a strike, voiced by President Shimon Peres. Read more
At a demonstration in March, an Israeli protester holds a sign directed at Benjamin Netanyahu (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Until recently, I have always been sceptical about the idea that Israel will stage a unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But, in recent months, I’ve changed my mind, because so many people I know who follow the issue much more closely than me, seem convinced that it will indeed happen.
Because of the sensitivity of the issue, most of the conversations I’ve had have been off-the-record. But the people who’ve told me that they think an Israeli attack is imminent include: a top European politician (although that was in January), a senior British defence official (speaking in June), one of the best think-tank analysts, Mark Fitzpatrick of the IISS; another top think-tanker from the US. Most recently, a French diplomat who deals with the Iran dossier, told me that he expected an Israeli attack within weeks. Read more
Here’s what caught our eyes today: Read more
Mitt Romney in Israel (Getty)
Mitt Romney has caused something of a stir over recent days with comments that he and his campaign team have made about Iran. On a visit to Israel he and his aides said two things on the Iranian nuclear weapons programme that have left politicians and commentators wondering how he would act on this issue if elected.
First there was a comment made in Jerusalem by Dan Senor, Mr Romney’s senior foreign policy aide, who suggested that his boss supports a unilateral military strike on Iran by Israel. “If Israel has to take action on its own,” Mr Senor said in a briefing, “the governor would respect that decision.” Read more
The inability of Russia and the US to forge a collective response to the Syria crisis at the United Nations is a significant moment in the 16-month-long uprising.
It makes it inevitable that the conflict between the Assad regime and rebels will develop into an even more bloody confrontation over the next few weeks, with a potentially significant impact on the wider region. The crisis now poses a range of security risks which will this weekend be much on the minds of policymakers in western states and in the Middle East. Read more
These are the pieces that got us talking over the weekend and this morning: Read more
The endless guessing game about whether Israel is planning to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities in the coming months continues. Now we have two pieces of fresh evidence – but they seem to point in opposite directions. First, there is the outbreak of dissent amongst top Israeli securocrats – several of whom have gone on the record, to say that an attack on Iran would be a v.bad idea. On the other hand, Netanyahu has just formed a government of national unity - which includes three former chiefs of the defence staff. Read more
Articles about the threat of a war over Iran’s nuclear programme often refer to Israeli pressure for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. There is no doubt that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister and Ehud Barak, his defence minister, are in the hawkish camp on Iran. What is much less clear is whether these two actually speak for Israel as a whole – or even for the whole of the government.
This report from Haaretz, a liberal Israeli paper, has two interesting snippets in it. First, it suggests that Netanyahu and Barak are still struggling to win clear-cut support for an attack from an inner quorum of eight senior ministers in the government. (It is already well known that several senior figures in the Israeli security establishment are opposed to an attack.) Second, the paper reports an opinion poll that suggests that less than 50% of the Israeli public currently support an attack on Iran. The poll suggests 41% in favour, and 39% opposed – with the rest undecided. And when Israelis are asked if they support a unilateral attack, without US support – and that’s the only real option, at the moment – then opposition rises to 58% against an attack. Read more