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Israel, Saudi Arabia Threaten War as West Prepares for Iran Nuclear Deal

Not so subtle leaks have emanated from Israel and Saudi Arabia about their immense displeasure with the nuclear deal the P5+1 nations are preparing to finalize with Iran.  Those leaks have gone far beyond mere expressions of alarm.  In fact, they include not so subtle “secret” meetings between their intelligence chiefs, and stories from cozy journalists who warn that both countries are contemplating an attack on Iran if the nuclear deal is as favorable to Iran as they fear it will be:

“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,” the Times quoted the source as saying.

An Eilat newspaper reported that Israel’s Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo met “secretly” in an Aqaba hotel with Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar.  For more on the strange relationship these two are cultivating and the clear limitations Prince Bandar is facing both in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region, read this interesting profile of the Saudis’ top spook.

Pardo and Sultan weren’t in Aqaba to soak up that warm winter sunshine.  This is the second such meeting that I’ve reported between them over the past few weeks.  The source of the story is supposedly the “Jordanian government.”  You have to ask yourself if two well-known intelligence chiefs of supposedly hostile nations want to meet secretly, why choose a Jordanian hotel?  No, I’d say they wanted their meeting to be known.  Perhaps not known throughout the world, but certainly known to the intelligence agencies in certain capitals like Tehran and Washington.  The fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia may be plotting God knows what behind the back of the P5+1 states is supposed to give Obama, Rouhani and the other pause before they sign that so-called sweetheart deal.  But will it?

That brings us to the next story, published in the Sunday Times and covered by all the Israeli press.  This report claims that Saudi Arabia and Israel are actually plotting to go to war against Iran if a deal is struck.  Before we get hot and bothered about this, let’s consider the source: the story was written by Uzi Mahnaimi.  He appears to be an outlet favored by some elements of Israeli intelligence (he himself is a former military intelligence officer who retired in 1984).  But worse than that, many of his stories seem either made up out of whole cloth or at least extremely dubious.  He and Marie Colvin co-authored a story for the Sunday Times in 1998, which appeared based in a science fiction scenario penned by an Israeli scientist, claiming that Israel had created an “ethno-bomb” that would target specific Arab genetic weaknesses.  Mahnaimi appeared not to know the plot he was reporting was fictional and the report, a hoax.  Both he and Colvin have never spoken about the report or explained it.  Thus in fact, if Mahnaimi predicted something would happen, I’d feel comfortable betting it wouldn’t.

So the Sunday Times reporter tells us breathlessly that Saudi Arabia is “all in” for such an attack.  The Arab state has offered rights to its own airspace for overflight.  It’s supposedly offered to base Israeli drones and helicopters in the country to use as support vehicles.

But let’s try to look at this realistically: would Israel attack Iran after six major nations just signed a nuclear deal with Iran?  Yes, I can understand voicing your extreme displeasure in every way possible.  But send in the F-16s and bunker busters?  Truly, it IS possible that Bibi might do this.  He is crazy and reckless enough to try it.  But will he?  Is he willing to be Samson toppling the pillars of the Philistine temple in order to kill his tormentors?  My bet is that he isn’t.  He would risk leaving Israel as the odd man out not just opposing an agreement negotiated under international auspices, but wrecking such a deal with a military attack on Iran.

Is Bibi that reckless?  Nahum Barnea, Israel’s best-known columnist, writes that the prime minister enters every crisis like a champion weightlifter and exits like a crumbled candy bar.  So no, my bet is that Israel is all bluff and holding very few good cards.  Further, the fact that they chose Mahnaimi to publish this report, with his record, casts even greater doubt.

Larry Cohler Esses, writing for the Forward, argues correctly that Israel is increasingly left with little or no leverage to influence events related to Iran:

Unfortunately for Israel, its position on this point [Iran’s right to enrich uranium] remains frozen in time: zero-enrichment, and only zero-enrichment, is acceptable when it comes to Iran.

As one Israeli foreign ministry official put it to me, “Enrichment is unacceptable, period. Because we don’t believe it’s for peaceful purposes. Why would Iran need nuclear energy when they have the second largest oil reserves in the world?”

…This stance risks driving Israel further into international isolation. But it’s even worse; unlike the Palestinian issue, this issue is not one on which the United States or other Western countries accept that Israel is the key negotiating partner. Unless Israel’s supporters in Congress succeed in upending the whole premise the administration accepts as the basis for these talks — as Israel hopes they will — Netanyahu will simply get left in the dust as the rest of the world moves forward — and quite quickly at that.

Most importantly, Israel’s position will leave it with no way to influence the issues that actually are being discussed by those who are at the table — issues in which it has a crucial interest.

Pres. Obama understands that in order to get this deal he will have to, if not abandon Israel, then show a clear demarcation between the Israeli government’s perceived interests and our own.

Coher-Esses’ piece is prescient I think in warning that if there is a nuclear deal, then pressure against Israel to come to terms with the Palestinians will mount exponentially.  Netanyahu has always argued that Iran is the most important (“existential”) issue for Israel.  That any other issue, like the Palestinians, should take a back seat till Iran is resolved.  Once that happens there will be no further excuses for inaction (though Bibi will try to find many or any).  This could be another reason Bibi hates the idea of a deal with Iran so much.

Returning to Mahnaimi’s story, what astonishes me is that virtually every major Israeli paper republished this nonsense as if it was God’s honest truth.  That bespeaks either their desperation to cover every bit of this story; or their gullibility (or both).

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{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Joel November 17, 2013, 7:55 AM

    Suppose that the unthinkable according to your article happens and Iran does detonate a nuclear weapon on Israel and 500,000 humans disappear in death and then the fact that this radiation will poison the Land for thousands of years.How will you apologize, how will you atone for what you have spoken. Why do we not see an article from תיקון עולם
    speaking about the Iranian hate for Israel and their goal of destroying the Jewish people. There is more information from the Iranians concerning this from their own mouths than for Israel being the bad guy. If BiBi is so intent why has he now attacked why the diplomacy. I do not understand your logic .

    • William Burns November 18, 2013, 3:29 AM

      Really, Joel? You have a quote from an Iranian leader speaking about the goal of destroying the Jewish people? Link, please? You do know that Iran has the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel, and although they are discriminated against the regime hasn’t taken any steps to “destroy” them?

      • Kennedy was right peace is what we need December 31, 2013, 3:50 AM

        Dear William you are absolutely right. I couldn’t agree more with you on this matter.
        unfortunately the world is plagued by more people who entertain the sick mind that Joel seems to be enjoying.

        John Fitzgerald Kennedy saved our world in a time when those idiotic military war mongers wanted to send our whole world to thy kingdom come. and here we are 50 years later after Kennedy gave his life for us, some stupid idiots in politics want to do it again. Only this time there is no JFK to intervene in this disaster awaiting to happen…

  • William Burns November 17, 2013, 8:00 AM

    The Saudi leadership are the only people in the Middle East more risk-averse than Bibi. The idea that they would both go to war with Iran in open defiance of a US president is laughable.

    • Fred Plester November 18, 2013, 3:59 AM

      “Open Defiance of a US President” grandly makes it sound as
      if the USA still had the influence it always had. It doesn’t. The
      Saudis won’t go to war as eagerly as the Israeli press and
      government would like to think (it really is fantasy), but that’s
      because they will make a careful calculation of the rights and
      wrongs, as well as the balance of interests, first. There was a
      time when the opinion of the US Government might have swayed them
      in either direction, but the US Government shutdown (still
      basically unresolved) is just one of many factors which are in the
      process of liberating the Saudis and all the Gulf States from any
      awe of Washington. American national politics is such a pitiable
      farce that talk of America’s international influence borders on
      delusion. America is now seen as powerful but rudderless, rather
      like the Bismark just before HMS Rodney waded into her. The Saudi
      response to any deal done with Iran will be a measure of their
      prudence and their residual respect for the other world powers
      involved. It won’t be because they still feel disposed to respond
      amenably to President Obama shouting “heel!” at them. The only
      thing the Israelis are correct about, is that the USA has blown its
      influence with the Saudis*. But that doesn’t mean they will
      undertake a headlong rush to war on Israel’s behalf. *America’s
      influence with Japan and South Korea is staggering a bit, too. The
      great protector will be ditched very promptly when it becomes
      obvious that it dare not protect if the threat is Chinese or
      Chinese backed. The Far East matters a lot more than the Middle
      East.

      • William Burns November 18, 2013, 10:09 AM

        The decline of American influence is real, but I don’t think its quite gotten to that point yet. Saudi Arabia is a weak regime sitting on what is still an awful lot of oil. It needs a great power protector. Israel isn’t big enough and anyway has enough problems of its own. Additionally, an open alliance with the Zionist entity would destroy any Islamic legitimacy the Saudis still have (Al Qaeda recruiters will have their best year ever). China doesn’t have the global reach. Who else but the US?

        • Ari Greenfield November 19, 2013, 10:26 AM

          “Additionally, an open alliance with the Zionist entity would destroy any Islamic legitimacy the Saudis still have (Al Qaeda recruiters will have their best year ever).”

          This touches on a point I made earlier, but what do you mean by “Islamic legitimacy” of the Saudis?

          • William Burns November 19, 2013, 3:49 PM

            The Saudi government projects itself as a defender of Islam, Guardian of the Two Holy Shrines, rule in Islamic tradition by Islamic law, global patron of Sunni Islam, etc. and if it was seen as betraying Islam by openly allying with Israel, it would cause a major crisis of legitimacy for the regime.

          • Piotr Berman November 20, 2013, 1:15 AM

            Saudi’s are capable of organizing a bombing of Iranian embassy, and Israel, more pointed assassinations. But beneficial effects are not there.

            A direct attack on Iran could have very unpleasant consequences if Iran is not diplomatically isolated. Iran could close the traffic through the Strait of Hormuz until Israel pays reparations. Suppose that China and Russia urge to satisfy that as a reasonable demand. What next?

        • Fred Plester November 20, 2013, 3:59 AM

          Thanks to fracking, the great power with the greatest need
          for Saudi oil is now China. But it’s not policy to have a single
          great power protector, but to buy kit from two or more different
          great powers in order for the Saudis to defend themselves. I don’t
          think any Americans actually have a handle on how much things have
          changed in the past year. Even Max Hastings is having doubts about
          America’s future.

  • Oui November 17, 2013, 8:11 AM

    Agree fully with your analysis.

    Contingency plans are always in place, previously with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Murdoch’s ‘Sunday Times’ quotes diplomatic source … ’nuff said. More likely the Saudi Kingdom will get nukes delivered from Pakistan as a nuclear-free Middle-East is off the table.

    • Richard Silverstein November 17, 2013, 8:04 PM

      @ Oui: I read yet another stupid article in an Israeli publication saying that Pakistan has bespoke nukes which it tailor produces for client states like Saudi Arabia. All the Saudis need to do is put in their order & they get their very own nuke with “Destination Iran” name written all over it.

      • Fred Plester November 18, 2013, 4:04 AM

        They have a Chinese-built delivery system for nuclear
        weapons. A Pakistani source for the warheads is speculation, and I
        doubt that Pakistan has the industrial capacity needed to make an
        exportable surplus of nuclear weapons. It’s far more likely that
        the Saudis would make the warheads themselves, and they could adopt
        a much more sophisticated pathway to obtaining the necessary
        materials than was possible for Iran, or Pakistan. Its a big
        country with a lot of industrial technology.

      • Rehmat November 18, 2013, 1:34 PM

        Mark Urban, the pro-Israel diplomatic and defense editor at BBC came to the above conclusion based on statements made by self-professed Israel-Firsters like Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli military intelligence, Dennis Ross, former US ambassador at the United Nations, Simon Henderson, a director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an Israeli lobby group, Zionist Jew Gary Samore, Obama’s former WMDs Czar, and some “anonymous” (read Jewish/Zionist source) at the NATO and US State Department.

        The Six Million Dollar question is why would Saudi Arabia put its bet on ‘Iran-friendly’ Pakistan, and not on anti-Iran nuclear powers like United States and Israel? Saudi Arabia has bought over $300 billion military equipment from the United States during the last three decades. The Saudi ‘royals’ have also invested in the US over $3 trillion in bank deposits and realstate. The Saudi ‘royals’ and Israeli Netanyahu are sharing the same bed these days.

        http://rehmat1.com/2013/11/13/saudi-nukes-made-in-pakistan/

  • Oui November 17, 2013, 8:25 AM

    I have been hoping and praying this strategy to succeed … it is a tough road ahead but the bits of the puzzle need to fall in place. Of course president Hollande of France got the red-carpet treatment in Israel today.

    Obama and Kerry’s resolve on ME diplomacy

    Kerry and Lavrov have an excellent working relationship and are devoted to a political solution for the Syria crisis. Since the end of May, efforts of Kerry for diplomacy have been stymied from inside the White House. I suspect the NeoCon influence of National Security adviser Susan Rice as the culprit. Obama himself decided to step away from the brink of starting another prolonged war on a Muslim nation.

    STEP 1 – Resolve CW issue on Syria
    STEP 2 – Arms embargo and a political solution for Syria
    STEP 3 – Resolve nuclear issue of Iran with president Rouhani
    STEP 4 – Finalize a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine

    Obama made a courageous decision stepping away from 35 years of biased US policy on the Middle East. Angry Arab states Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar plus Turkey and Israel. Praise from Russia, Iran and Iraq (Maliki).

  • Ari Greenfield November 17, 2013, 1:48 PM

    I think this is another example of Israel and Saudi Arabia showcasing their displeasure w/ the White House (and to a lesser extent other Western allies) over Syria and Iran. I’d tend to agree that Bibi and Bandar (the Killer B’s?) will not actually launch a kinetic strike against Iran and I’d also agree that we cannot just summarily dismiss the idea either. I recently heard the commotion about the Iran issue likened to the stages of grief when a loved one passes away- denial, anger and finally acceptance- we are in the “anger” stage and will soon have to accept Iran with a bomb. I sincerely hope they are wrong about the last part but I can’t say that I’m all that optimistic- regardless of any agreement that might come out of P5 +1.

    However, I do think this hypothetical presents a fascinating question in both how Obama and the rest of the Arab League would respond to a joint Israeli-Saudi attack on Iran…

    • Yep November 18, 2013, 3:41 AM

      “However, I do think this hypothetical presents a
      fascinating question in both how Obama and the rest of the Arab
      League would respond to a joint Israeli-Saudi attack on Iran…”
      Answer: badly. It must be obvious to everyone – even Bibi – that
      the USA has made the decision that it is in the interests of US
      national security that this conflict be resolved by diplomacy. So
      while it is one thing for Israel to “defy” the USA by attacking
      some state here, or some arid territory there, it is quite another
      thing to drop a bomb on a country that is in intense diplomatic
      negotiations with the USA. And the reason why should be obvious: in
      the former case all that Israel is doing is bombing a bunch of
      foreigners, but in the latter case the Israelis won’t just be
      bombing Iran: they will also be dropping bombs on US national
      security. And that’s never wise, no matter who is doing
      it.

  • ToivoS November 17, 2013, 4:38 PM

    If I recall Israel has used the Times before to plant their bluffs before the world. This threat cannot be taken seriously.

    However, let us assume for a bit that there is a real Saudi-Israel alliance (hey, lets throw in France since they seem to be moving in this direction) that will launch a war against Iran. What can they do. The powerful Saudi marine corps launches a naval assault across the Persian Gulf and storm the beaches of Iran. Israel provided air cover. The French Navy and their amphibious shock troops join in. The US lets Iran know that we are not involved. Now the Iranians mobilize their guards and army (based on a population of 75 million people) to resist the invaders. The French would have to mobilize a million men to make it even possible to seize a few coastal points. The French public in patriotic fervor would rise up to the call of viva la France. This is just too nuts for words. Even if all three countries were willing to dedicate their GDPs for the next few years, the whole thing would end in humiliating defeat.

    • Ari Greenfield November 17, 2013, 5:31 PM

      As I understand it, they are not talking about a full scale invasion and regime change. Not to oversimplify things, but the “attack” only involves a few sorties directed at a small number of targets, designed to delay Iran’s nuke program for at least a decade. That’s why it cannot simply be dismissed, IMO.

      • Richard Silverstein November 17, 2013, 7:52 PM

        First, you can’t direct a “small number of sorties” to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. You’d need scores, if not hundreds of sorties. Even if you only wanted to destroy a single facility like Fordo or Arak, you’d need a large number of sorties to do so. Second, even the most optimistic forecasts by Israelis themselves acknowledge that they can only set the Iranians back in a solo attack by at most 5 yrs. But the true number is much more likely to be 1 to 3 yrs. if that. Ten years is a pipe dream.

      • ToivoS November 17, 2013, 9:19 PM

        A few sorties directed at a small number of targets would be like someone armed with a hat pin jumping into the lions cage and stabbing it in the ass. Not a good idea. Even if the Israelis are covering this action with 200 nuclear weapons. I can see nothing good coming out of that. Perhaps you kill the lion but the audience would react in ways that would not be beneficial to Israel or any of the fools they convinced to join them in the venture.

      • Riiiight November 18, 2013, 3:50 AM

        ” Not to oversimplify things, but the “attack” only
        involves a few sorties directed at a small number of targets,”….
        You know, the funny thing about wars is how much they resemble
        fisticuffs i.e. while it only takes one guy throwing a punch to
        *start* the fisticuffs, once it does start then both pugilists have
        to agree to drop their fists before the fighting *stops*. So what
        happens if Israel launches “a few sorties” at “a small number of
        targets” only to find that Iran has a very different idea about
        when, and under what circumstances – the fighting will stop? What
        happens if Bibi decides that he’s going to start a short, sharp
        war, only to find that the Iranians are only interested in a
        15-round bare-knuckle knock-em-down, last-man-standing fight to the
        finish? Or, in short: what if Bibi throws his best punch, then
        calls it quits only to find that the other side begs to
        differ…..

      • John Welch November 19, 2013, 4:36 AM

        In 2006, President Bush asked the Joint Chiefs to prepare a plan to bomb the Iranian nuclear sites. The US Air Force said that, yes, we could bomb, but that air attacks would miss some sites and only damage others. Ground troops would need to follow. The US Army and Marine Corps said, in effect, “That’s a joke”.

        Let’s note that Iran is about three times bigger than Iraq, that Iran has mountains and a coast from which anti-ship missles could be launched at anything floating in the gulf that a naval officer recently called “that bath tub”.

        Israeli tourist shops sell a tee-shirt that shows an F-16 with Israeli markings, and a slogan, “Don’t worry, America: Israel is behind you”. Does anyone believe that Netanyahu would like to be at the front of an occupation of Iran? Would Netanyahu enjoy fighting anything like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

  • Zachary Smith November 17, 2013, 8:05 PM

    Eliminating the possibility of ethnic weapons just because
    the source is a crackpot is probably a mistake. I’d expect the
    original ‘target’ of the program was the Palestinians, but they’re
    probably too much like the Jewish inhabitants of Israel for that to
    be workable. Iran is another matter entirely. Some sort of plague
    which killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians and sickened
    millions more – that’s something which certain people would do in a
    heartbeat if they could avoid getting fingered with definite proof.
    And they might do it and brag about it!

  • Rehmat November 18, 2013, 11:04 AM

    But, but, Ben Stein has claimed it’s all part of Barack Obama’s plan for the Second Holocaust!!!

    http://rehmat1.com/2013/11/18/ben-stein-obama-plans-second-holocaust/

  • Oui November 18, 2013, 11:50 AM

    Israel joined South Africa in development ABC weapons during apartheid years

    Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) at Nes Tsiona produces ABC weapons. Marcus Klingberg, IIBR’s deputy director, was arrested in 1983 and convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union. His arrest and sentencing was kept a secret for over a decade.

  • Oui November 18, 2013, 11:51 AM

    Israeli Bio-Weapons Institute Sued

    Israel’s Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), a top secret organization tasked with developing treatments to protect Israelis from chemical or biological weapons, but often accused of developing weapons of its own, risks exposure due to a lawsuit from a disgruntled former employee, Avisha Klein.

    The lawsuit was filed against the institute, its director Dr. Avigdor Shafferman, and the director of security at the Defense Ministry, according to Yossi Melman at Haaretz.

    From 1981 to 1993 the South African National Defense force developed bioweapons for the purpose of ‘suppressing population growth among blacks.’ See Dr. Basson and Project Coast.

  • Ari Greenfield November 19, 2013, 12:19 PM

    Not to veer off topic but I’m not sure where to post this but does anyone have any info on the bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Lebanon? BBC is claiming an AQ offshoot is the likely the culprit.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24997780

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