Three of the major news stories of the week are: the firing/resignation of John Bolton, precipitated by a Trump-concocted plan to ease Iran sanctions in order to facilitate a meeting with Iran’s Pres. Rouhani; and Israeli prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu’s exposure of an alleged Iranian secret nuclear facility.
After months of increasing friction between Trump and his national security advisor, Bolton tendered his resignation. The president suggested that they both “sleep on it” and revisit the issue later. The next morning Bolton followed through and submitted a written resignation. Which spurred Trump to tweet that he’d fired his fiery hawk advisor.
As background, it was Bolton who urged Trump to initiate a coup against the Maduro government in Venezuela. He’d similarly urged the president to attack Iran after it downed a U.S. drone which entered Iranian airspace. Bolton vehemently opposed the North Korea summits with Kim Jong Un and the proposed summit with Iranian Pres. Hassan Rouhani. He also disputed the later shelved plan to bring the Taliban and Afghan president to Camp David to sign a peace agreement.
Bloomberg reports that the immediate precipitating event for Bolton’s leaving was a plan concocted by Trump to ease Iran sanctions in order to set up a meeting with Iran’s President at the UN next month. You’ll recall that French Pres. Macron at the G-7 meeting summoned Iran’s foreign minister. At that time, they discussed the possibility of such a meeting. It isn’t clear whether Trump was to meet Javad Zarif at the G-7; or whether they were laying the groundwork for a later meeting with Rouhani at the UN. Zarif flew home and it wasn’t clear exactly what was discussed or what, if anything, would come of the impromptu meeting.
This was followed by the White House discussion on Monday during which Bolton adamantly opposed any softening of the U.S. position toward Iran. Recall that it was Bolton who demanded the Joint Chiefs draw up a plan to invade the country and overthrow the regime. He also advocated attacking Iran after it downed a U.S. drone that had strayed into Iranian airspace. According to Bloomberg, Bolton had enough when he saw that Trump was serious about pursuing a meeting with Rouhani.
Though it’s by no means certain that Trump foreign policy will change in any appreciable way with the firebrand Bolton off the scene, his firing does open up possibilities which were hitherto unthinkable, including the Iran summit. None other than Netanyahu told Haaretz that such a meeting was imminent:
A meeting between the U.S. and Iranian presidents is just about a done deal. That is the growing conclusion in Israel’s security establishment after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Asper in London Thursday…
A presumption is taking shape that…the sides are gradually growing ready for a meeting, possibly on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York at the end of the month.
It’s interesting that the first word of such a meeting came well before the U.S. media began speculating about it. Netanyahu, ever one to leak privileged information when it’s to his benefit, beat the world to the scoop. He either learned of the planned Trump-Rouhani meeting from Asper himself or from Israeli intelligence, which is known to keep close tabs of internal U.S. policy deliberations. The Israeli premier obviously had no compunctions about getting ahead of the news and seeking an angle he could exploit in revealing a development he viewed as adverse to Israeli interests.
Trump appears ready to roll up his sleeves and delve into the Iran imbroglio. In fact, he said he could solve the Iran problem “in 24 hours.”. What Trump thinks or wants to happen is one thing. But the Iranians will not offer him a golden media opportunity on the world stage for nothing. Rouhani himself has made clear that he will not meet with the U.S. president until the latter either rejoins the JCPOA or relieves the punishing sanctions inflicted on Iran.
It remains to be seen whether what Trump offers is enough to satisfy the Iranians that there is some reason to reciprocate. I’m personally very doubtful. Look at what happened when the Taliban balked at Trump’s invitation to Camp David. He petulantly announced that he’d called the meeting off because the Taliban had behaved badly. Further, Trump thought a few summits with Kim Jong Un would break 70 years worth of war and hostility and persuade North Korea to dismantle it’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The U.S. president had a rude awakening when Kim told him: not so fast. First eliminate sanctions, then I’ll talk to you about my weapons. Trump went home empty-handed. Will history repeat itself?
Bibi Bombshell a Dud–the Secret Iran Nuclear Weapons Site That Wasn’t
A week before a contentious national election, Bibi Netanyahu pulled an Iranian rabbit (of sorts) out of his hat. He stood before the world and, doing his best Emile Zola J’Accuse impersonation, accused Iran of hiding a top-secret nuclear weapons site. The sole evidence he offered were two pictures of the Abadeh facility, one showing a group of buildings from a satellite image and the other purportedly the same site with no buildings. From the juxtaposition of these two images, we’re meant to believe that Israel, which first learned of the existence of the site from the trove of documents it purportedly stole from an unguarded Tehran warehouse, knows it was a nuclear site because the buildings were destroyed. The disappearance of the facility signifies, to Bibi at least, that the Iranians know they’ve been caught and are seeking to erase evidence.
Though Israel claims to have alerted the IAEA to the facility shortly after it retrieved the Tehran “haul,” it did not expose the site to the world (as it once did the Fordo nuclear site) until it saw that the buildings at the site were destroyed. It learned about this in July. Yet waited conveniently until a week before the Israeli election to let the world know about Iran’s alleged perfidy.
Further, given that the IAEA may inspect any site in Iran whenever it wishes, it certainly has visited Abadeh and monitored it for any evidence of radioactive contamination. If it had found there was, it would certainly have notified member states, including the U.S. There is no doubt that John Bolton, had he got wind of such evidence, would have shouted it from the highest rooftop. But he didn’t. Because the IAEA likely found nothing.
The Times article notes that the IAEA has released no statement about Netanyahu’s claims. If it knew something that corroborated his claims, it certainly would have spoken out. I have e-mailed the group’s press office with a series of questions about the facility. When or if I receive a response I will include it here.
Why is Netanyahu behaving like Chicken Little, warning the world that the sky is falling? First, you have to understand Bibi’s political MO. He’s a whiner. He complains so incessantly that people will do anything either to shut him up or tune him out. His whining drones on so repetitively that it becomes something like hypnosis. His audience by sheer dint of repetition, comes to believe there is truth in what he bitches and moans about.
The other active ingredient of Netanyahu’s political MO is fear. He also enjoys pre-empting his enemies by anticipating their actions and warning the world what they’re about to do. It doesn’t matter whether they really intend to do it or not. By exposing their ‘nefarious’ plans he strikes first, and paints them in the worst possible light. That’s why Netanyahu revealed that Trump was without doubt going to meet Rouhani. Following that revelation, he can now tell the world the enormous error Trump is about to make. He can point out the danger Iran poses to the world. He can warn his ‘good friend,’ Pres. Trump, that he’s about to lose his shirt under the crafty gaze of the Iranian bazaar merchants who size up their mark before pouncing and taking him for everything he’s worth.
Almost as if on cue, within hours Trump had told a news crew that he had nothing against the idea of meeting Rouhani. Given the president’s mercurial nature such statements mean little unless concrete steps are announced confirming a real plan.
Another goal of Bibi’s announcement concerning the Abadeh facility is to offer further ammunition to the war hawks arguing against rapprochement with Iran. How can a U.S. president sit down with an Iranian leader hiding nuclear weapons right under his nose?
Bibi is like the black-caped magician performing his act before rapt onlookers. But at the climactic moment, when the audience holds its breath expecting him to draw the rabbit out in a sweeping gesture of triumph, the magician pulls a bedraggled skunk out of his hat. Instead of being bedazzled, the audience holds its nose in disgust.
An irony rarely mentioned in these media reports is that Israel, which has between 200-400 nuclear weapons stockpiled depending on which source you consult, is not a member of the Non Proliferation Treaty or of the IAEA. Yet it warns the world about Iran, which has no nuclear weapons and is a signatory of NPT and a member of the IAEA.
Dennis Ross: Adding a Patina of Respectability to Israeli Saber-Rattling
Even more effrontery comes from long-time U.S. Middle East-hand, Dennis Ross, who tweeted the following on behalf of his Israel Lobby paymasters:
Israeli PM reveals new site where Iranians conducted weapons related experiments. IAEA must investigate the site to see if radioactive residue is there. Exposing Iran for having pursued nuclear weapons when they still claim they never did so is essential to isolate politically.
— Dennis Ross (@AmbDennisRoss) September 9, 2019
First, Ross accepts the Israeli claim that Iran conducted “weapons related experiments” there, without any evidence to substantiate it. He follows by demanding the IAEA investigate, when he knows that the international body has already done so. Finally, he claims Iran “pursued nuclear weapons” when both the IAEA itself and the CIA have repeatedly affirmed that Iran dismantled its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has never restarted it.
Why would Ross, who presumably is an intelligent person, continue advancing such lies? Well, you’d have to dig a little deeper to plumb the unsavory depths of the DC think-tank culture. Ross works for the highest bidder. One day it may mean writing a pro-Saudi op-ed for The Hill which nets $10,000 from Erik Prince-wannabe, Elliott Broidy. The next day it might be a highly-remunerative speech (in the $50,000-100,000 range) to an Israel Lobby conference or fundraising event.
Ross offers Netanyahu and his government intellectual cover for their outrageous claims about Iran. The Beltway pundit sells his cachet and status as a DC insider. It’s the political equivalent of money laundering. Instead of dirty cash, you take dirty ideas and lies and launder them through the Ross spin cycle and they come out looking sparkling clean and fit for wholesale consumption.
Iran as Useful Election Tool for ‘Mr. Security’ to Exploit
But the main purpose of Bibi’s anti-Iran revelations is to frighten the Israeli electorate as they prepare to go to the polls on September 17th. After four terms, Israelis are tiring of the same-old, same-old offered by their prime minister. There are parties even farther to the right than the Likud which offer a compelling alternative with fresher younger faces. Netanyahu knows the main threat comes from the blandishments of these far-right rivals, who could bleed off enough votes to allow the centrist Blue and White party to slip into power.
The main weakness of these challengers is that they’ve never been prime minister. They’ve never been under pressure or faced a terror attack. If Bibi can gin up such ominous threats and show he’s fighting them tooth and nail, he will draw these voters back to him, as the only figure trusted enough to know how to respond when Israel faces an existential threat. That’s why Israel attacked four Arab countries in two days last week. It’s why the foreign minister announced that Israel’s navy will be patrolling waters off Yemen interdicting Iranian weapons intended for the Houthis. It’s why he needs to gin up an Iranian bogeyman where none exists.
The more threats, the more fear, the more likely Israelis will vote for him. During the 2015 election, he took to Facebook and falsely warned that Obama had rented buses to bring Arabs to the polls in droves in order to engineer an Arab-leftist coup against him. It’s shameless, but it appears to work. It’s likely to work next week as well and bring him an unprecedented fifth term.