Washington was slowed by both a snow storm and the American holiday season. However, several reports came out on the Middle East and a major policy forum was held at the Brookings Institution on US/Israeli relations.
The Monitor Analysis looks at the leaked security arrangements between the US and Israel. Although no particulars have been released, the analysis sees them falling into three areas – creating constraints in the Iranian nuclear deal that Israel can live with, receiving tacit approval for an Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities if the deal fails, and overt US/Israeli security cooperation and intrusive measures on Palestinian land and sovereignty in any potential agreement that is currently under negotiation.
And, the Analysis looks at where Israel is focusing its efforts in terms of influencing the Geneva talks. It appears from reports from Geneva that Israel is focusing less on uranium enrichment than plutonium production and nuclear detonation technology – which, according to our analysis, implies that Israel has accepted the fact that Iran can build a 1st generation U-235 nuclear device, but wants to prevent them from building a more sophisticated, more portable 2nd or 3rd generation device that can easily fit on a missile.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
A forum was held at the Brookings Institution last week on US/Israeli relations that included Obama and Kerry. The 2013 Forum examined the political changes taking place across the Middle East, including the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran; and the deepening Syrian civil war and resulting humanitarian crisis. Forum speakers and participants discussed the implications of these events on U.S. interests in the region, U.S.-Israel relations and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Video highlights can be viewed by clicking on the link found at the end of the Monitor.
The CSIS writes about the negotiations with Iran. As with the Monitor analysis, they note that the negotiations must include Congress and the Israelis. They state, “Several forces drive Congress. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s critique that the deal is too permissive to the Iranians resonates with many, and others seek to check the president’s supposed instinct to compromise with enemies. Some Congressional leaders insist that their firm position gives the president leverage in negotiations with Iran, as the president can argue that some Iranian terms are unworkable because they would be unacceptable to Congress. But any such argument relies on the premise that there are conditions under which Congress would come along. To succeed at all with Iran, Iranians have to believe Congressional acquiescence is possible.”
The CSIS looks at Iran’s missile capability. It notes, “that a nuclear arms race already exists between Israel and Iran – albeit one where only Israel now has a nuclear strike capability. The practical problem this raises for Iran – and for stabilizing this arms race – is that it will face a possible Israeli first strike option until it can secure its nuclear armed forces. This pushes it towards a concealed or breakout deployment, and an initial phase where it would have to launch on warning or under attack until it has a survivable force. It then must compete with powers with far larger stockpiles which include boosted and thermonuclear weapons until it can create a more sophisticated force of its own. The options will result in a high-risk arms race, particularly during its initial years, for all sides and do so regardless of the level of containment.”
The Carnegie Endowment writes that Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is forming a political party, the National Party for Justice and the Constitution (Waad). Their analysis says it will fail and note, “The Muslim Brotherhood may genuinely seek to establish a viable, inclusive new party, but the ambiguity about Waad’s purpose and prospects bode poorly for it. The Brotherhood has never shaken off the perception that it pulls all the strings in the opposition’s exile platform, the Syrian National Council, and skeptical observers believe it will do the same with Waad. The attempt to make up for Waad’s lack of presence on the ground in Syria by stacking it with “nationalist figures” and other worthy “personalities” further reduces confidence in its ability to survive as an autonomous party. This is a shame, because Waad’s political program is an impressively detailed, 91-page document that touches transparently on every issue of importance to Syria’s political, economic, social, and administrative development in an admirably liberal framework. But the harsh truth is that Waad lacks the substance to become a viable, functioning party able to survive the current conflict.”
The Washington Institute looks at the security threat posed by the Syrian civil war refugee problem. They note, “Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said that Lebanon is facing a “crisis of survival” due to the influx of Syrian refugees, saying that “social tension will increase with the fierce competition for jobs and services.” Lebanon’s Interior Minister Marwan Charbel recently asserted that many refugees are in fact rebel fighters and therefore are a threat to Lebanon’s security. Hezbollah MP Walid Sukariya also remarked that refugees are carrying out “killing operations” targeting factions in Lebanon that support the Assad regime, while some are in the country to carry out “acts of sabotage.” Lebanese MP Sleiman Frangieh, another figure historically close to Syria, said that up to 50,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon carrying arms.”
The Carnegie Middle East Center asks about the foreign soldiers in Syria. When it comes to impacting the civil war, they note, “Many of the foreign fighters on the side of the rebels come in with very little battle experience and are first put through training camps…There are also veterans from places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Yemen, and Libya…Those who have had prior involvement in fighting have mattered on the battlefield, in training, and in strategy. The foreigner-dominated Muhajirin wa-Ansar Army, which is linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, was decisive in the takeover of the Menagh Air Base in August 2013. Foreigners also fought zealously in Latakia this summer, where they were involved in cleansing Alawites from captured areas. The foreigners are likely even more important for the regime. Those who have come into Syria at the behest of Iran are professional fighters. They have ample experience, either against Israel or against American forces in Iraq. Hezbollah’s participation was key for taking back the border town of Qusayr from the rebels in May and June 2013. Iraqi Shia militiamen have been helping to cleanse and starve out Sunni enclaves in the Ghouta region surrounding Damascus.”
The Washington Institute asks if Iran will lash out at Saudi Arabia? They reason, “the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will soon become a target for Iran, because while the al Qaeda-affiliated Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the Iranian embassy blast in Beirut, it is difficult to believe that Iran and Hezbollah will not retaliate against Saudi Arabia, as the chief backer of Sunni Muslims in Lebanon and the Sunni revolt in Syria. Indeed, Hezbollah officials including Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, as well as the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al Akhbar — whose articles frequently reflect the Shiite militia’s views — have attributed the bombing to a group tied to Saudi Arabia, suggesting that the Kingdom’s embassy, diplomatic personnel, or nationals in Lebanon or abroad could be the next targets. Should Tehran hit Riyadh, it could transform and broaden the ongoing Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen into a more overt, deadly, and destabilizing conflict.”
Kerry Offers Security Guarantees to Israel
As US Secretary of State John Kerry barnstormed the Middle East, it became clear that providing security guarantees to Israel would be a keystone in progress in Iranian and Palestinian negotiations. Without them, pro-Israel forces in the US Congress would make any deal nearly impossible.
The push began a few weeks ago when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu slammed the tentative Iran nuclear deal. In a case of damage control, Kerry visited Israel last week, spoke to the Brookings Institution on Saturday, and made a policy speech on the Middle East on Wednesday.
Kerry insisted last Thursday that Israel’s security is a top priority for Washington, both in nuclear talks with Iran and peace talks with the Palestinians. Kerry was in Israel for a day of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders aimed at breaking the logjam in the peace negotiations which stalled since they began in late July. He met for more than three hours with Netanyahu in what was their first face-to-face meeting since the controversial nuclear deal struck with Iran.
“I can’t emphasize enough that Israel’s security in this negotiation (with Iran) is at the top of our agenda,” Kerry said at a joint news conference in Jerusalem. “The United States will do everything in our power to make certain that Iran’s nuclear program of weaponization possibilities is terminated.” Kerry also stressed the two men had spent “a very significant amount of time” discussing the peace talks with the Palestinians. “Israel’s security is fundamental to those negotiations,” he said.
The most important issue as far as Israel goes is the negotiations with Iran. Iran’s nuclear capability poses a larger threat in Israel’s eyes than Palestine, and Israel appears to be holding this issue over the heads of the Western negotiators in Geneva. If Israel is not happy with the Iranian deal, there is no hope of a Palestinian deal or an Iranian deal that passes muster with Congress.
Consequently, Israel has become a “behind the scenes” partner in the Iranian talks as they have had considerable input on what they consider to be acceptable curbs in Iranian nuclear development according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Since the start of these talks between Iran and the P5+1 nations, Israel has been in continuous contact with the negotiating teams there, not only to keep itself updated but also in order to try and insert last-minute modifications to the agreement, and to prevent concessions to Iran in regard to its heavy water reactor in Arak. In return for this, the Israeli PM has curtailed his criticism of the deal with Iran.
Part of the promised American security commitment is the appointment of American General John Allen (USMC-Ret) as a special envoy for US/Israeli security issues. Kerry described Allen’s role as that of “assessing the potential threats to Israel, to the region, and ensuring that the security arrangements that we might contemplate in the context of this process, will provide for greater security for Israel”. Kerry said he and Allen had offered Netanyahu “some thoughts about that particular security challenge” in a couple of discussions. According to a report in Maariv newspaper, Allen was to have outlined a “bridging proposal” which will enable Israel to reduce, as much as possible, its military presence in the Jordan Valley. However, they stressed that these were “ongoing” discussions, not the presentation of a plan. In his remarks at Saban Forum last week Kerry disclosed the wider range of the security work that he tasked Gen Allen to embark on:
“General Allen is joined by dozens – literally, I think there are about 160 people: military experts, intel experts and others working to analyze this so what we put on the table is deadly serious, real, because these stakes are real. And we have highly qualified defense officials working with dozens of organizations in the United States, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the Defense Security and Cooperation Agency; the Defense Threat Reduction Agency; DARPA, which is the Pentagon’s research arm that created the Internet; not to mention the Joint Staff and the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. They’re all hard at work, analyzing what began, frankly, back in 2011 as a preliminary analysis was made, and now is becoming state of the art as we ramp it up for this possibility of peace. They’re all hard at work in close consultation with their IDF counterparts. And we will engage in further close evaluation with Shin Bet, with Mossad, with every aspect, and with the Palestinians – and with the Palestinians, which is critical.”
Although the Iranian nuclear issue is seen as the most important, there are voices in Israel that warn that a Palestinian agreement must be reached. In fact the focus on Iran was heavily criticized by a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, Yuval Diskin.
“The consequences of not having a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more existential than the Iranian nuclear project,” Yuval Diskin told a conference in Tel Aviv.
“Israel must freeze settlement building immediately” in order to reach a much-needed agreement with the Palestinians, Diskin said.
Despite Diskin’s comments, it is clear that the key to any peace accord must primarily address Israel’s concerns about Iran.
What an American Israeli Security Agreement Would Address
In addition to the security measures at the expense of Palestinians outlined previously and considering past Israeli concerns and the science of nuclear weapons, it is likely that the following will comprise the bulk of the agreement – what guarantees and restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program come out of the Geneva talks, what the US secretly agrees to allow Israel to do militarily to Iran ) hypothetically) if the deal falls through, and what the US will tangibly do to support Israeli security.
Israel knows that Iran has crossed the uranium enrichment line, but wants to limit further advancement. This means Israel has tacitly accepted that Iran can build a first generation nuclear device, but wants to keep them from developing a second generation device.
As Israel sees it, first generation nuclear device using uranium 235 would be very difficult to load on current long range Iranian missiles since they weigh much more (the American first generation atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima weighed about 4.5 tons – this is not indicative of the final weight of an Iranian 1st gen nuclear device, but shows that 1st generation uranium devices are not as sophisticated and miniaturized as 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation designs).
According to reports, Israel’s focus has shifted from concern about enrichment to other technologies that would make an Iranian nuclear device more practical. That’s one reason why the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor has become so critical. Heavy water reactors are critical to the production of plutonium, a nuclear weapons material that is critical to the development of smaller and more sophisticated second and third generation nuclear weapons. By stopping the Arak nuclear plant, Israel can help limit Iran to the development of a first generation nuclear device.
Israel is also focusing on nuclear detonation devices. Unlike uranium 235, which can be triggered in a very simple gun/target device, plutonium must be triggered by imploding it with a sophisticated array of detonators and explosives that can crush a plutonium sphere into a critical mass. Eliminate the detonator technology and Iran faces considerable problems constructing a plutonium device. That makes the development of thermonuclear devices and warheads small enough to fit into a missile much harder.
Of course, these demands don’t detract from Israel’s desire to limit Iran’s enrichment program – especially the enrichment to weapons grade. Israel asked that world powers insist the agreement committed Iran to convert all of its 190 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium into oxide, which cannot be used to develop nuclear weapons. This will slow, but not stop Iranian development of a first generation nuclear device.
ISRAELI “FANTASY SCENARIO” OF MILITARY ATTACK
Israel would also want some sort of guarantee that they could act militarily if Iran breaches the agreement. This wouldn’t be publicized or put on paper, but would be critical to receiving tacit Israeli agreement to any Iranian deal.
Such guarantees would probably contain several assurances. First would be that the US would not initiate any sanctions against Israel (or neighboring nation that allows Israel to use their airspace) for carrying out an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities if Iran abrogates the agreement. The second is that US forces in the Arabian Gulf would “look the other way,” if such an attack were launched. Finally, Israel would want access to special American munitions like bunker busters to be able to carry out such an attack.
The final aspect to Israeli agreement would be a larger American/Israeli military cooperation. This would include joint military exercises as has been scheduled in a few months. However, it would undoubtedly include additional military aid in areas like anti-missile defense for both short range and long range missile threats. This would also help encourage Israel to soften its stance in its dealings with the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian Deal goes through Tehran and Geneva
The reason Kerry is emphasizing Israeli security is that it is the hinge on which the whole Obama/Kerry Middle East policy hangs. An agreement with Iran on nuclear development that doesn’t’ receive tacit Israeli approval (at the least) is bound to fail as a pro-Israel US Congress pushes for more Iranian sanctions, which would abrogate the agreement from the Iranian point of view. This, in turn would hinder working with Iran on solving Syria’s internal/regional war.
This forces Kerry to balance the desires of both Israel and Tehran in order to get a deal. At this point this means allowing Iran uranium enrichment capability and the road to a first generation nuclear device. However, Israel will draw the line at allowing Iran access to technology that gives them the ability to build second generation nuclear devices that are much more portable and pose a greater threat to Israel.
But, Israel will not agree to this unless they have a military option. Although they are aware that Obama will not want them to strike Iran, they will insist that they will retain the right to do so. If the US fails to recognize that, rest assured that Israel will work to sabotage the agreement in Congress.
Finally, Israel will want a higher profile American security presence, especially given the bad relations between Obama and Netanyahu over the last few years. That will make Iran more willing to adhere to any agreement and open the door for a security agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
Kerry has his work cut out for him. American Middle Eastern policy requires an Iranian nuclear deal coming out of Geneva – one that Iran agrees to and one that Israel can live with. That requires an Israeli security agreement – one that Israel agrees to and one that the Palestinian Authority can live with. Whether the pieces can come together has yet to be seen.
Three Negotiations on Iran
By Jon Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 11, 2013
Reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran over the country’s nuclear program will be tough for President Obama. Even successful bilateral negotiations would only be the first step, because in fact, his negotiations with Iran are actually three sets of interconnected negotiations. One set is with Iran, one is with Congress, and the third is with partners in the P5+1. Succeeding with the Iranians without succeeding on the other two fronts would leave the United States and its allies far less secure than if Obama had not negotiated at all. For all of the focus on the complexity of negotiating with the Iranians, those negotiations are relatively straightforward. The president’s emissaries are in direct discussions with Iranian government officials, and the parameters of the discussions are known. Iran is seeking sanctions relief, and the United States—with its allies—is seeking verifiable guarantees that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.
Iran and The Gulf Military Balance II: The Nuclear and Missile Dimensions
By Anthony Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
December 9, 2013
Volume II: The Nuclear and Missile Dimensions addresses missiles in terms of their capabilities in conventional and asymmetric warfare, as well as U.S., Arab Gulf, and allied options for missile defense. At the same time, it analyzes Iran’s nuclear and other WMD programs, Tehran’s possible use of nuclear-armed missiles, and U.S., Arab Gulf, and Israeli options for deterrence, containment, and preventive strikes. The report shows that Iran’s current missile and rocket forces help compensate for its lack of effective air power and allow it to pose a threat to its neighbors and U.S. forces that could affect their willingness to strike Iran should Iran use its capabilities for asymmetric warfare in the Gulf or against any of its neighbors.At another level, Iran’s steady increase in the number, range, and capability of its rocket and missile forces has increased the level of tension in the Gulf, and in other regional states like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. Iran has also shown that it will transfer long-range rockets to “friendly” or “proxy” forces like the Hezbollah and Hamas.
Uncertain Future for the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s Political Party
By Yezid Sayigh and Raphaël Lefèvre
December 9, 2013
With the death and destruction in Syria ongoing, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is forming a political party, the National Party for Justice and the Constitution. Known by its acronym, Waad—“promise” in Arabic—the party is meant to represent the Brotherhood, currently in exile, in an eventual democratic transition. Describing itself as “a national party with an Islamic framework [marjaiyyah] that adopts democratic mechanisms in its programs,” Waad is in theory open to all segments of Syrian society. The Brotherhood’s concern to showcase its commitment to inclusive, pluralist politics and to reiterate its identity as a “centrist” Islamist organization is commendable given the growing radicalization and sectarianism in Syria. But delivering on its promise will prove a tough challenge. Religious and ethnic minorities as well as secular Sunni Muslims are likely to dismiss Waad as a mere facade for the Brotherhood.
An Unregulated Security Threat
By Andrew J. Tabler
December 10, 2013
As more and more Syrians flee to neighboring Lebanon, the situation there is a growing national security concern not only for Lebanon, but the entire region. While Hezbollah and Iran are supporting the Assad regime in Syria, their increased vulnerability in Lebanon should give them pause, as the recent bombing of the Iranian embassy and the assassination of Hezbollah operative Hassan al-Laqis show. Instead of continuing their carte blanche support for Assad, the Party of God and Iran have increased reason to constrain him, not only through the international effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, but also via a future political settlement in which the Assad family cabal “steps aside” in favor of a viable transitional government that can truly end the conflict.
Is Iran Set to Lash Out at Saudi Arabia?
By David Schenker
December 10, 2013
The November 19 double suicide bombings of the Iranian embassy in Beirut may have looked shocking in the headlines — they killed 23 people. But they also should not have come as a surprise. Since 2011, Tehran has earned its karma in Lebanon. The attack, whose victims included an Iranian diplomat, was likely payback for the Shiite theocracy’s unwavering support for the Bashar al-Assad regime’s brutal repression of the largely Sunni uprising in Syria. Aided by Iranian troops, weapons and its Lebanese Shiite proxy militia Hezbollah, over the past three years, al-Assad’s government has killed tens of thousands of mostly Sunni Syrians. The real question is what comes now — and I expect a surge in regional violence. Paradoxically, the international “first step” nuclear agreement with Iran increases rather than diminishes the chances that the Shiite theocracy in Tehran will take steps that exacerbate the regional sectarian conflict.
Who Are the Foreign Fighters in Syria?
Interview of Aaron Y. Zelin
Carnegie Middle East Center
December 5, 2013
On the side of the Sunni Arab rebels, a conservative estimate would place the number of foreigners at 5,000 individuals, while a more liberal estimate could be upward of 10,000. These totals are for the entire conflict, not necessarily how many are currently on the ground there. Many of them have been killed, arrested, or have since returned home. The speed of this mobilization is unprecedented, compared to for example the foreigners who fought against the United States in Iraq or the Soviets in Afghanistan. The majority comes from the Arab world, with Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Tunisia in the lead — although the number of Iraqis could be higher than what’s publicly known. The second-largest grouping is Western Europeans, especially from the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Additionally, there are some from the Balkans, the Caucasus, and many other places. By my count, we’ve seen Sunni fighters from more than 60 countries. There has also been an unprecedented number of foreigners coming in to fight for Assad’s regime. While the Sunni jihadis are coming in through informal networks, most of the pro-Assad fighters are Shia Muslims who believe in the teachings of Iran’s former religious and political leader Ayatollah Khomeini and are directed through Iran’s state-sponsored apparatuses.
Saban Forum 2013—Power Shifts: U.S.-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East
December 6-8, 2013
On December 6-8, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted its 10th annual Saban Forum, titled “Power Shifts: U.S.-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East.” This year’s event featured webcasted remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.