Tag Archives: nuclear weapons


BLOG  497

December 7, 2020


Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.


The story of the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh gripped the world.  The killing came soon after the similar demise of their top general Qasem Soleimani. Iran charged America and Israel were behind the attacks. However, the immediate speculation has been that the  killing of  Faknrizadeh was done by Israel’s secret agents.

Iran accused Israel of carrying out the November 27 hit, and threatened revenge. Israel, which has been linked to a succession of killings of Iranian nuclear scientists, has not publicly commented on the allegations that it was responsible. It has warned its citizens traveling abroad that they may be targets of Iranian terror attacks in the wake of the killing.

Is there an inside story?  One suggestion is that the attack was actually a response to President-elect Biden’s announcement of America rejoining the agreement to halt Iranian use of nuclear materials. The sudden attack was meant to throw a monkey wrench into those plans. That’s one idea.  However the following come from inside Israel straight from this weeks The Times of Israel.

Israel intelligence managed to recruit an Iranian official close to the recently assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and recorded the nuclear scientist speaking about his efforts to produce “five warheads” on behalf of the Islamic Republic.  This top-secret recording was played in 2008 by former prime minister Ehud Olmert for then-president George W. Bush during Bush’s visit to Israel and was a key element in convincing the Americans to step up efforts to combat Iran’s nuclear program according to ,the report. Olmert was so concerned about safeguarding the source of the recording that he refused to play it while anyone else was in the room, including Bush’s national security adviser Stephen Hadley.

Olmert had just hosted a dinner at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and just before dessert, Olmert, Bush, Hadley and Barak, who was defense minister at the time, headed to a side-room where Barak asked Bush if the US could supply Israel with a series of weapons it did not have in its arsenal. They were believed to be vertical take-off and landing aircraft, along with bunker-busting bombs. According to Barak, Bush responded to the request by pointing at the defense minister and saying, “This guy frightens me  … “I want you to know the official position of the United States government. The US strongly opposes Israel taking action against the Iranian nuclear program.”

Bush read the recording’s translation and reacted with silence. The recording served as a “smoking atomic gun” for Olmert. The premier recognized that Bush would not sell Israel the weapons it was looking for, so he made a new request: full intelligence cooperation on the Iranian nuclear issue. When Bush agreed, Olmert decided to up the ante and proposed that the two carry out joint operations against Iran’s nuclear project. The president reportedly agreed to this as well, the report said.

Senior officials in Olmert’s office at the time said the recording served as a “defining moment” in the two countries’ joint effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

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BLOG 265 August 10, 2015

United States television commercials are beginning to heat up. One set of advertisements says, “Run from the Iran Negotiations.” The other side features Israeli generals who support the nuclear deal. You’d think they were selling soap or cars. Unfortunately, the politicians are currently turning the question into a political issue rather than dealing with the substance. Presidential candidate Huckabee recently made himself look foolish talking about Obama leading the Jewish people “into the ovens.”

So, what are the facts?

The first step is to develop a perspective on the problem. Let’s see if we can place some of the issues in a larger frame of reference.

1. We need crystal clarity about the meaning of this “deal.” Both Iran and Israel believe that Iran can develop a nucelar weapon after a relatively short ten year moratorium. Obama’s statements have been somewhat confusing and ambiguous. The public needs to know what is expected to happen at the end of the 10 year period.

  1. Iran has been and is a dangerous destabilizing force in the Middle East. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently made a statement that nothing in this deal improves their contempt for the United States and Israel. Can temporarily taking building a nuclear weapon off the table improve the terrorist threat Iran has been promoting? It has been argued that removing sanctions will release billions of dollars for more terrorist activities. Will it?

The only person who determines how this money will be spent is Khamenei. He has been clear about how he’d intend to use the cash and that’s not good.

3. There is a difference of opinion inside Israel about the Iranian deal. A number of military leaders disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Why is there a difference in point of view. Obviously, Netanyahu’s strong rhetoric doesn’t reflect the entire country. Who’s right?

A former brigadier-general and division head of the Shin Bet (Israel security agency) recently wrote that the State of Israel is not under any form of existential security threat at the present time. Lior Akerman maintains that even with the radical Islamic uprisings in the region,  Israel’s military situation is quite calm.  Neither Hamas nor the Palestinian authority pose a threat to Israel. In fact, Hamas’s financial situation is bleak.

In this current debate over the nuclear negotiations, Israel will generally be portrayed as struggling to survive a common enemy (although who that enemy is goes undefined) Many like Akerman would argue that Israel’s immediate problems are a faltering health care program, a debilitating school system, and a serious erosion of support from the United States. These voices would claim Netanyahu would do better to turn his attention to these issues rather than orchestrate a political war with the American administration.

Before we can come to a clear, final decision, the American public needs more clarification on these issues and less emotional and political rhetoric. Before you give in to your emotions, make sure your mind is informed. And it won’t be easy with all the smoke that’s in the air.

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            Iran appears ready to take the next step in nuclear disarmament.  This past weekend United Nations experts were allowed to inspect the alleged possibility of that country working on nuclear weapons. Walking a delicate line, the six world powers do not want to push too hard for fear Iran might retreat back under its dome of secrecy. At this point, Iran’s position appears to be firmly set for forward progress.

            A meeting is now on the calendar for Iran and the West to meet on February 18, to turn the interim deal into a permanent agreement. If this is achieved, it will be a significant step forward for stability in the Middle East. At the same time, distrust remains high and suspicions have not been quieted. Inside Iran, the hard-liners are not satisfied. Only reformers and moderate conservatives seem to welcome the agreement.

The hard-liners remain an unhappy crew. The current government keeps putting out propaganda to make these resistors happy, but little of it has to do with what they have now agreed to endorse.  Up to this point, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has supported the nuclear negotiating team’s position. The problem for President Hassan Rouhani is to convince the dissidents that issues of national sovereignty have not been compromised.

Iran has agreed to stop uranium enrichment at 20 percent. Critics note that this level is frightening close to weapon grade. Iran will be allowed to continue to upgrade to 5%. They will oxidize half of their stockpile of 20 percent uranium and dilute the remaining half to 5 % value. These figures may not be what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted, but they are a giant leap forward in stopping Iran from turning the entire Middle East into a nuclear camp.

The reality in Tehran that has yet to manifest itself actually has little to do with the current sanctions. Opening up the global electronic banking system will be a great asset. However, their economy is struggling for additional reasons and not likely to improve quickly. The average family does well to have meat once a week. This will not change. Sanctions dropped oil revenues in a decade by 60%. Strangely enough, although Iran has the fourth largest oil deposits in the world, they must import refined oil because they lack modern refineries. The lifting of sanctions will not improve this problem because the mullahs have not opened up Iran’s economy for fear of empowering the middle class. Thousands of university graduates still can not find jobs. Like the Communist Party was to the fading Soviet Union, the Revolutionary Guard remains privileged and despised, costing the economy money they can ill afford.

In other words, Iran is not out of the woods, but the world is better off.

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            Negotiators often note that a good agreement can be determined by discontent on both sides. When no one is completely happy, probably both positions are coming out about as good as can be expected. This seems to be the case with the Iran nuclear deal struck this weekend.

            Israel and Saudi Arabia aren’t happy campers. Iran has agreed to what Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said would never happen.

But are these terms good for the West? The question remains a matter of perspective. Secretary of State John Kerry is saying that Iran cannot be trusted and the inspection process will tell the tale. On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is reserving the right to make a military strike and declaring it is a bad deal. Since Iran has threatened Israel’s existence, Netanyahu’s concern is real and basic.

So, what do we have?

We discovered that the US and Iran have been in secret talks for several months. The exchanges were so clandestine that even Israel had no idea they were going on. These negotiations set the stage for this weekend’s agreement. Iran will curb its nuclear activities in exchange for limited and gradual relief from sanctions.

Critics in Congress point out that these accords exceed the United Nations guidelines. Far from dismantling a nuclear arms program, they only limit what Iran has been doing. On the other hand, Secretary Kerry points out this is only a first step and definite limits must be set or sanctions go back in place.

The one ingredient that gets Iran’s attention is sanctions. As their economy crumbles, the cost of nuclear empowerment becomes too high. The Obama administration has been correct in believing that sanctions could provide a non-military solution to the problem. Today’s issue is whether the United States has stopped too soon.

Critics will continue to point out that the United States let the enemy off the hook. The USA has been known to win the war and lose the negotiations.  These critics are an important part of the process and must keep after the Obama administration. With the healthcare debacle, the administration would be delighted to change the subject and have a victory to declare. The issue that remains is whether the deal is truly a victory.

At this point, America’s key allies are not only upset, but distrust American objectives. Balancing the good and the bad remains an issue. Diplomats will reply that a first step is better than no step at all. Unfortunately, only the future will answer that question.

Stay tuned.

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            On June 21, I posted a blog on the possibilities of a new wind blowing in Iran and considered possible interpretations of the presidential election of cleric Hassan Rowhani. I noted that his election as a moderate signaled a rebuke to the council of mullahs who actually run the country.

            One of the factors in the Obama administration’s posture toward Iran has been the conviction that the young people in the country might eventually overthrow the ruling class and the ultraconservatives that have held power in the country. An example of what could create rebellion is one of the harsh social realities in this Muslim dominated society. Reported by French-Iranian journalists Freidoure Sohesbjanil’s book La Femme Lapidee, this actual experience was made into the international award winning movie The Stoning of Soraya M. The powerful story reveals the Muslim custom of stoning a woman to death for adultery. In this true and factual story, Soraya is falsely accused by her husband so he can pursue another woman. She is hauled onto a mount of dirt and stoned by the men of the village (including her two sons). The scene burns into one’s mind the ugly tragedies that can follow in a religion controlled society.

Rouhani’s election is hopeful, but the race reflects how restrictive the Iranian society remains. Out of the 700 individuals that applied to run for the office of president, Supreme Leader Khamenei rejected 99% of them. The only person’s allowed to run had to reflect Ayatollah Khamenei’s view of politics and his interpretation of Islam. Rouhani barely squeaked through.

Hassan Rouhani is a former nuclear negotiator and is firmly entrenched inside the Iranian systems. While the Iranian people elected him partial because of his platform calling for improved relationships with the West, Rouhani still maintains a dangerous position on Iran’s nuclear program. It is known that Rouhani pushed negotiations with the West as a tactic to buy time for Iran to advance its nuclear program. He has encouraged the development of a nuclear weapon. He said in a 2006 speech that while negotiating with the Europeans, “we were installing equipment at the Isfahan site.”

The ultimate control of Iran’s nuclear policy is under the thumb of Supreme Leader Khamenei who has shown no signs of slowing the process down. His history demonstrates that he has repeatedly proposed talks only to buy time for the development of The Bomb.

The Iranians also elected Rouhani because of their hopes that improved conditions with the West would lead to the lessening of sanctions that have been highly painful for the society. However, the dreams of a better day must be based on the recognition that the West won’t bend until Iran suspends it’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. While the West can be hopeful that Rouhani is a step-forward, Westerns governments must be realist. Everyday that goes by without a halt in the pursuit of nuclear weaponry is another step toward a frightening disaster.

Surely, Rouhani understands that delay by the West only plays into their hands.

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            Recently, I reported the comments made by retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, while speaking at the University of Central Oklahoma. Colonel Wilkerson sounded the warning that America’s current posture in dealing with Iran could lead to war. At this point, America enforces an embargo on Iran’s oil shipments that has slashed the country’s oil revenues by 45%. No small impact there!

            With the colonels warning in mind, how do we gain reliable insight into where Iran actually is going? Not an easy task.

Interesting comments came out of Tehran this past Saturday that bare examination. The supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that Iran was not seeking nuclear weapons, but should they decide to build them, no “global power” could stop them. An interesting but contradictory message! The comments appeared to be aimed at the United States and Israel. Several years ago, the imam declared that building such weapons would be a horrendous sin, but now leaves this judgement behind. Sounds contradictory and certainly signals why the Iranians are not trusted around the world. You can’t speak out of both sides of your mouth and be credible.

The supreme leader told a group of visitors in his home that Iran held the conviction that all nuclear weapons around the world should be eliminated. He further stated that direct talks with the United States would not be possible because the USA was “pointing a gun at Iran.” He called on the USA to show logic in talking with Iran but didn’t spell out what he meant. In the past, the Iranian government has stated that talks are not possible as long as sanctions are in place. Under current conditions, the process remains stalled.

Equally intriguing was the Ayatollah’s criticisms of President Ahmadinejab for quarrelling with the speaker of Iran’s Parliament. What is going on behind the scenes? These combined episodes suggest that a power struggle continues in Iran with Khamenei insisting that he is still on the top of the heap. However, recent evidence suggests that the Revolutionary Guard are not small contenders in such a struggle.

One of the key problems the West faces with Iran is who should we really be talking with. Possibly Khamenei isn’t the man who actually controls the weapon making process. Moreover, President Ahmadinejad may not be in the driver’s seat either. If the actual power brokers are the military, then all bets are off on predicting where the struggle is actually going. One possible interpretation of the Ayatollah’s pronouncements was that he was actually talking to the Revolutionary Guard and reassuring them that he might not attempt to block further development of The Bomb. We know that Iran has sent military personnel into the civil war to save the Assad regime in Syria. Recent history appears to support the contention that the Iranian leadership love conflict and a good old fashioned war.

The bottom line? Iran continues to lack stability and is economically hurting. The man on the street is not happy with their national plight. The waiting game that been played by the Obama administration may prove to have more wisdom that meetss the eye.

Waiting could allow the Iranians to do themselves in.

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