Israel on Iran
A newly released State Department cable from November 2009 reveals the Israeli military's growing worries about Iran's nuclear weapons program and Tehran's support for regional terrorists in seeking "Hamastan" and "Hezbollahstan" enclaves.
During a meeting with Assistant Defense Secretary Alexander Vershbow, several Israeli defense officials said the Israelis "continued to emphasize that Iran represents the greatest strategic threat to the region, both its nuclear program and its 'axis' with Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas," according to the cable, which was published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
The cable, labeled "secret," stated that Israel continued to promote a worst-case scenario for Iran's nuclear arms program "emphasizing that the window for stopping the program (by military means if necessary) is rapidly closing."
According to Israeli Brig. Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of Defense Ministry intelligence analysis, Iran could have a nuclear weapon in one year and three weapons in 2 1/2 years.
"By 2012, Iran would be able to build one weapon within weeks and an arsenal within six months," the cable said, noting that "it is unclear if the Israelis firmly believe this or are using worst-case estimates to raise greater urgency from the United States."
A second official, Amos Gilad, head of the ministry's political military affairs unit, said nuclear weapons in the hands of the Tehran regime "would give Iran a free hand in supporting 'HAMAStan' in Gaza and 'Hezbollahstan' in Lebanon."
Mr. Gilad also said Saudi Arabia would definitely respond to an Iranian nuclear threat by obtaining a weapon with Pakistani assistance and that Egypt "almost certainly" would follow.
Mr. Gilad was less certain that Turkey would go nuclear in response to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.
"Regardless, the security situation in the region surrounding Israel would be dramatically altered should Iran acquire a nuclear weapons capability," the cable said.
"Amos Gilad stated that Iran would never agree to anything that contradicted its overall strategic goal of achieving a nuclear weapons capability," the cable said.
On Iranian support for proxies, the cable said Israeli Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, assistant chief of defense, stated that Iran had "multiple bases" where Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Quds forces, Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives are training together.
Gen. Gantz also "emphasized Iran's role as a weapons supplier to Syria and that Syria actively facilitated arms transfers to Hezbollah," the cable said. "He expressed concern about Iranian shipments of weapons via Sudan to Egypt and into Gaza."
A separate cable from 2007 outlines Israel's five pillars for keeping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, including covert action against the Islamist regime. That cable, also marked "secret," recounts a conversation between Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Israel Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan on Aug. 17, 2007.
The five pillars of the strategy to block Iran's acquisition of nuclear arms are political and diplomatic efforts, covert action, counterproliferation aimed at blocking Iran's access to technology, sanctions on Iran and forcing regime change by supporting Iranian opposition groups.
On to test ban treaty
The Obama administration next plans to reintroduce the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that was voted down by the Senate in 1999 after the Senate completes work on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), according to a classified State Department cable made public this week by WikiLeaks.
The May 13, 2009, cable from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations quotes Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, as outlining plans to work with senators "who were not members" when the treaty was defeated in October 1999 so that facts about the test ban treaty "were presented clearly."
"It would be hard work, but it was achievable," she was quoted as saying in the cable marked "confidential."
Ms. Gottemoeller said senators voted down the treaty in 1999 over questions of verification and whether the U.S. nuclear stockpile could be maintained without testing.
Both issues were addressed during Senate debate this week on New START.
According to the cable, the administration plans to use a conference held by the U.S. Strategic Command on the test ban treaty and nuclear weapons reliability to press its case.
"She noted that the U.S. voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing did not affect the confidence the United States has in its stockpiles and the overall consensus was that acceding to the CTBT probably would not put the reliability of the U.S. stockpile at risk," the cable said.
Ms. Gottemoeller also said the administration would make sure it had "all the votes necessary before it formally requested the Senate's advice and consent" on the treaty.
Later, Ms. Gottemoeller said that in the 10 years since the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was voted down, progress has been made on verification. "There were a large number of new senators since the last time the treaty was considered, and the administration would work to educate them on the issues," the cable said.
However, critics of arms control say verification of nuclear tests remains poor. North Korea's two nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009, were not immediately confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies despite billions of dollars spent annually monitoring foreign nuclear programs.
Capitol Hill next year will have 10 freshman Republican senators, many of whom are skeptical of arms control agreements.
One of the key arguments made by American proponents of New START is that the language in the treaty's preamble linking strategic offensive and defensive weapons is nonbinding.
Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been leading the fight for ratification, said during floor debate that the treaty's preamble is "a component of the treaty that has no legal, binding impact whatsoever."
Moscow apparently has a different view of the preamble.
ITAR-Tass, the main Russian government information agency, reported last week: "The treaty will have a legally binding provision on the link between strategic offensive and defensive weapons and will affirm the increasing importance of this link amid the reduction of strategic offensive weapons."
Several Republican-authored amendments to the treaty that sought to alter the preamble were voted down, based in part on assertions that the preamble had no legal standing.
Japanese defense buildup
Japan's government on Dec. 17 approved guidelines for building up its military forces in the face of growing threats from China and North Korea.
A summary of the program guidelines states that a "global shift in the balance of power has been brought about by the rise of emerging powers and relative change in the U.S. influence," a reference to China's growing military.
"Military modernization by China and its insufficient transparency are of concern for the regional and global community," the summary states.
Additionally, the Japanese defense leaders stated that North Korea's nuclear and missile threats "are immediate and grave destabilizing factors to the regional security."
The guidelines also warn that the threat to Japan posed by "gray area" incidents is increasing. It defines such incidents as "confrontations over territory, sovereignty and economic interests which have not escalated into wars."
One example is Japan's recent confrontation with China over the Senkaku Islands, where a Chinese fishing boat rammed a Japanese coast guard vessel, setting off a diplomatic row that included threats from China and a cutoff of exports of Chinese rare-earth minerals used in high-tech manufacturing.
Other security dangers include what are described as "increasingly robust" Russian military activities.
Russian jets interfered with a joint U.S.-Japan military exercise in the East Sea/Japan Sea this month, prompting Japan to scramble its jet fighters. The Russian jets temporarily disrupted the exercises.
The summary states that "a full-scale invasion against Japan is unlikely today, but security challenges and destabilizing factors which Japan faces are diverse, complex and intertwined."
On nuclear weapons, the guidelines state that Japan will "continue to maintain and improve credibility of U.S. extended deterrence, with nuclear deterrent as a vital element, through close cooperation with the U.S."
According to Japanese press reports quoting defense officials, Japan plans to increase its submarine force from 16 to 22 and will deploy missile defenses nationwide as a result of the growing threat from China and existing threat from North Korea.
China's government denounced the new defense policy. "No country has the right to appoint themselves the representative of the international community and make irresponsible comments on China's development," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement.
- Bill Gertz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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