Motzei Shabbat (After Shabbat)
The major news story, the source of greatest concern, here in Israel.
On Thursday, the IAEI released a report indicating that Iran has more than doubled the number of centrifuges in its Fordo facility, from 1,064 in May to 2,140 in August.
In the wake of this, we can see a number of stories which, taken together, suggest a certain turmoil:
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a London-based Arab language paper, reported "Vienna sources" as saying the information about the centrifuges may accelerate the West's plans to strike Iran.
The problem with this story is that it likely came from Arab sources that may have a bias in this matter -- may, actually, be eager to see Western action against the Iran they fear and hate. As it is, I was not aware "the West" had plans to strike Iran in any event. While this story is not independently confirmed, it may tell us something about how Iran's neighbors are thinking.
Time Magazine on Friday, quoting Washington sources, reported that a major joint military exercise -- which was supposed to have been held in the spring and was postponed until October -- has been significantly scaled down by the Americans.
Called Austere Challenge 12, it was slated to involve 5,000 US soldiers and advanced anti-missile defense systems. and to simulate simultaneous fire from Iran and Syria.
Now, according to this report, "only 1,500 US troops" and possibly "as few as 1,200" will be sent to participate. Additionally, it appears likely that only one Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense warship — instead of two — will be sent to Israel for this exercise ("maybe"). And the Patriot anti-missile systems will be sent to Israel as scheduled, but minus the crews to operate them.
After the Time story broke, a Pentagon spokesman told Reuters that, "The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned" -- but did not refute that report that it had been scaled down. Pentagon sources denied that the current situation reflected lack of trust in Israel and took great pains to speak of US-Israeli military cooperation.
Time, however, cited one senior Israeli military official as saying, "Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you.'"
While Israeli analyst Efraim Inbar is quoted as saying that the US logic is transparent:
“I think they don’t want to insinuate that they are preparing something together with the Israelis against Iran – that’s the message. Trust? We don’t trust them. They don’t trust us."
According to the Times of Israel, some defense sources said today that Israel has not received US notification that the exercise has been reduced.
But Time Magazine quotes Commander Wendy L. Snyder, the Pentagon spokesman, as saying that the Israeli military has been kept informed of the changes.
All in all, strongly suggestive of serious tensions between Israel and the US.
Which leads me directly into another report, from the Israeli Hebrew language paper Yediot Ahronot, on Friday. While it has not been independently confirmed, it is being carried by a variety of news sources.
Times of Israel, citing Yediot Ahronot, described the story thus:
"Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a closed-door meeting with visiting Congressman and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and American Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. Netanyahu opened the discussion by lambasting the Obama administration for what he considered its ineffectual policy vis à vis Iran.
"Netanyahu then expressed his belief that the US should be pressuring Iran to stop its nuclear program rather than pressuring Israel not to attack.
"'Instead of effectively pressuring Iran, Obama and his people are pressuring us not to attack the nuclear facilities,' he reportedly said. He concluded by saying that the time for diplomacy had run out...
"At one point during the meeting, Shapiro grew enraged by Netanyahu’s remarks, broke diplomatic protocol, and snapped at the PM, saying he was misrepresenting Obama’s position on Iran.
"According to a source at the meeting, 'sparks and lightning were flying.'"
I had reported, per reports I had read, that PA president Abbas was not going to go to Iran for the Non-Aligned Movement conference, but those reports were in error. According to Maan (the PA news agency), Abbas not only went, but met with Ahmadinejhad and asked for help in establishing a Palestinian state.
Is anyone who thinks such a state would be a good idea paying attention here?
Ahmadinejad reportedly advised Abbas to work on reconciliation with Hamas.
On the other hand Abbas has decided to delay making a request of the UN General Assembly that it recognize Palestine as a state with non-member status.
Khaled Abu Toameh, writing yesterday in the JPost, reports that a senior PA official in Ramallah has said that this decision was made because of US "threats and extortion." He was referring to threatened financial sanctions against the PA if he went to the UN.
And the connection between fiscal "threats" and Abbas's decision to seek help from Iran? Is he giving it to the US in not atypical Abbas fashion?
Instead, of seeking statehood, Abbas will only be delivering a speech at the UN on September 27.
September 27, the day after Yom Kippur, is when PM Netanyahu will be flying to New York. He, too, has decided to address the General Assembly, where he intends to "speak the truth" about Iran.
See Herb Keinon's chilling analysis about the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Iran to understand what moved Netanyahu to decide to go to the UN:
"...when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei slammed Israel, labeling it a state of 'bloodthirsty Zionist wolves' that controls the world media, nobody moved.
"The silence of the world in the face of these charges is chilling.
"It must also be emboldening for the Iranians. They can trade in virulent anti-Semitism and the representatives of the world sit in their seats quietly, listening politely as the words are translated from Farsi to their native languages.
"Nobody walks out. Nobody heckles. Nobody protests.
"Granted, nobody in Israel is expecting much of Bangladesh, Cuba or South Africa. But how about those countries with whom Israel has strong ties, such as India, Colombia and Thailand? Why did they sit still, and what does that say?..."
Khamenei's speech at the conference included this:
"...an independent country with a clear historical identity called 'Palestine' has been taken away from its people through the use of weapons, killings and deception, and has been given to a group of people the majority of whom are immigrants from European countries.
"This great usurpation – which at the outset was accompanied by massacres of defenseless people in towns and villages and their expulsion from their homes and homeland to bordering countries – has continued for more than six decades with similar crimes and continues to this very day."
Netanyahu then said:
"In Tehran today, the representatives of 120 countries heard a blood libel against the State of Israel and were silent. This silence must stop.
"Therefore, I will go to the UN General Assembly and, in a clear voice, tell the nations of the world the truth about Iran’s terrorist regime, which constitutes the greatest threat to world peace."
It happens that Binyamin Netanyahu excels at delivering the sort of talk that he is planning for the UN. But I have scant confidence that what he says will make a difference. Not because he will lack facts or because his delivery will be poor. It will be because he is a Jew, representing the Jewish State. And because the world is blind, and lacks a moral compass. They don't give a damn. That's why India, Colombia and Thailand and others were able to listen to what was said, and sit still.
I think Netanyahu has to do what he has decided to do -- that he cannot permit libels against the State to go unanswered. I don't fault him for his effort, and I'd be delighted to be able to write after the prime minister speaks, and say that I was wrong, that my perspective was unduly cynical.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.