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Israeli Spy Chief: Time Running Out By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 13, 2009

Iran has “crossed the technological threshold,” Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, head of Israeli Military Intelligence, told the Israeli cabinet this week. “Iran is continuing to amass hundreds of kilograms of low-enriched uranium, and it hopes to exploit the dialogue with the West and Washington to advance toward the production of an atomic bomb.”

Yadlin’s warning was all the more blunt considering that he’s not what’s known abroad as a hardliner. He’s known to be open to the idea of Israel handing over the Golan Heights to Syria. At the same cabinet meeting this week, he described Hamas as having been weakened by the recent Gaza war—while Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, citing renewed arms transfers from Egypt to Gaza, said “The effect of [Operation] Cast Lead has melted away in the last month…when we look at Hamas’s preparedness for a new round of fighting, the results are problematic.”

On Iran, though, Yadlin, too, had nothing reassuring to say, adding: “Iran’s plan for the continuation of its nuclear program while simultaneously holding talks with the new administration in Washington is being received with caution in the Middle East. The moderates are worried that this approach will come at their expense and will be used by the radical axis to continue to carry out terror activities and rearm. In contrast, those in the radical axis are saying that despite the change in the Americans’ stance, they will continue to act against them.”

Yadlin was, in other words, expressing a bipartisan sense in Israel that the clock on Iran is ticking—fast—and for the Obama administration to engage in “dialogue” with Tehran is not only pointless, but could be profoundly harmful to the region and to international stability. Yadlin was, however, sending this message at a time when the Western talking-fever—when it comes to the Middle East’s most radical actors—is at its height.

Obama’s recent expression of interest in reaching out to elements of the Taliban seems to leave Al Qaeda as the last taboo. And of the four parties most active against Israel—Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria in addition to Iran—all are currently the subject of direct or indirect Western wooing.

The idea that the road to Damascus somehow leads to peace, set aside during the Bush administration, has been taken up again with Sen. John Kerry going there last month and painting Syria as constructive and benign, and two officials, Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro, making the trip last week. As for Hamas, its current reconciliation talks with Fatah led U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell to say a Hamas-Fatah government would be “a step forward” and something the U.S. could potentially support—unlike the Bush administration which shunned the idea.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also said Hamas would have to live up to the “three criteria”—recognizing Israel, renouncing terror, and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements—for the U.S. to deal with it. Israeli officials are concerned that a way could be found to fudge the criteria, and also that European governments are more eager to put them aside and welcome Hamas into the fold.

In this climate, Britain has already announced that it is opening talks with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hezbollah—with its long string of vicious attacks on Western targets—is calling for “a new American and European approach” and “new language by the West.” British foreign secretary David Miliband acknowledged that “we’ve sanctioned low-level contacts with them,” and his ministry stated that “our objective…remains to encourage them to move away from violence and play a constructive, democratic and peaceful role….”

In the complex world of realpolitik, contacts even with the most extreme actors—for purposes like setting red lines in conflicts, arranging prisoner releases, conveying warnings and understandings—are sometimes necessary. The belief, though, that radical aggressors can be talked and bribed out of their intentions is a Western affliction that appears invincible.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s recent downplaying of Iran’s nuclear progress doesn’t jibe with Israeli assessments and implies a sharpening of Jerusalem’s dilemma. While Tehran’s malevolence toward Israel, and designs on the region, are so stark that soft-liners like Yadlin, too, have no illusions on the matter, Israel may find itself in a quandary of facing a mounting, intolerable danger while the Obama administration is still hoping to unclench Iran’s fist.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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