Opinion

Netanyahu's blurry red line

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Photo - In this Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel shows an illustration as he describes his concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions during his address to the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Netanyahu's use of a cartoon-like drawing of a bomb to convey a message over Iran's disputed nuclear program this week, follows in a long and storied tradition of leaders and diplomats using props to make their points at the United Nations. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
In this Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel shows an illustration as he describes his concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions during his address to the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Netanyahu's use of a cartoon-like drawing of a bomb to convey a message over Iran's disputed nuclear program this week, follows in a long and storied tradition of leaders and diplomats using props to make their points at the United Nations. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Opinion,Op-Eds

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the United Nations has drawn a lot less attention than it deserved. It's doubly unfortunate that most of that attention has come from people who ignored the entire speech except to make fun of Netanyahu for using a cartoonish bomb drawing to illustrate where a "red line" on Iran's nuclear weapons development must be drawn.

Netanyahu's speech was apparently intended to garner international support for a clear limitation -- that red line -- on Iran's nuclear weapons program before it progressed past the point where it could be stopped with military action. To show where the red line should be drawn, he explained the four stages in Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Three involve uranium enrichment, to low, medium and high levels. Iran has completed the first stage of uranium enrichment and is about 70 percent of the way to the second stage. The third stage, producing the highly enriched uranium that is the fissile material in a weapon, would take only a few months or even weeks to complete.

The fourth stage, Netanyahu said, was the manufacture of nuclear triggering devices and assembly of the functional atomic weapons. (From various public sources, it's clear that Iran has been developing and trying to manufacture nuclear triggers for at least two years.) At that point, Netanyahu said, it would likely be impossible to stop Iran's manufacturing of nuclear weapons even by military action because the facilities in which that work would be done are small and extremely hard to find.

He credited Israeli intelligence agencies' capabilities, but doubted that even they could find the small facilities in which Iran could assemble nuclear weapons. Netanyahu drew his red line above the second stage, before the short final uranium enrichment and actual assembly of the nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu knew that neither the U.N. nor Obama would answer his plea and draw a red line on Iran's nuclear program. The U.N.'s anti-Israel record is as consistent as it is long, and its record of appeasing Iran is shorter because the Tehran theocracy is 30 years younger than Israel's democracy. President Obama's disdain for Israel and Netanyahu is a matter of record. Obama's Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has said he didn't want to be "complicit" in an Israeli attack on Iran, thus labeling Israeli action illegitimate.

So what was Netanyahu trying to do?

First, he was making a record. When Israel attacks Iran, as it must, it will be able to say that it told the world what had to happen and only acted when all other possibilities were exhausted. Second, perhaps he was trying to lull Iran and everyone else into complacency.

If Netanyahu was engaged in such a ruse, he appears to have fooled the Financial Times, which reported his speech as a "striking tactical climbdown" signaling a clear delay in any Israeli strike against Iran until next spring or summer. The British paper editorialized on its salmon pages that Netanyahu's proposed red line shouldn't be supported. The FT is confident that there will be no Israeli attack on Iran not only before Election Day, but for many months to come. Such confidence is misplaced.

"All war is deception," as Sun Tzu wrote about 2,300 years ago. In war, deception isn't dishonorable: it's an essential part of any strategy. Perhaps it is almost certain there will be no Israeli attack on Iran before Election Day. But from Nov. 7 forward, all bets are off.

Jed Babbin was appointed deputy undersecretary of defense by President George H.W. Bush. He is the author of such best-selling books as "Inside the Asylum" and "In the Words of Our Enemies."

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