Middle East: Gauging mood in Israel on coalition, nukes

By Gil Elan

A line from a popular Israeli love song by prolific composer Matti Caspi goes: “Things seen from here you see are not seen from there.” I was frequently reminded of that line during a short visit to Israel last week for a class reunion, where I had a chance to talk to many friends and family members representing a broad spectrum of political opinions.
This gave me a unique opportunity to gauge the overall mood of most Israelis in the wake of two major recent events: the election results in Israel and the widely criticized U.S.-Iran “Nuclear Framework Agreement.”
Regarding the elections, once the Likud supporters finished celebrating, and the Zionist Camp supporters got over their disappointment, the raw and combative election mode emotions literally dissipated. They were replaced by everyone’s calm and erudite opinions, expressed frequently and repeatedly whenever two or more Israelis, acquainted or not, happened to be in proximity to one another (like at a bus stop or supermarket cashier line), as to which parties “must” be in Netanyahu’s coalition and what politician “must” get a senior cabinet position … lest the country goes to hell in a handbasket.
As of Tuesday, Netanyahu has not yet formed a coalition and has been given a 14-day extension by President Reuven Rivlin.
I believe that Bibi will form a coalition, now that there seems to be good agreement between him and Moshe Kahalon, whose party won 10 seats in the elections.
Regarding the U.S.-Iranian “framework agreement,” there is virtually universal condemnation of it by Israelis at all levels. Both pundits and security experts agree that by just announcing the unsigned framework agreement, the U.S., and therefore the world, both in principle and in fact recognizes and accepts Iran as a “nuclear threshold” country. Whether breakout time is four weeks or 12 months or 10 years is totally irrelevant.
But the biggest issue with the framework is its focus on uranium enrichment in thousands of cascading centrifuges of various “generations.” The “framework” talks about limiting enrichment, closing enrichment facilities, monitoring stockpiles of enriched uranium, etc., but only in passing grudgingly allows Iran to continue using the heavy-water nuclear reactor near the city of Arak as long as it limits the production of plutonium.
And “there’s the rub” as Shakespeare said. An enriched uranium bomb is big, heavy and cannot be miniaturized to fit on a missile. On the other hand a plutonium-based bomb is smaller, and easily transported and deployed. Weapons-grade plutonium is produced in heavy-water reactors, which can be as small on the outside as a warehouse.
And who says that Iran has only one heavy-water reactor in Arak?
The nuclear reactor destroyed in Syria, allegedly by Israel on Sept. 6, 2007, was a small, camouflaged North Korean model heavy-water reactor. In addition to a few North Korean workers killed in the attack, several Iranian nuclear engineers and IRGC (Islamic revolution) officers were also killed and injured. This was a 100 percent Iranian heavy-water, weapons grade plutonium-producing reactor.
The question is how many more does Iran already have that are operational, either in Iran, Syria, Iraq or Lebanon?
According to Professor Avraham Guber from the department of electronic physics in the faculty of engineering at Tel Aviv University,  enriched uranium nukes do not threaten Israel. Plutonium nukes do.
Based on this information from Israel, I hope that the final “deal” will focus on finding and destroying the hidden heavy-water reactors and plutonium stockpiles, while dealing with Iran’s missiles, and worrying less about the enriched uranium process.
From my talks and meetings last week, I have the comfortable feeling that Israel is already on it.
To paraphrase Caspi’s song: “Things you see from Israel are certainly not seen from here.”
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.

Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org. Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at www.swjc.org.

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