Thursday, May 19, 2011

Two Dubious Reports on American-Israeli Nuclear Relations

There are a couple of reports out today that I would question.

Arad Exposed Secret U.S. Agreement to Jump-Start Israeli Civilian Nuclear Power Industry
Yesterday, I reported a story from Yediot that claimed Uzi Arad had given a U.S. diplomat a copy of the secret Lindenstraus report on the second Lebanon war. Turns out, there were two accurate claims in the report–that it involved the U.S. and a secret report. But the rest was wrong.

Today, a different story has been reported by [Israel's] Channel 2 about the reason for Arad’s brusque firing by Bibi Netanyahu from his senior post as national security advisor. The news report says that Arad briefed Israeli reporters and revealed that during the prime minister’s July 2010 visit to the White House, the U.S. and Israel secretly upgraded the level of their nuclear cooperation. This, according to Haaretz, followed on the heels of Obama’s surprise endorsement of a nuclear-free Middle East in which all states endorsed the NPT. This raised fears in Israel that pressure would be brought to bear against it as a non-signatory. The agreement was meant to reassure Israel. [More at link.]
Russia sabotaged Iran nuclear programme: report
Then Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the sabotage of Iran's nuclear programme in 2006, according to WikiLeaks documents published by Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot on Thursday. The leaked documents, which were not immediately available on either the Yediot or Wikileaks websites, purportedly detail talks between the head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission and then-US ambassador to Israel Richard Jones.

During a February 2006 meeting, Gideon Frank told Jones "at length about the results of his secret meetings with top figures in the Russian security establishment and intelligence community," Yediot reported. [More at link]
Both of these, taken together, imply a certain coziness between the United States and Israel relative to Israel's nuclear programs, which are, for the most part, weapons programs. Both of them rely on unreliable sources. I don't speak Hebrew, so I can't check the two reports linked in the first story. Silverstein's sources are unclear to me. As I read his post, it appears that Uzi Arad and possibly Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli Finance Minister are the sources. Arad has just lost his job, so what he says will be self-serving and would need to be cross-checked. Both are members of the conservative and nationalistic Likud Party.

It's hard for me to believe that the Obama administration would offer such an agreement to Israel, secretly, when the Bush administration's open agreement with India has caused so much trouble. Or reassuring Israel that their nukes are all right with the US when there's been so much nuke-rattling in Israel against Iran? In addition, relations between Israel and the United States have been cool lately. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was invited to address Congress by members of Congress. Could such an agreement have been used as a bargaining chip? Seems like a long shot to me.

In the second story, there is a long chain: In February 2006, the head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, Gideon Frank, tells then-US ambassador to Israel Richard Jones about his conversations with Sergei Ivanov, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and the chairman of the Russian Atomic Energy Commission, Sergei Kiriyenko. Apparently it was in these conversations that it was claimed that "Putin had personally ordered measures to delay progress at Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant." So the report assumes that every link in the chain had no reason to fabricate or exaggerate. This report is somewhat more plausible on its face than the first, but that long chain is like the chain in many other Wikileaked diplomatic cables. It's a report home by the ambassador on what he's heard. That's useful information to the State Department whether it's true or not; certainly not a confirmation that it's true.

Another connection that might be drawn is with today's speech by President Obama on the Arab uprisings and the upcoming visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu. An attempt at a show of strength by Likud? To discredit Obama? Or just coincidence?

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