By Isabel Kershner and Rick Gladstone | Published: September 28, 2012
JERUSALEM — When the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, drew his red line on a cartoonish diagram of a bomb from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, he intended to illustrate in simple terms the point at which Iran’s uranium enrichment program must be stopped, at least in Israel’s view, to thwart a final sprint to a nuclear weapon.
Instead, the attention-grabbing performance seems to have created confusion in, of all places, Israel.
Mr. Netanyahu’s bomb was divided into sections marked 70 percent and 90 percent, representing the progress Iran has made, and is expected to make, toward amassing enough enriched uranium for a bomb, Israeli officials and experts said. Mr. Netanyahu drew his red line at 90 percent, asserting that the Iranians would be 90 percent along the way by next spring or summer.
But on Friday, Yediot Aharonot, a popular newspaper, published a drastically different interpretation. It assumed, erroneously, that Mr. Netanyahu had been referring not to progress made by Iran, but to actual percentages of uranium enrichment in his diagram, now known as the “Bibi Bomb,” a reference to Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname.
Much more at the link.
Whether Prime Minister Netanyahu meant that the Iranians were 70% on the way to being able to build an atomic bomb, or he was referring to 70% enrichment having been achieved, either is worrisome. Current guesstimates have Iran with a stockpile of uranium enriched to about 20% U235, which is considered weapons usable, for a crude bomb, but as the enrichment levels get lower, the amount needed to reach a critical mass grows very large. Uranium enriched to 85% U235 is considered weapons grade. However, once 20% enrichment has been achieved, further enrichment to 90% does not take that long.
Haaretz claimed that the Prime Minister’s speech was meant much more for the Israeli public:
By Aluf Benn, Editor-in-Chief | Sep.29, 2012 | 4:01 PM
In his wildest fantasy, after going up to the podium to deliver his speech at the United Nations General Assembly and voicing predictable warnings about the Jewish historical plight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely pictured himself pulling out a note from his blazer and reading the dramatic message:
“IDF Chief just informed me of the successful completion of an operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Our soldiers are on the way home with no reported casualties, holding enriched Uranium Iran has harbored in recent years. The threats on Israel, the Gulf States and the global economy have been removed. I want to take this opportunity to thank all IDF combatants for their remarkable achievement, and join me in applauding them.”
But this wild dream did not come true. IDF soldiers remained in their bases, and the enrichment of uranium persists. Netanyahu settled for the thick red marker, which he used to draw a red line on a bomb diagram he brought from home, and tried to explain to the international community where and when to stop Iran before it’s too late.
Placing Iran at the top of his agenda serves Netanyahu’s political goals well ahead of a campaign cycle in which he will be running for his third term as Israel’s premier. He is perceived by the public as the only statesman capable of confronting the Iranian challenge, and his focus on the issue has only catapulted him to the top of the polls.
Netanyahu is, as usual, attentive to his public, catering his UN speech on Thursday to polls at home, which indicate that Israelis are concerned about Iran, but think the U.S. is the one that should take the country on, not Israel. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have not succeeded in convincing public opinion that the IDF can handle the Iranian threat on its own. The public has spoken: Not now and not alone.
Netanyahu’s speech was precisely suited to this position: He called on the international community to determine a red line on Iran – or in other words to threaten it with war – and did not proclaim that Israel would go it alone if “the world” disappoints it. Netanyahu wanted to sound resolute, just like viewers at home love, but without barking up a tree he will have a hard time climbing down from.
Mr Benn states that the Israeli public prefer that the United States take the lead on this issue, and are not inclined to support a go-it-alone position on the part of Israel.
But when facing an existential threat, Israel may not be able to afford to rely on others. The generation which survived the Holocaust is mostly gone now, and the few survivors remaining who were older than toddlers at the time are at least in their seventies, but the history is clear: when the Jews of Europe depended on other people for their survival, half of them were slaughtered, and the other half would have been had the Third Reich won the war.
Cross posted on THE FIRST STREET JOURNAL.
Added (admin): Also see Dana Pico’s Binyamin Netanyahu: “Do you want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?”