Monday, February 9, 2015

Dr. Berenbaum Replies

Following the posting of yesterday's email exchange between myself and Dr. Michael Berenbaum, I advised him that if he wished to reply to me further I would post his reply and give him the last word. So here it is.

You did not address several issues:

Sanctions is a false issue. They are generally not particularly effective. They require cooperation from Allies and in this case, if the US changes the negotiations midway, then they can expect little to no cooperation from Allies and the ultimate sanction is the price of oil, which is costing Iran dearly and also taking down Russia and Venezuela. Russia will certainly not cooperate on sanctions.

The Corker proposal is far more effective, giving the Senate a veto over the agreement if there is one and thus forcing the administration to get a tougher agreement.

The Prime Minister wants sanctions as a tool to blow up the possibility of an agreement — at least that is the diagnosis of the Mossad, which called the Congressional Bill, a hand grenade on the negotiations, at least before they backed down the remark.

Presuming for a moment that military action is required, that decision can only be made by the President of the United States, who is also the only one who can offer Israel political support in the UN and elsewhere. Alienating the President — any President — is not a wise idea. Using the rostrum of the House of Representatives as a Foreign leader to attack the President is downright unpatriotic. If it succeeds, it weakens the President who must be strong to pursue military action or to carry a heavy load diplomatically. If it fails, it makes the Speaker and his supporters as well as the Prime Minister look weak.

What happened is clear to me. The Ambassador thought like a Republican political operative. The Prime Minister thought of reelection, The Speaker thought as to how to fight the President and some partisan right wing Jews thought of this as a tool to wow the Jews or at least Jewish financial support away from the Democratic Party. They have succeeded in making support for Israel — now defined as support for Netanyahu two weeks before an election campaign — far more partisan that it ever was.

It would take me too long to write another piece on the Iran negotiations. They may die of their own weight. But even military action will at best slow down the nuclear development, not end it. That was the decision of the assessment of Israel's security apparatus.

Michael Berenbaum

Sunday, February 8, 2015

An Email Exchange on Iranian Nukes and Netanyahu's Visit

A recent edition of the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles had pro and con arguments regarding the upcoming visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was invited to speak before a joint session of Congress. On the "con" side was Dr. Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar. As I was rather disappointed and upset with the position he took I emailed him and expressed my surprise. He in turn replied, and attached an article he had written in 2012 concerning what to do about Iran getting nukes. Today, I replied again to him. If you start at the bottom you will find my initial email, then his reply and article, and finally my reply of today. It is somewhat lengthy because I attached his article as well. I previously wrote two posts on the issue of Iranian nukes, as noted in the paragraph below.

Dear Mr. Berenbaum, Thank you for your reply. I read the article that you had written about Iranian nukes, and except for a couple of the political comments at the end I find no basis for disagreement. It is well-balanced and thoughtful. I too have been writing about the issue for some time. I have been writing my blog for six years and on 11/26/09 I wrote a post entitled "Iranian Nukes." On 2/21/10 I wrote "Iranian Nukes, Part II." Again, the blog is at:

All the posts are there and if you scroll back you will find them. You will note that my original position was faulting Bush for not insisting on an alliance with Britain, France and Germany in order to launch an aerial assault taking out the Iranian nuclear facilities when it was clear Iran had no interest in negotiations. For over a decade they have feigned interest, all the while building up their nuclear facilities. Had Bush taken care of it at the time, Iran's facilities were much less in number and less spread out around the country.

I also agree that Netanyahu has no good choices. If he does nothing, he risks that the Ayatollahs will do as promised and nuke Israel. A couple of well placed nukes would devastate the country and possibly kill millions. Some of the Ayatollahs and one prior president of Iran have already said that their country is large enough to absorb any nuclear retaliation by Israel. You ask if the Ayatollahs are rational. You ask if they would risk tens of millions being killed. How many fanatics has history shown us that do not care about that at all - Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and on and on. If Israel does attack, I totally agree that we can expect worldwide attacks on Jewish institutions and people. And, as you noted, the attack may not even accomplish much.

So Netanyahu clearly realizes his limitations, and has been trying to get the West to take out the Iranian nukes; and now, trying to prevent a deal that will allow Iran to get nukes in a matter of a few months if they choose to abrogate any negotiated deal. And now it comes out that, in return, Obama is asking that Iran help maintain stability throughout the Middle East. So, here is where we part company, perhaps. Obama wants to bring his fundamental change to the world order - and in almost every instance supports the wrong side of a dispute.

Who in their right mind thinks Iran will be a force for stability. You are right - Netanyahu is talking and has been talking to try to wake the West up to the threat. So here we are negotiating in Munich - just like in 1938. And when Hitler decided he was not bound by that deal - WWII. How long will it take Iran to decide they are not bound by this deal?

As for the breach of protocol, that is pure nonsense. Recall Obama's first speech was to the Muslim world out of Cairo. There he was in Egypt, a guest of then President Hosni Mubarek, and what does Obama do? He invites members of the outlawed terrorist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, to come to his speech. Talk about a breach of protocol. Mubarek was furious and did not attend the speech. So Obama has never cared about protocol (I could give other examples) from day one. No, this entire dust-up is because Obama sees the Iranian deal as his major foreign policy achievement - and, as always, will tolerate no dissent. And I know we disagree on this - but I do not believe Obama would lose one minute of sleep if Israel were wiped off the map. In virtually every instance he has aligned himself with the Muslims, including the most radical ones.

And Obama has already indicated he does not intend to get Senate approval of any deal, reflecting yet again his total contempt for Congress, the separation of powers, and the Constitution. I just do not understand your statement that Netanyahu has only one goal - his reelection. Are you saying he does not care about the survival of Israel and the Jewish people? It seems inconsistent with your comment about Netanyahu talking about, and warning of, the danger for years. Why has he done that? Just to get reelected each time? I do not believe you really think that. I have been writing and talking about the danger for years. But the West has difficulty in acknowledging evil - often until it is far too late, and millions die.

And you criticize Netanyahu for telling French Jews they are welcome to come home to Israel? Why would you do that? I see no inconsistency. The world is an increasingly dangerous place for Jews wherever they live. Sadly, your article then encourages the likes of one letter writer who, in this week's Jewish Journal expressed her disgust for Netanyahu. I wonder if she was equally disgusted by Obama's breach of protocol in Egypt. I wonder if she is equally disgusted by the idea of the Ayatollahs having nukes, and having already expressed their desire to wipe Israel off the map. So here is Netanyahu, the lone voice in the world trying to prevent another Munich pact. And yet you and the aforementioned letter writer single him out for your contempt. That's the part I don't get.

I hope you will take a few minutes and read my posts on the issue. Respectfully, The Truth-Uncensored

-----Original Message----- From: Michael Berenbaum Sent: Fri, Feb 6, 2015 2:09 pm Subject: RE: Jewish Journal article

I don’t minimize the threat of a nuclear Iran. I have written about it for years. Attached is a piece that I wrote on it. I have not changed my mind. It is ironic that that Prime Minister on the one hand offers safety to French Jews facing antisemitism – come here and be safe – and then says to the world community, we face nuclear annihilation. I also believe that Jews are not powerless victims in this matter. Israel has a second strike capacity and deterrence. Again, there is one judgment I do not know how to make, namely would Iran be willing to lose 35 million of its own if it were to kill millions of Jews and Palestinians and damage the “holy sites” which would be uninhabitable were it to attack with nuclear weapons. If they do not fully believe in an afterlife or if they are rational, then that should be grounds for hesitation.

But the interesting assumption is that a military attack would work. The Israeli security people that I know believe that it is a minor setback. Sanctions are foolish; they would not work because they demand international cooperation, cooperation which would be impossible to get if the US is perceived as changing the rules. And the decline in the price of oil is the ultimate sanction. Iran needs $100 a barrel to avoid economic chaog.

The Corker amendment makes much more sense, meaning that the Senate could disapprove of the agreement as if forces upon the President a stronger agreement.

I do not trust the Prime Minister’s statement of the urgency of the problem. He said it was a matter of months in 2011, again in September of 2012 and again in September of 2013, it is not 2015. His own security cabinet could not be convinced and I presume that they have better intelligence than I do.

I am also more skeptical or the unintended consequences of the attack were one forthcoming. There were plenty of unintended consequences over the US invasion of Iraq, plenty of them in Lebanon and in Gaza I and Gaza II. We have to be prepared for a world-wide retaliation on Israeli and Jewish targets and we are not.

The Prime Minister’s move has already backfired. There will be no sanctions, at least not now. He has succeeded in changing bi-partisan support for Israel into partisan support only. And in alienating the Democrats, who enjoyed some 70% of the support of the Jewish community. He is probably alienating many young Jews but may in fact be helping his reelection campaign, which was his one goal.

The article below was written in 2012.

Questions and More Questions on Iran: What do We Know? What Don’t We Know? by Dr. Michael Berenbaum February 28, 2012 | 11:53 am

I have been reading a lot about whether Israel should attack Iran nuclear facilities and I am struck by the confidence that the protagonists on both sides of the issue have in the soundness of their arguments. Frankly speaking I do not know. So let me weigh the arguments and the uncertainty. This will have to be an “on the one hand and on the other hand” type of column.

Let us begin with what we know. Twice in history Israel has attacked regional nuclear installations; once in Iraq in 1981 and again in Syria in 2007. Both attacks were swift and successful. And despite the loud chorus of criticism at the time, both made significant contributions to peace. The world, which was infuriated at Israel – at least publicly – should have been grateful. Were Israel able to replicate those feats this time without plunging into another war, the world would also be grateful, perhaps even publicly so. Imagine if Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons when he entered Kuwait; imagine a nuclear Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and imagine if Syria had nuclear arms today when its government is faltering and attacking its own people. One could even argue that Menachem Begin deserved the Nobel Prize for peace precisely for bombing Iraq than for his historic agreement with Anwar Sadat that brought Israel a third of a century of cold peace with Egypt and may unravel tomorrow.

Jews historically would be wise to trust threats more than promises. The threats of leaders to destroy Israel deserve to be taken seriously. Words are weapons and words used by political leaders have a way of enunciating policies and national goals. So the threat is real and must be taken seriously. No government of Israel—however hawkish or dovish—could do otherwise and no President of the United States can dismiss the nature of this threat.

Aside from Ron Paul no one running for President, neither the incumbent nor his would be opponents, is behaving otherwise. And promises made to Israel should be treated lightly as nations act in their national interest and one wonders what the American people’s response would be if oil were scarce and gas was $15 a gallon or the US found itself bogged down in yet another war in a Muslim country. Might that impose some distance between the US and Israel under any President?

What do we not know? Questions and more questions: Does Israel have the capacity to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities? Does the United States? Do Israel or the United States have the capacity to attack all of them or some of them? Can Israel anticipate and handle the attacks that will surely follow?

Let us examine the last question for a moment: Having fought two wars in the last decade that seemingly caught Israel unprepared and with only limited success and unclear political goals one wonders whether Israel’s vaunted intelligence services are to be trusted in their assessment of such possibilities. Having replaced the reticent heads of the Mossad and the IDF in part because of their cautious warnings, one wonders if their successors are willing to give the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister the independent cautious assessment that is required.

American intelligence demonstrated that it was inept at assessing both the status of Iraq WMD program and the consequences of the war in Iraq and in the region. Do we know more today that we did then? Are we any better in gathering and assessing intelligence than we were a decade ago? Caution is advised, caution and considerable judgment

Have the acts of sabotage and assassination slowed down Iran’s nuclear development. Are other acts possible? I have no idea if Israel is behind these attacks or the United States—nor should I—but someone should know what the collective impact of computer viruses, targeted assassinations and disruptions in the supply chain have had on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Have they bought time? How much time? Will they work over a longer period of time?

And what has been the impact of the sanctions on Iran? Have they been effective? Will they be more effective? Are they forcing the Iranian people into the arms of their government as both unite against external enemies or have they hastened the divide between the people and its rules and will that also impose some limits on Iran?

I think that the President should be given some credit for working successfully multi-laterally to get the sanctions in place. Who are the friends of Israel? Those who urge Israel to attack or those who urge caution and time? Reasonable arguments can be made for either side. I know that the politicalization of the issue in the heat of a presidential campaign in the United States does not augur well for sound policy decisions. This is one of those moments where the vote in Florida should not be the issue, but the security of the United States and of Israel should be.

I am somewhat dismayed that the very same forces that argued for a war with Iraq and downplayed its costs and its protracted nature are also giving us a clear assessment of the positive impact of an Israeli attack. Many of the same men and women on both sides of the Atlantic failed to see that one of the most significant results of the War in Iraq was the strengthening of Iran and the enlargement of its political ambitions and its nuclear ambitions. I am perplexed that Israel is talking so much about the attack. Recall that the 1981 and 2007 attacks came as a surprise; so too, the attack at Entebbe. Not a word was spoken. In fact, Israel did not confirm the Ehud Omert led attack on Syria until after Benjamin Netanyahu, then the opposition leader, accidently confirmed it.

As a rule, if Israel is talking about a military action, it is not going to act. “Say little and do much” was the sage advice of our Talmudic sages and our most successful military leaders. Could it be that Israel is talking so much precisely because it is so hesitant to act since its leadership is as perplexed by the questions it can’t answer even with all the information it has?

I don’t envy others their clarity. It would be wise to accept the perplexity of the situation, what we know and what we do not know. I also don’t envy the American President or the Israeli Prime Minister the decisions they must make.

From: The Truth-Uncensored Sent: Saturday, January 31, 2015 1:43 AM To: mberenbaum Subject: Jewish Journal article
Dear Mr. Berenbaum,

In light of the other fine work you have done, I was appalled by your minimizing the existential threat to Israel. You say a nuclear Iran poses an "important danger" to Israel. Is that like Hitler and the Nazis posed an "important danger" to European Jewry?

Is there politics involved? Always, but who cares? Obama played politics and broke protocol when he had David Cameron call US Senators in an effort to persuade them to not support additional sanctions on Iran. Politics.

Tell me what other world leader is speaking out against this existential threat to Israel, and the overall threat to the world? Russia, which helped build Iran's nuclear reactors, is part of the 5+1 negotiating team. What a joke!

I assume from some of your comments that you are a Democrat. In light of your other work I am shocked and beyond disappointed that your liberal/Democrat leanings would supercede what should be a very real concern about another Holocaust.

I trust you read the pieces by Rabbi Boteach and Dennis Prager. Yet you believe we should be more concerned about politics and hurt feelings over the Ayatollahs having nukes. I don't get it.

Respectfully, The Truth-Uncensored I blog at: In case you are interested.