Netanyahu doesn’t trust Obama on Iran: expert

Mark Dubowitz

MONTREAL — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “zero confidence” in President Barack Obama’s assertion that United States intelligence services will know when Iran is within reach of nuclear weapons capability, says an official of a conservative Washington-based think-tank.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), recently told a Montreal audience that this lack of trust is based on the fact that the United States was not able to determine in advance when Pakistan, North Korea and host of other countries became nuclear powers.

“President Obama has said that all options are on the table, that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable and that ‘I don’t bluff.’ But U.S. intelligence has not had a good track record in predicting nuclear-weapons capability,” he said.

Dubowitz, who was raised in Toronto and holds a joint law and MBA degree from the University of Toronto, was guest speaker at an Oct. 14 fundraiser for HonestReporting Canada (HRC), organized by the Montreal Jewish Publication Society (MJPS) and hosted by Charlene and Reginald Weiser.

Dubowitz maintained that Iran will be a threat even on the “threshold” of possessing a bomb, as it almost is now.

“It can blackmail the international community over economic sanctions, it can sponsor terrorism,” Dubowitz said.

International sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran, whose currency’s value is down 160 per cent since July 2010 and whose inflation rate is 70 per cent a month, he said.

Its oil sales, which had represented 80 per cent of its export earnings, are down by half, he continued.

However, Dubowitz believes Iran has enough foreign currency reserves to keep its economy afloat for about two years. That’s plenty of time to complete its first nuclear weapon, which may be as early as next spring.

Dubowitz doubts that, no matter how much the Iranian people are suffering, that there will be a “Persian spring.” Dissidents face brutal repression and, in light of Obama’s “silence” when they took to the streets in 2009, do not feel they will get support from the United States.

He said the FDD, which was founded shortly after the 9/11 attacks and whose current chair is former CIA director James Woolsey, is working with the dissident movement.

While a military strike now might be feasible, Dubowitz is not prepared to recommend it. Such action might set back Iran’s nuclear program by only two years, and it could set off a conflagration in the Middle East, which already has a number of nuclear states.

He is also not certain that Israel knows exactly where all of the underground facilities are, nor does it have the military wherewithal to conduct a sustained, massive offence.

There is also the possibility that if Iran was struck it would “play dead,” Dubowitz added, and respond by presenting itself to the international community as “the victim of an aggressive, unprovoked attack, despite being willing to compromise.”

Iran might also do “something stupid” like blow up major oil installations or close the Straits of Hormuz, he said.

Dubowitz believes an administration led by Republican Mitt Romney would not take military action in his first term.

A re-elected Obama is more likely to do so because he will be conscious of how history will judge him, he said.

About 100 donors attended the reception at the Weiser home. The minimum gift was $250.

They also heard from the HRC’s Quebec regional director Michelle Whiteman who gave an overview of the organization’s work. Founded during the second Palestinian intifadah, HRC is a pro-Israel group that monitors the English and French media in Canada and intervenes when it finds inaccuracy or bias with regard to coverage of Israel.

HRC now has almost 30,000 subscribers to its newsletter, many of whom are mobilized to raise objections with editors when HRC finds something objectionable.

Among the board members of the Toronto-based HRC is Tim Kotcheff, a former vice-president of CTV News and earlier a CBC executive, who was present.

The MJPS, whose chair is Reginald Weiser, has just published a handbook titled Mideast Deception by veteran author and historian Joe King, which is intended to counter common misperceptions about the region.