March 3, 2015 – On Bibi’s Knowns and Unknowns

March 3, 2015 – On Bibi’s Knowns and Unknowns

By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper on March 3, 2015

In seeking to protect Israel from an existential Iranian threat, Prime Minister Netanyahu confronts problematic facts and key uncertainties. It will be interesting to hear how he deals with them in today’s address to Congress and all Americans—who also face an existential threat from Iran, whether they know it or not.
Consider former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s breakdown on what we know and don’t know about important issues, when considering Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address.

In particular, contemplate Bibi’s efforts to assess Iran’s existential threats to Israel in view of apparent contrary perceptions and actions of U.S. leaders in dealing with Iran’s leaders, who since the 1979 revolution have sworn to destroy both the Little Satan Israel and the Great Satan America.

To use the first of Rumsfeld’s categories, not the least of the Prime Minister’s “known knowns” is that recent U.S. foreign policy has promoted failures and obviously delusional perspectives: From its widely publicized “Reset” with Russia, to its vacuous “pivot to Asia,” to its “leading from behind” failures in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s neighborhood.

Inconsistencies abound—like the President and Secretary of State John Kerry declaring last week we are safer than ever, even as the President’s Director of National Intelligence testified under oath that 2014 was “the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled.” And our leaders have been astonishingly duplicitous, like in knowingly misrepresenting the Benghazi facts, belatedly becoming publically known due to pressure from private sector citizens who want to know the truth.

Such known facts complicate how Bibi contemplates how to assure Israel’s survival—while dealing with such “known unknowns” as the time when Iran will have deliverable nuclear weapons unless something assures a course correction for their current persistent programs. He is justifiably skeptical of the ongoing negotiations achieving a verifiable agreement—especially given a major “loophole” by which Iran may achieve that capability through its cooperative programs with North Korea.

The most pertinent “unknown unknown” that I recall is that after the 1991 Gulf War we discovered that Saddam Hussein had a major covert program that could have produced a deliverable nuclear capability within a few months had he been permitted to continue—and that effort involving over 20,000 people had escaped discovery by the intelligence community, including Israel’s vaunted Mossad. This experience no doubt influenced the mistaken expectation of finding WMD after the 2003 Iraqi Freedom war—an intelligence failure in the other direction. And it causes well justified skepticism of current intelligence estimates that Iran is not now approaching a deliverable nuclear weapons capability. This uncertainty now is a “known unknown.”

This background makes one wonder about current “unknown unknowns”—or associated potential “Black Swan” events. Numerous plausible scenarios could surprise us—including an integrated threat involving the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its allies—which include the Taliban in nuclear armed Pakistan and possibly Iran, from which the Obama administration hopes for help in countering ISIS.

All this is exacerbated by our leadership’s failure to clearly identify the global Islamic Terrorism threat to all we hold dear and to develop a strategy to defeat all aspects of it. Hopefully, Netanyahu’s speech to congress and the American people will help us do so.

Click here for elaboration of these important issues, and in particular a link to the March 14, 2015 South Carolina National Security Action Summit in Columbia, being hosted by the Center for Security Policy, Breitbart News, and High Frontier. Also check for discussion of the existential threats and what we can do about them.
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