Two Centuries Before The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Image result for 1755 massachusetts earthquakeThe worst earthquake in Massachusetts history 260 years ago

It happened before, and it could happen again.

By Hilary Sargent @lilsarg

Boston.com Staff | 11.19.15 | 5:53 AM

The earthquake occurred in the waters off Cape Ann, and was felt within seconds in Boston, and as far away as Nova Scotia, the Chesapeake Bay, and upstate New York, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Seismologists have since estimated the quake to have been between 6.0 and 6.3 on the Richter scale, according to the Massachusetts Historical Society.

While there were no fatalities, the damage was extensive.

According to the USGS, approximately 100 chimneys and roofs collapsed, and over a thousand were damaged.

The worst damage occurred north of Boston, but the city was not unscathed.

A 1755 report in The Philadelphia Gazette described the quake’s impact on Boston:

“There was at first a rumbling noise like low thunder, which was immediately followed with such a violent shaking of the earth and buildings, as threw every into the greatest amazement, expecting every moment to be buried in the ruins of their houses. In a word, the instances of damage done to our houses and chimnies are so many, that it would be endless to recount them.”

The quake sent the grasshopper weathervane atop Faneuil Hall tumbling to the ground, according to the Massachusetts Historical Society.

An account of the earthquake, published in The Pennsylvania Gazette on December 4, 1755.

The earthquake struck at 4:30 in the morning, and the shaking lasted “near four minutes,” according to an entry John Adams, then 20, wrote in his diary that day.

The brief diary entry described the damage he witnessed.

“I was then at my Fathers in Braintree, and awoke out of my sleep in the midst of it,” he wrote. “The house seemed to rock and reel and crack as if it would fall in ruins about us. 7 Chimnies were shatter’d by it within one mile of my Fathers house.”

The shaking was so intense that the crew of one ship off the Boston coast became convinced the vessel had run aground, and did not learn about the earthquake until they reached land, according to the Massachusetts Historical Society.

In 1832, a writer for the Hampshire (Northampton) Gazette wrote about one woman’s memories from the quake upon her death.

“It was between 4 and 5 in the morning, and the moon shone brightly. She and the rest of the family were suddenly awaked from sleep by a noise like that of the trampling of many horses; the house trembled and the pewter rattled on the shelves. They all sprang out of bed, and the affrightted children clung to their parents. “I cannot help you dear children,” said the good mother, “we must look to God for help.

The Cape Ann earthquake came just 17 days after an earthquake estimated to have been 8.5-9.0 on the Richter scale struck in Lisbon, Portugal, killing at least 60,000 and causing untold damage.

There was no shortage of people sure they knew the impretus for the Cape Ann earthquake.

According to many ministers in and around Boston, “God’s wrath had brought this earthquake upon Boston,” according to the Massachusetts Historical Society.

In “Verses Occasioned by the Earthquakes in the Month of November, 1755,” Jeremiah Newland, a Taunton resident who was active in religious activities in the Colony, wrote that the earthquake was a reminder of the importance of obedience to God.

“It is becaufe we broke thy Laws,

that thou didst shake the Earth.

O what a Day the Scriptures say,

the EARTHQUAKE doth foretell;

O turn to God; lest by his Rod,

he cast thee down to Hell.”

Boston Pastor Jonathan Mayhew warned in a sermon that the 1755 earthquakes in Massachusetts and Portugal were “judgments of heaven, at least as intimations of God’s righteous displeasure, and warnings from him.”

There were some, though, who attempted to put forth a scientific explanation for the earthquake.

Well, sort of.

In a lecture delivered just a week after the earthquake, Harvard mathematics professor John Winthrop said the quake was the result of a reaction between “vapors” and “the heat within the bowels of the earth.” But even Winthrop made sure to state that his scientific theory “does not in the least detract from the majesty … of God.”

It has been 260 years since the Cape Ann earthquake. Some experts, including Boston College seismologist John Ebel, think New England could be due for another significant quake.

In a recent Boston Globe report, Ebel said the New England region “can expect a 4 to 5 magnitude quake every decade, a 5 to 6 every century, and a magnitude 6 or above every thousand years.”

If the Cape Ann earthquake occurred today, “the City of Boston could sustain billions of dollars of earthquake damage, with many thousands injured or killed,” according to a 1997 study by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Iran Spins More Uranium (Daniel 8:4)

Iran to develop centrifuges for faster uranium enrichment

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran on Wednesday said it would take another step away from a 2015 nuclear deal by starting to develop centrifuges to speed up its uranium enrichment but it also gave European powers two more months to try to save the multilateral pact.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, September 4, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS

Separately, the United States refused to ease its economic sanctions on Iran, imposed fresh ones designed to choke off the smuggling of Iranian oil and rebuffed, but did not rule out, a French plan to give Tehran a $15 billion credit line.

The moves suggested Iran, the United States and the major European powers may be leaving the door open for diplomacy to try resolve a dispute over Iran’s nuclear program even as they largely stuck to entrenched positions.

The friction has intensified since U.S. President Donald Trump last year withdrew from the 2015 international accord under which Iran had agreed to rein in its atomic program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Washington has since renewed and intensified its sanctions, slashing Iran’s crude oil sales by more than 80%.

Trump again said he was open to the possibility of meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani but made clear he had no intention of easing sanctions.

“That’s not happening,” he said. “That won’t be happening.”

In a televised address, Rouhani said Iran from Friday will begin developing centrifuges to speed up the enrichment of uranium, which can produce fuel for power plants or for atomic bombs, as the next step in reducing its nuclear commitments.

Under the accord, Iran was allowed to keep restricted quantities of first-generation centrifuges at two nuclear plants. The successful development of more advanced centrifuges would enable it to produce material for a potential nuclear bomb several times faster.

“From Friday, we will witness research and development on different kinds of centrifuges and new centrifuges and also whatever is needed for enriching uranium in an accelerated way,” Rouhani said. “All limitations on our Research and Development will be lifted on Friday.”

Iran says it is only enriching uranium to fuel nuclear power plants, but the United States has long suspected the program ultimately aims to produce weapons.

Since Washington’s withdrawal from the pact Tehran has made two other moves in violation of the deal, although Iran says it still aims to save the agreement.

Rouhani had threatened to take further measures by Sept. 5 unless France and the other European signatories of the pact did more to protect Iran from the impact of the U.S. penalties, which have drastically reduced Iran’s foreign oil sales.

“It is unlikely that we will reach a result with Europe by today or tomorrow … Europe will have another two months to fulfill its commitments,” Rouhani said, according to state TV.

But Rouhani also said Iran’s new measures will be “peaceful, under surveillance of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and reversible” if European powers keep their promises.

A French diplomatic source voiced regret at Iran’s planned centrifuge development.

“It’s not helpful,” said the source. “We knew it wouldn’t be … a bed of roses,” he said, adding France would keep looking for a solution despite the cool U.S. reception.

Iranian officials, meanwhile, appeared to give a guarded welcome to a French proposal to save the pact by offering Iran about $15 billion in credit lines until the end of the year if Tehran returned to full compliance.

The United States was cool to the idea but did not categorically reject it.

“We did sanctions today. There will be more sanctions coming. We can’t make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers,” Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told reporters.

Washington on Wednesday blacklisted what it called an “oil for terror” network of firms, ships and people it suspects are directed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) with supplying Syria with oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The United States also issued a new international shipping advisory about IRGC’s use of “deceptive practices” to violate U.S. sanctions and warned those who do business with blacklisted entities that they may suffer U.S. sanctions.

Washington also offered a reward of up to $15 million for information that disrupts the IRGC’s financial operations and its elite paramilitary and espionage arm, the Quds Force.

The steps intensified the U.S. campaign to eliminate Iran’s oil exports as a way to pressure it to restrict its nuclear and missile programs as well as its support for regional proxies.

In a possible olive branch to the West, Sweden said Iran had released seven of the 23 crew members of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero that was seized earlier this summer.

The IRGC detained the Swedish-owned Stena Impero on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain detained an Iranian tanker off the territory of Gibraltar. That vessel was released in August.

Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Dubai newsroom and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert, Jonathan Landay and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Jonathan Saul in London, John Irish in Paris and Johan Ahlander in Stockholm; Editing by Grant McCool

The Nuclear Cage (Revelation 16)

Photograph Source: Leslie Groves, Manhattan Project director, with a map of Japan – Public Domain

Rattling the Nuclear Cage: India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran and the US

We like our anniversaries in blocks of 50 or 100 – at a push we’ll tolerate a 25. The 100th anniversary of the Somme (2016), the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (2015). Next year, we’ll remember the end of the Second World War, the first – and so far the only – nuclear war in history.

This week marks only the 74th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It doesn’t fit in to our journalistic scorecards and “timelines”. Over the past few days, I’ve had to look hard to find a headline about the two Japanese cities.

But, especially in the Middle East and what we like to call southeast Asia, we should be remembering these gruesome anniversaries every month. Hiroshima was atomic-bombed 74 years ago on Tuesday, Nagasaki 74 years ago on Friday. Given the extent of the casualty figures, you’d think they’d be unforgettable. But we don’t quite know (nor ever will) what they were.

The bombing of the two cities, we are told, left between 129,000 and 226,000 dead. The first US statistics suggested only 66,000 dead in Hiroshima, 39,000 in Nagasaki. But in later years, the Hiroshima authorities estimated their dead alone at 202,118 – taking account of those who later died of radiation sickness, rather than just the incinerated corpses and human shadows left in the immediate aftermath of the explosion.

In the Middle East, where Aleppo and Mosul and Raqqa count the dead from conventional bombs – American, Russian, Syrian – in the tens of thousands, you might think the 1945 statistics would leave the folk who live there pretty cold. But the book of crises unfolding in the region – by the chapter, almost every month – is of critical importance to every soul who lives between the Mediterranean and India.

For India itself is a nuclear power. So is Pakistan. And so, of course, is Israel. None of them have signed the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT). All are threatening war, over Kashmir, or over Iran, the only nation under threat which has not (yet) got nuclear weapons.

Ayatollah Khomeini originally seized on America’s refusal to express its remorse at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings: “They’ve killed hundreds of thousands of people … many years have passed and they can’t even bring themselves to apologise,” he said, and the current Iranian leadership has continued Khomeini’s theme. The “only nuclear criminal in the world”, according to the “supreme leader’s” successor, Ali Khamanei, “is falsely claiming to fight the proliferation of nuclear weapons”.

Iran, it should be added, did sign the NPT, but was later found in non-compliance of the safeguard agreement. And Iran, of course, is the non-nuclear power now being constantly threatened with war by two nuclear powers – America and Israel – the first of which, under Donald Trump, tore up his country’s commitment to the only international agreement that ever existed to limit Iran’s nuclear programme.

As the US applies new sanctions to Iran – miserably supported by the ever-compliant banks and big businesses of Europe – Iran marginally breaks its side of the nuclear control agreement. And thus becomes the recipient of even more ferocious threats from Washington and Israel.

The word “nuclear” is not just a harmless adjective. Look at the old photographs of the blisters on the dying Japanese of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Iran itself suffered the horrors of gas warfare when Iraq – supported at the time by the US – used chemicals on Iranian soldiers and civilians. I saw their gas-gangrene wounds with my own eyes in the late 1980s and they reminded me of the Hiroshima snapshots. The Iranians really do know the effects of “weapons of mass destruction”.

Yet they, we are supposed to believe, are the nuclear “threat” in the Middle East. The Islamic republic is no saints’ paradise. Its corruption (within the government), its cruelty towards its own dissenters, its hangman’s noose justice against its own people and its prim disgust at even the most innocent demand for freedom scarcely qualify the immensely wealthy Revolutionary Guards Corps – “heroes” of a new “tanker war” and masters of Houthi drone technology – to give lectures on morality. And if we thought that the Iranians held in reserve – let us say – 200 nuclear warheads, we should be trembling in our boots. But they don’t. It’s Israel that conceals – but will not say so – perhaps 200 nuclear warheads.

Not only do we not complain about this. We regard any suggestion of their existence as akin to interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Israel has never confirmed that their nuclear weapons exist: therefore we must not say that they do. Enquire about their exact number and you are treated by Israel’s supporters with deep suspicion. It’s a private matter, we are led to understand. Anyway the Israelis can be trusted with such vile weapons. Can’t they?

Which brings us to Saudi Arabia. Every nation in the Middle East which seeks nuclear power – and the list includes Egypt, by the way – insists, like Iran, that the technology is needed to build power plants.

Yet when Reuters – whose investigations of human rights and secret criminal activities in the region are first-class in both courage and detail – reports on the accurate leaks that US energy secretary Rick Perry approved six secret authorisations to give nuclear assistance to Saudi Arabia, few outside congress issued a murmur of concern. Not even Israel – which always rages when America’s arms manufacturers hoover up billions of dollars from Arab arms buyers, especially from Saudi Arabia.

South Koreans – those endangered people always under nuclear threat from the Rocket Man turned good guy further north – are also bidding for the Saudi nuclear deal. So are the Russians. So how come, now that the Saudi regime has talked of “cutting off the head of the snake” in Iran, we don’t regard Riyadh as a potential nuclear threat?

How soon will it be before we wonder if the Saudis aren’t going a bit too far down the nuclear path and we suggest a nuclear control agreement along the lines of Obama’s Iran deal? After all, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman – and let’s not bring up the little matter of the Saudi evisceration and chopping up of poor Jamal Khashoggi at this point – told CBS last year that his kingdom would develop nuclear weapons if Iran did.

And as we digest all this – although we really are not talking about it at all, are we? – India decides to tear up its own legal arrangements in Jammu and Kashmir. As the only Muslim-majority state in India, it is now to be split into two union territories, diminishing Muslim power and allowing non-Muslim Indians from other regions to move into this dangerous remnant of the old Raj. The Hindu-led government used a presidential order to revoke the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan, which holds the other bit of Kashmir – both claim the whole area as their own – is understandably infuriated by this change in the status quo.

And both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. Indeed, there was nothing more pathetic, after Pakistan’s first nuclear tests in 1998, than to travel around this other “Islamic republic” and, amid the abject poverty of its villages, gaze at the awful commemorative papier-mache recreations of the granite mountains in which the explosions took place. There is, I suppose, no point in adding that there are more armed extremist Islamists on Islamabad’s payroll in both Pakistan and Afghanistan – coddled by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency – than there are in the whole of Iran.

So this is a very good week, as we typically ignore the commemoration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for us to remember the nuclear threat in the Middle East. At least one nation in every potential conflict in the region is a nuclear power or a prospective one. India against Pakistan and vice versa, the US with Iran, the Israelis with Iran – or just about any other Levantine power – and the Saudis versus Iran, and Iran against almost anyone else except Syria.

Oh yes, and Donald Trump has just pulled out of the Cold War Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia – blaming Russia for violating the ban on missiles ranging up to 3,400 miles. All Russia’s fault, says Mike Pompeo. The treaty is now “dead”, the Russian foreign ministry confirms. So it’s time, perhaps, to rewatch those old documentaries of the the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay and the bomb codenamed “Little Boy” and the brilliant mushroom cloud and all those scorched corpses at Hiroshima.

The Secret History of the Push to Start World War 3

Photo illustration by Cristiana Couceiro

The Secret History of the Push to Strike Iran

By Ronen Bergman and Mark Mazzetti

Sept. 4, 2019

In July of 2017, the White House was at a crossroads on the question of Iran. President Trump had made a campaign pledge to leave the “terrible” nuclear deal that President Barack Obama negotiated with Tehran, but prominent members of Trump’s cabinet spent the early months of the administration pushing the mercurial president to negotiate a stronger agreement rather than scotch the deal entirely. Thus far, the forces for negotiation had prevailed.

But counterforces were also at work. Stephen K. Bannon, then still an influential adviser to the president, turned to John Bolton to draw up a new Iran strategy that would, as its first act, abrogate the Iran deal. Bolton, a Fox News commentator and former ambassador to the United Nations, had no official role in the administration as of yet, but Bannon saw him as an outside voice that could stiffen Trump’s spine — a kind of back channel to the president who could convince Trump that his Iran policy was adrift.

As a top national security official in the George W. Bush administration, Bolton was one of the architects of regime change in Iraq. He had long called not just for withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A., as the 2015 nuclear deal was known, but also for overthrowing the Iranian regime that negotiated it. Earlier that July, he distilled his views on the matter in Paris, at an annual gathering in support of the fringe exile movement Mujahedeen Khalq, or the M.E.K., which itself had long called for regime change in Iran. Referring to the continuing policy review in Washington, he repeated his belief that the only sufficient American policy in Iran would be to change the Iranian government and whipped the crowd into a standing ovation by pledging that in two years, Iran’s leaders would be gone and that “we here will celebrate in Tehran.”

The document that Bolton produced at Bannon’s request was not a strategy so much as a marketing plan for the administration to justify leaving the Iran deal. It did little to address what would happen on Day 2, after the United States pulled out of the deal. But Bolton’s views were hardly a secret to those who had spoken to him over the years or read the Op-Ed he wrote in The New York Times in 2015: Once American diplomacy had been set aside, Israel should bomb Iran.

Trump pulled out of the Iran deal in May 2018, just weeks after Bolton took over as his national security adviser, and now the president is navigating a slow-motion crisis. This June, attacks were launched against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and the United States pointed the finger at Tehran; in July, Britain impounded an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, and Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the gulf. American spy agencies warn of impending attacks by Iranian proxies on American troops in the region, and over the summer, Israel launched flurries of attacks on Iranian proxies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The least surprising outcome of America’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran, though, is that Iran now says that it, too, will no longer abide by the terms of the deal — a decision that could lead Tehran to once again stockpile highly enriched uranium, the fuel to build a nuclear bomb.

The president and his advisers have cited all these acts as evidence of Iran’s perfidy, but it was also a crisis foretold. A year before Trump pulled out of the deal, according to an American official, the Central Intelligence Agency circulated a classified assessment trying to predict how Iran would respond in the event that the Trump administration hardened its line. Its conclusion was simple: Radical elements of the government could be empowered and moderates sidelined, and Iran might try to exploit a diplomatic rupture to unleash an attack in the Persian Gulf, Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ilan Goldenberg, a senior Pentagon official during the Obama administration, recalls the standoff in the years before the Iran nuclear deal as a kind of three-way bluff. Israel wanted the world to believe that it would strike Iran’s nuclear program (but hadn’t yet made up its mind). Iran wanted the world to believe it could get a nuclear weapon (but hadn’t yet made a decision to dash toward a bomb). The United States wanted the world to know it was ready to use military force to prevent Iran from getting a bomb (but in the end never had to show its hand). All three were taking steps to make the threats more credible, unsure when, or if, the other parties might blink.

Trump’s abrogation of the Iran deal has revived the poker game, but this time with an American president whose tendency to bluster about American power but avoid actually using it has made the situation in recent months even more volatile.

“President Trump cannot expect to be unpredictable and expect others to be predictable,” Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said during a speech in Stockholm in August. “Unpredictability will lead to mutual unpredictability, and unpredictability is chaotic.”

Trump’s immediate goal appears to be to batter Iran’s economy with sanctions to the point that the country’s leaders will renegotiate the nuclear deal — and its military support for Hezbollah and other proxy groups — on terms that the administration deems more favorable to the United States. But it is also based on a gamble that Iran will break before November 2020, when the next American election could bring a new president who ends Trump’s hardball tactics.

This is all in aid of what the president’s advisers see as the larger goal, one embraced not only by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel but also by the Arab states in the Persian Gulf: a realignment of the Middle East, with Israel and select Sunni nations gaining supremacy over Iran and containing the world’s largest Shiite-majority state.

It is a wholly different vision than the one advanced by Obama, who committed to keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but accepted the notion that Iran would become a counterweight to Saudi Arabia’s influence in the region. The two countries would have to “share the neighborhood,” as he put it, an idea that some Trump-administration officials sneer at. As one coolly explains, “We’ve decided to deal with Iran as it is, rather than as we’d like it to be.”

[Read Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart.]

Those who were closest to Obama in the early days of his administration say he had a cleareyed transactional plan for bringing peace to the caldron of the Middle East. “We avoided an unnecessary and uncertain war, brought the Iranians to the table, gained time and space for negotiations and achieved an unprecedented and successful arms-control agreement,” says Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser from 2010 to 2013. The deal, he said, “prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and gave the international community unprecedented visibility into Iran’s activities,” all of which is in the “overwhelming interest of the United States.”

Trump’s withdrawal from the deal, compounded by the events of recent months, has revived fears not just that the United States could take military action against Iran or quietly bless an Israeli strike but also that all the parties could stumble into a conflict out of hubris, miscalculation or ignorance. A strike on Iran, however limited in its design, could unspool widespread chaos in the form of retaliation by Iranian proxy groups on American forces in the gulf region, escalating attacks on commercial ships that could send oil prices skyrocketing, waves of Hezbollah terrorist strikes against Israel, cyberattacks against the West and ultimately more American troops being sent to stamp out fires wherever Iran has influence — from Lebanon to Syria to Yemen to Iraq.

The story of how this simmering crisis began is in many ways a story about the complexities of America’s relationship with Israel, a story that has never been fully told. It is the story of a war narrowly averted, an arms agreement negotiated behind Israel’s back, two bedrock allies spying on each other and a battle over who will ultimately shape American foreign policy. Interviews with dozens of current and former American, Israeli and European officials over several months reveal the startling details of how close the Israeli military came to attacking Iran in 2012; the extent to which the Obama administration felt required to develop its own military contingency plans in the event of such an attack, including destroying a full-size mock-up of an Iranian nuclear facility in the western desert of the United States with a 30,000-pound bomb; how Americans monitored Israel even as Israel monitored Iran, with American satellites capturing images of Israel launching surveillance drones into Iran from a base in Azerbaijan; and previously unknown details about the scope of Netanyahu’s pressure campaign to get Trump to leave the Iran deal.

Netanyahu recently eclipsed David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, but once again he is fighting for political survival, with another vote to determine his future as prime minister set for Sept. 17. In a wrinkle of history, some of his opponents are the same people who vigorously opposed his push to strike Iran several years ago.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, the landscape of the current Iran crisis could change quickly, and Trump even said during the recent Group of 7 summit that he might meet in the coming weeks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. That prospect has set off alarms in Israel, where some officials raise fears in private that the American president in whom they had invested so much hope has gone wobbly. But Netanyahu, at least publicly, says he isn’t worried. In an interview in August in his office in Jerusalem, he acknowledged the possibility that Trump, like Obama before him, might try to avoid a war and instead attempt to reach a settlement over Iran’s nuclear program.

“But this time,” Netanyahu said, “we will have far greater ability to exert influence.”

2. ‘Total Mutual Striptease’

The first public revelation about a clandestine uranium-enrichment program in Iran came in the summer of 2002q, as America was preparing for war with Iraq. Western intelligence services had found that scientists at a nuclear facility near Natanz, in north-central Iran, had begun an effort to enrich uranium ore. A dossier of these findings leaked to a group affiliated with the M.E.K., which went public with the information at a news conference in Washington. The Bush administration, preoccupied with Iraq, chose to pursue a path of negotiation with Iran, coupled with sanctions. For many Israeli officials, the revelation reinforced a conclusion that they had already drawn: The United States was making war on the wrong country.

The Israeli leadership grew even more concerned in 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran. Ahmadinejad immediately made known his views about Israel, unleashing fiery rhetoric calling for the end to the nation and calling the Nazi extermination of Jews a myth. He increased support for militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah — and, American and Israeli analysts agreed, he also began to accelerate the nation’s nuclear program. In a nation built by survivors of the Holocaust, the moves confirmed for many that Iran presented an existential threat.

Israel’s leadership at that time was going through an uncertain moment. In January 2006, Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister, suffered a stroke that left him in a vegetative state. A deputy, Ehud Olmert, stepping up to replace him, gave a free hand and endless resources to the clandestine campaign that the Mossad, Israel’s civilian intelligence agency, was running to stop, or at least delay, the Iranian nuclear project. In 2007, Ehud Barak, a former prime minister, became Olmert’s defense minister and issued a written order to the Israeli military’s general staff to develop plans for a large-scale attack on Iran. But Olmert thought that many were exaggerating the immediacy of the Iran threat. His own position, he recalls now, “was that it was not Israel that should lead a military operation, even with the knowledge that Iran might indeed succeed in getting a bomb. Just as Pakistan had the bomb and nothing happened, Israel could also accept and survive Iran having the bomb.”

Netanyahu, then in the leadership of the conservative Likud party, took a starkly different position. He had gone to high school and college in the United States, earning a business degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and working at the Boston Consulting Group, where he became friends with the future Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. During his first term as prime minister — from 1996 to 1999 — he warned a joint session of Congress that only the United States could prevent the “catastrophic consequences” of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Now the Likud leader was once again enlisting Israel’s closest ally into what Uzi Arad, one of his former top advisers, describes as “a personal crusade against the Iranian threat.” Speaking at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, in Washington in 2007, Netanyahu demanded more sanctions on Iran. He also met with Dick Cheney, then the vice president, and, according to Arad, warned that if the West failed to present a credible threat of military action, Iran would surely get the bomb.

In Cheney, Netanyahu had found the right audience. The Pentagon’s military and civilian leadership had little appetite for another war of pre-emption, and by then neither did the president. But Cheney, like Bolton, had long taken a more expansive view, and he continued to argue for military action against Iran well into George W. Bush’s second term.

During a meeting with Bush in May 2008, the vice president sparred with Robert Gates, the defense secretary, over the wisdom of a strike against Iran. Gates argued that a military move against Iran by the United States or Israel would strengthen radical factions in the Iranian government and rally the country behind the Iranian regime. Gates said that Olmert should be told in the most direct terms that Israel should not launch a unilateral attack. Cheney disagreed on every point, saying that a strike on Iran was necessary and that at minimum the White House should enable Israel to act. Gates recalled Cheney’s thinking in his memoir: Twenty years on, “if there was a nuclear-armed Iran, people would say the Bush administration could have stopped it.”

That same month, Bush arrived in Jerusalem for his last visit to Israel as president. Olmert hoped to get American and Israeli spies to share more intelligence about Iran, and he used a private meeting at his residence to make his case. When the aides had cleared the room, according to an official who was familiar with the conversation, Olmert moved in to seal the deal. “Come, let’s open the books and be transparent with each other,” he said. Bush agreed, a decision that led to far greater intelligence cooperation between American and Israeli spy services — a “total mutual striptease” in the words of one of Olmert’s former aides. This cooperation would culminate in the Olympic Games operation, which deployed sophisticated computer malware, including the Stuxnet virus, to sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities. This was one path forward to containing Iran.

But Bush was also made keenly aware of the other path. One night during his visit, Olmert invited him for a dinner at his residence with the members of his national security cabinet, including Barak, the defense minister, who like Cheney had taken an increasingly hawkish position on Iran during internal discussions. As Olmert tells the story, he and Bush walked alone into a side lounge after the dinner. As the two men relaxed in leather armchairs, Olmert smoking a cigar, the prime minister told Bush that Barak was waiting and wanted an audience.

Bush was reluctant, according to Olmert. “I understand that it is politically important for you to let him in,” Olmert recalls Bush explaining, “but you know my position on the Iran issue. I am unequivocally against an attack.”

The Bush administration, preoccupied with Iraq, chose to pursue a path of negotiation with Iran, coupled with sanctions.Photo illustration by Cristiana Couceiro

Olmert persisted. Bush eventually relented, and soon Barak was in the room, smoking a cigar and sipping a whiskey. He delivered a comprehensive lecture about the Iran threat. Finally, Bush cut him off. “He banged on the table like this,” Olmert recalls, “and he said: ‘General Barak, do you know what no means? No is no.”’

Barak, for his part, remembers much about the affair differently, including Bush’s reaction. In Barak’s version, when he finished making his case to the American president, Bush turned to Olmert but pointed a finger directly at Barak. “This guy scares the living shit out of me,” Barak recalls him saying. (A spokesman for Bush says the former president does not recall either of these conversations.)

Looking back at that meeting, Barak now sees Bush’s position as somewhat irrelevant. “The truth is that Bush’s warning did not really make any difference for us,” he says, “because as of the end of 2008, we did not have a real, feasible plan for attacking Iran.”

Barak was already looking toward the future. “We knew that anything that happened after that would, in any case, be under a different president.”

3. ‘Obama Is Part of the Problem’

Netanyahu began his second term as Israel’s prime minister just months after Obama took office in 2009. Despite their ideological differences, Netanyahu had some cause to believe that the new American president might be a more willing partner in his effort against Iran. Though Obama first gained attention for his opposition to the Iraq war, he frequently raised the Iran threat during the campaign and told an Aipac audience in June 2008 that he would “always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel.”

During their first meeting in the White House in May 2009, anxious aides waited outside the Oval Office as the two leaders met alone. It was an interminable meeting, and some may have figured that the savvy, experienced Israeli prime minister was lecturing the young American president about the Palestinians and the hard truths of Israeli security.

But when the door opened, it was Netanyahu who appeared shellshocked, Arad recalls: “Bibi did not say anything, but he looked ashen.” It was hours later when he told aides that Obama had attacked him and implored him — actually demanded him, in Netanyahu’s view — to freeze Israel’s settlements in the West Bank right away, with “not a single brick” added in the future, according to an Israeli official with direct knowledge of the meeting. “Bibi left that place traumatized,” Arad says. Speaking now, Netanyahu says that “Obama came from another direction, one that adopted most of the Palestinian narrative,” and ruefully cites the “not a single brick” line to argue that the American president was against him from the very beginning. (A former Obama-administration official with knowledge of the White House meeting says that Obama did not in fact use that phrase.)

The relationship between the two governments was warmer at the cabinet level. Netanyahu had brought in Arad to be his national security adviser, and Arad established a direct link with Obama’s own national security advisers — Gen. James L. Jones and then Donilon — to discuss the Iranian nuclear program. American and Israeli officials met regularly in person and even more frequently over encrypted video conferences. The Obama administration insisted on total secrecy about the meetings, and an urgent issue was already on the agenda: the continuing construction of a secret nuclear facility, buried deep inside a mountain, not far from Iran’s holy city of Qum.

The Fordow fuel enrichment plant was discovered in April 2008 by a source working for British intelligence, which in turn passed rudimentary details about the plant to American and Israeli spy agencies. Unlike the Natanz plant, Fordow was too small to produce usable amounts of civilian nuclear fuel, making it likely that it was created solely for the drive toward a nuclear weapon.

American and Israeli officials were now faced with the fact that ongoing covert operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear effort had failed to halt the program. The Israeli perspective, as advanced by Barak, was relatively simple: The world was running out of time before Iran entered what Barak called the “zone of immunity,” the point at which the nuclear program was so advanced and so well defended that any strike would have too little impact to be worth the risk. The United States, with its bunker-buster bombs that could penetrate deep into underground facilities, could wait to strike. But, Barak argued, Israel had no such luxury. If it was going to act alone, it would need to do it sooner. Some American military planners derided Barak’s tactic as “mowing the grass” — a small-bore effort that would need to be repeated again and again — but it might have been more like a way to get the United States to move first. “Barak would tell us, ‘We can’t do what you do, so we need to do it sooner,’ ” says Dennis Ross, who handled Iran policy at the National Security Council during Obama’s first term. “We interpreted that as designed to put pressure on us.”

A parade of top American officials began flying to Israel during Obama’s first term to take the measure of the Israeli planning and to convince Netanyahu and Barak that the United States was taking the problem seriously and that Iran was hardly on the brink of getting the bomb. “Our message was that we understand your concerns, and please don’t go off on a hair trigger and start a war, because you’re going to want us to come in behind you,” says Wendy Sherman, a top State Department official in Obama’s administration.

One of the first to make the trip was Robert Gates, whom Obama had asked to stay on at the Pentagon. He arrived in Israel in July 2009, just weeks after the Green Revolution brought thousands of protesters into the streets of Tehran. The Iranian government seemed fragile, and Netanyahu told Gates he was convinced that a military strike on Iran would do more than set back its nuclear program; it could instigate the overthrow of a regime loathed by the Iranian people. Besides, Netanyahu said, as Gates recalls in his memoir, the Iranian response to the attack would be limited. Gates pushed back, just as he had a year earlier against Cheney. He said Netanyahu was misled by history. Perhaps Iraq did not retaliate after Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, just as Syria did nothing when Israel bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. But Iran was very different from Iraq and Syria, he said. His meaning was clear: Iran was a powerful country with a capable military and proxy groups like Hezbollah that could unleash serious violence from just over Israel’s borders.

The relationship between Obama and Netanyahu continued to fracture. Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador in Washington at the time, recalls that Netanyahu began to say that “Obama is part of the problem, not the solution.” The uncomfortable relationship was apparent to all sides. Arad recalls that when he accompanied Netanyahu to Washington in 2010 for another meeting with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden threw his arm around Arad and said with a smile, “Just remember that I am your best fucking friend here.”

4. ‘A Highly Complicated Affair’

Obama took the possibility of a sudden Israeli strike seriously. American spy satellites watched Israeli drones take off from bases in Azerbaijan and fly south over the Iranian border — taking extensive pictures of Iran’s nuclear sites and probing whether Iranian air defenses spotted the intrusion. American military leaders made guesses about whether the Israelis might choose a time of the month when the light was higher or lower, or a time of the year when sandstorms occur more or less regularly. Military planners ran war games to forecast how Tehran might respond to an Israeli strike and how America should respond in return: Would Iran assume that any attack had been blessed by the United States and hit American military forces in the Middle East? The results were dismal: The Israeli strikes dealt only minor setbacks to Iran’s nuclear program, and the United States was enmeshed in yet another war in the Middle East.

The White House eventually made the decision that the United States would not join a pre-emptive strike. If Israel launched such a strike, the Pentagon wouldn’t assist in the operation, but it wouldn’t stand in Israel’s way. At the same time, Obama was quietly ordering a buildup of America’s arsenal around the Persian Gulf. If Israel was going to trigger a war, the thinking went, it was better to have forces in the region beforehand rather than rush them there after the fact, when Iran would surely interpret the deployments as a surge to support Israel. Aircraft-carrier strike groups and destroyers with Aegis ballistic-missile defense systems moved through the Strait of Hormuz; F-22 jets arrived in the United Arab Emirates, and Patriot missile batteries were sent to the United Arab Emirates and other gulf allies. Some of the deployments were announced as routine moves to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We didn’t want the Israelis to mistake it for a green light,” one Obama-administration official says.

What they didn’t know was, at least at that time, whether Netanyahu had the ability — or even the real will — to pull off a strike.

It was a complicated question, and one that was the subject of considerable debate even at the highest levels of the Israeli government. In November 2010, Netanyahu and Barak convened a private meeting at Mossad headquarters to discuss a recently devised Iran attack plan with the chiefs of Israel’s defense establishment. According to Barak, the conversation quickly became contentious when Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the military chief of staff, told the room that despite major advancements, the Israel Defense Forces had not yet crossed the threshold of “operational capability.”

Ashkenazi’s statement punctured the optimism that had been building around a strike. “The moment he says there’s no operational capability, then you have no choice,” Barak recalls now. “Hypothetically, you can fire him if you want to, but you can’t say, ‘Let’s go.’ ”

Another influential official spoke up: Meir Dagan, the longtime head of the Mossad, who had been directing Israel’s secret war on Iran. His credentials as an Iran hawk were hardly in dispute, and he was coming to the end of a national security career that began in the mid-1960s, so he had plenty of political capital to burn. He told Netanyahu and Barak that a military campaign would be foolish and could undo all the progress the covert campaign had made. Dagan saw the proposed campaign as a scheme by two cynical politicians seeking the widespread public support that an attack would give them in the next election.

Yuval Diskin, the head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, was also against an attack. Barak and Netanyahu may not have been interested in the guidance of their advisers, but they did “not have the authority,” Diskin told them, to go to war without government approval. Netanyahu had to back down.

The Israeli prime minister became increasingly suspicious of his senior advisers. He now accuses Dagan of leaking the attack plan to the C.I.A., “intending to disrupt it,” a betrayal that to Netanyahu’s mind was “absolutely inconceivable.” Within a year, Dagan, Ashkenazi and Diskin, along with Uzi Arad, were no longer in their posts.

If Netanyahu hoped his handpicked replacements would be more compliant, however, he would soon be disappointed. Many others in the government, including Benny Gantz, the chief of staff who succeeded Ashkenazi, were also against the attack, according to three officials who were part of the decision-making process at that time. For Gantz, who is now running against Netanyahu for the job of prime minister, it was a practical matter. “Even those who have not seen the intelligence understand that it would be a highly complicated affair and — if the impact it would have on other countries is taken into account — a strategic affair of the highest level,” he says.

5. ‘We Were Running Out of Time’

Netanyahu’s relentless pressure on Obama may have had an unintended consequence. The American president, with limited information about what the Israelis might do, increased his urgent pursuit of a major new initiative: a clandestine negotiation with Iran.

For Obama, the J.C.P.O.A. would be the centerpiece of his foreign-policy legacy; it was not just a deal but a framework for regional stability — a way to shut the Pandora’s box his predecessor blew open in 2003. For Netanyahu, though, it would be the ultimate betrayal — Israel’s closest ally negotiating behind its back with its most bitter enemy.

The effort began in late 2010, with Dennis Ross and Puneet Talwar, two of Obama’s top national security advisers, aboard a commercial aircraft bound for Muscat, Oman. The country’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, was helping mediate the sensitive negotiations around the release of several American backpackers who had been detained in Iran under suspicion of being spies. Now Oman would help the United States open a back channel for far more ambitious discussions.

Inside one of the sultan’s palaces, Ross and Talwar delivered a message that Obama wanted the Omani ruler to give to only Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: The United States thought there was a chance for a peaceful denouement to the nuclear standoff with Iran but was prepared to take military action if Iran rejected diplomacy. The United States could accept Iran’s harnessing nuclear power for civilian use, but any military purpose for its nuclear program was intolerable.

Obama had long believed that there might be a sliver of hope for a nuclear deal, and the White House had already begun a campaign of punishing economic sanctions designed to pressure Tehran into negotiations. But some former administration officials said the prospect of an Israeli military operation gave energy to the diplomatic push. “Did the Israeli pressure affect our decision to begin talks?” Ross says. “Without a doubt. Unless we could do something that changed the equation, the Israelis were going to act militarily.” Ilan Goldenberg, the former Pentagon official handling Iran issues, says, “We felt we were running out of time.”

Others within the administration disagreed that Israeli pressure played a significant role in the effort. “President Obama’s push for a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear challenge long predated Prime Minister Netanyahu’s saber-rattling,” says Ned Price, who served as a spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council. “In fact, it even predated his current stint as prime minister. Candidate Obama pledged in 2007 to seek the very type of diplomatic achievement he, together with many of our closest allies and partners, struck as president in 2015.”

Obama decided to keep the Israelis — and, for that matter, every other American ally — in the dark about the secret discussions. Some in his administration feared that if Obama told Netanyahu about the nascent talks, the Israelis would leak word of them to tank any future deal. “It was too big a risk,” one former senior Obama-administration official said. “The trust between the two leaders was badly frayed by this point. That introduced an element of uncertainty about what Bibi or people around him would do if they had the information.”

The secrecy around the talks remains a freighted subject among many former Obama officials, one that few are willing to discuss on the record. Some believed that the Obama-Netanyahu relationship had grown so toxic that the Israeli prime minister couldn’t be trusted. And, they argue, the strategy worked: Talks stayed quiet long enough for them to mature into serious negotiations and, ultimately, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Others say it was needlessly provocative, sowing further distrust in an already dismal relationship and creating the appearance that the Obama White House wasn’t confident enough in its strategy to defend it to the Israelis. “That was an ongoing debate,” says Wendy Sherman, who was closely involved in the negotiations. “I was on the side of telling them sooner rather than later. It was a very hard call.”

The Israelis found out anyway. In mid-2012, around the time the talks between American and Iranian officials began in earnest, Israeli intelligence picked up information about the secret discussions and reported it to Netanyahu. Some time after hearing the news, Yaakov Amidror, who succeeded Arad as Netanyahu’s national security adviser in 2011, confronted Dan Shapiro, Obama’s ambassador to Israel, to ask him if the information about the negotiations was true. Shapiro, who hadn’t been told about the secret talks, told Amidror it was false. But Shapiro said it wasn’t long before a colleague in Washington took him aside and said, “You should stop saying what you’ve been saying.”

Shapiro says now that the secrecy was a mistake. “We should have assumed that they would discover the talks, and it’s always better to hear such news directly from us,” he says. “I understand the apprehension of those who decided to keep it a secret that Israel would leak it, but the communications between the United States and Israel on the Iranian issue were conducted with the utmost discretion. I felt we should have shared that with them in real time. Had I known, I would have pushed hard to tell them.”

Amidror remains angry to this day. “We had an open and honest relationship with the Americans,” he says. “Everything went excellently until it became clear to us that they were concealing things.” In the end, he says, the American negotiators “sold us up the river.”

Netanyahu takes a more sanguine view of the revelation. “When I was informed that such talks were underway, I have to say that I was not at all surprised,” he says. “During his campaign for the presidency, Obama said that he wanted to reach agreements with Iran and with Cuba. This was his declared predisposition.”

Netanyahu says that “the knowledge that we were capable and prepared to strike had a great effect on the Americans and on their involvement in the matter of Iran” and that “the more the Americans realized that an attack was drawing near, the more they stepped up the sanctions.” But in the view of one senior Israeli intelligence official, Netanyahu’s open preparations for a strike may have worked against him, though, precisely because it pushed Obama to open negotiations before the sanctions made Iran desperate for a deal on harsher terms. “Netanyahu achieved exactly the opposite of what he wanted,” the intelligence official now says. “By doing what he did, he promoted the deal that he fought against afterward.”

6. ‘A Very Unfriendly Act’

In the summer of 2012, American spy satellites detected clusters of Israeli aircraft making what seemed to be early preparations for an attack. Israeli leaders had spent more than a year delivering ominous warnings to Washington that they might launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities — and that if they did, they would give the United States little warning and no chance to stop them. One former senior Israeli security official, looking back at that time, said that it wasn’t until then that he believed the prime minister was serious about striking Iran.

Tensions had been building between Israel and the United States for months. In December 2011, Obama and Barak met in Maryland at a conference for the Union for Reform Judaism. In Barak’s telling, Obama asked for his patience and gave him assurances that the United States would act decisively if the situation demanded it. The Israeli defense minister’s response was chilly. “It isn’t that I don’t believe you,” Barak recalls explaining to the president. “But I know that you will have to decide in accordance with American interests at that time, and there is no way of knowing where they will lie.”

Unfazed, Obama raised the matter of dissent within the Israeli ranks. It was well known, he said, that senior Israeli military and intelligence officials opposed a strike on Iran. This is true, Barak responded, and the dissenting voices were being treated with respect. “They have the right to think otherwise,” he said, but in the end, it was not up to the generals to make the final call.

“If they look up, they see us,” Barak said, meaning himself and the prime minister. “When we look up, we see just the sky.”

Several weeks later, Barak called Leon Panetta, who had recently succeeded Gates as Obama’s secretary of defense, to deliver an ominous piece of news: Israel was delaying a joint military exercise on Israeli soil that had been scheduled for the spring. The annual exercise, called Austere Challenge, would have involved hundreds of American troops deploying to Israel, and Barak told Panetta that it would be risky to have so many Americans on Israeli soil during that period. Are you going to strike? Panetta asked. Barak was coy, but he didn’t deny that a strike was at least a possibility. “He basically said, ‘Look, we haven’t made a final decision, but we want to keep our options open and, frankly, conducting exercises would limit our options,’ ” Panetta recalls.

As a way to calm Israeli concern about the Obama administration’s commitment to keeping Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, Panetta had even taken the extraordinary step of bringing Barak into his Pentagon office and showing him a highly classified video. In a desert in the American Southwest, the Pentagon had constructed an exact replica of the Fordow facility, and the video showed a test of the 30,000-pound massive ordnance penetrator, a bunker-busting weapon the Air Force had designed to penetrate the most hardened of underground defenses. The bomb destroyed the mock-up in the desert. Barak was impressed.

The White House also made an effort to send a senior official to Israel every few weeks — to “Bibisit,” as a former senior Obama-administration official put it. There was plenty of business to attend to, but the visits also had the effect of limiting Netanyahu’s options on when he could order an attack. “It did not escape our understanding that having a visit of a senior American official on the calendar probably bought you a couple of weeks — before the visit and then after the visit,” Shapiro says. “For an Israeli official, it meant you knew you could not strike without feeling that you’ve deceived somebody while they were sitting in your office.”

But behind the scenes, Israel was indeed preparing for a strike. Its military and intelligence services had cut the time needed for the final preparations — for the attack and for the war that might ensue. “I went to bed every night, if I went to bed at all, with the phone close to my ear,” says Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador in Washington at the time. “I was ready to be called in by Israel and sent to the White House or the State Department to tell them we had attacked, or if they already knew from their own sources, straight to CNN.”

Such an attack, which came far closer to happening than has previously been reported, would have been a significant breach of Israel’s relationship with the United States — or at least with the Obama administration. With Obama standing for re-election in a contest that was just months away, some in the White House believed that it was politics, as much as any direct security threat, that was driving Netanyahu’s push for a strike. Netanyahu had courted the candidacy of his old Boston Consulting Group colleague Mitt Romney, Obama’s Republican opponent in the 2012 election. Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s closest political adviser, was in contact with the Romney campaign, which had also taken on John Bolton as a foreign policy adviser. The concern among American officials was that Netanyahu was threatening a strike not just to box Obama in but also to sway the November election in Romney’s favor. (Dermer is now Israel’s ambassador to Washington.)

“It definitely crossed our minds that Israel might consider it an advantage to strike in the final phase of the U.S. election,” Shapiro says. The concern was that Israel might believe that it “could force the United States’ hand to be supportive or to come in behind Israel and assist. Because otherwise, President Obama could be accused of abandoning Israel in its moment of need.”

According to former American officials, Tom Donilon called senior Pentagon and C.I.A. officials to the White House for a two-day meeting to go over the various situations, and possible American responses, resulting from an Israeli attack. Separately, Gen. James Mattis, the head of United States Central Command, urged the C.I.A. to try to locate Iranian missile launchers — they would be among the first targets of an American campaign if an Israeli strike drew the United States into the conflict. (Donilon and Mattis both declined to comment on the planning process.)

Both Donilon and Panetta made urgent trips to Jerusalem to speak to Netanyahu and Barak. Shapiro says, “It was important to convey the message that — in light of our very close coordination on the Iran strategy to that point — it would be viewed obviously as a very unfriendly act to use our politics” to gain leverage. Netanyahu refused to make any promises.

Some former American and Israeli officials think that Netanyahu was simply deploying his own maximum-pressure strategy, to push Obama toward either his own strike or even tougher economic sanctions, but never intended to actually send Israeli jets or commandos to attack Iran. Netanyahu continued to face profound opposition to military action from inside the military and the Mossad — “I think they didn’t do it because the I.D.F. didn’t want to do it,” Dennis Ross says.

A former senior Israeli security official expressed doubts that Netanyahu and Barak were ever serious about a strike. “I have a feeling that just discussing such dramatic issues gave them great pleasure. I saw the politicians’ excitement over their power,” the official says. “Deep inside them, they do not want to attack, because they realize that you never know how it will end. But dabbling in whether to attack or not, and to do so with a cigar in their hands, that is a big deal for them.”

For his part, Netanyahu insists that the threat of an Israeli strike “was not a bluff — it was real. And only because it was real were the Americans truly worried about it.” He pulled back from the brink only because he still could not get a majority of his cabinet to support him. “If I’d had a majority, I would have done it,” he says. “Unequivocally.”

It is possible that Barak’s vigorous efforts to persuade the Americans to join an effort may have inadvertently helped scuttle it, thanks to an incident that added considerably to the tension within Netanyahu’s cabinet. On a trip to the United States in mid-September 2012, just weeks before the election, Barak took a break from official visits to speak privately with Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, who had since moved to Chicago and been elected mayor. When the discussion turned to Iran, Emanuel was characteristically blunt: Netanyahu and Barak were completely misreading American politics, he said, and they shouldn’t assume that Obama would allow the Israeli leaders to dictate his options. Netanyahu soon received a report from the Israeli Embassy about the meeting, accompanied by whispers that Barak had gone rogue and was telling his American counterparts that he was trying to hold “crazy Bibi” back from attacking Iran. Amidror called Yoni Koren, Barak’s chief of staff, and reproached him for not reporting the meeting with Emanuel. Netanyahu went on Israeli television and mocked Barak for going to the United States to “play the role of the moderate savior.”

Barak fired back, saying he had gone to the United States to “reduce tension” between the two sides — implying that Netanyahu had potentially damaged Israel’s most important strategic relationship. There is no evidence that Barak had turned on Netanyahu, but the incident ruptured their long alliance. Barak no longer supported a strike. It wasn’t because of anything that happened in Chicago, he says. The timing was wrong. “It became clear that calling a strike was becoming more and more complicated,” he says. The window of time between a planned joint military exercise and the American election was too tight.

In October, the strike was called off. “It is one thing to strike alone,” Barak says, “and a totally different thing to draw the United States into a confrontation that it doesn’t want to be a part of.”

7. ‘It’s Complicated’

Obama’s resounding re-election victory did little to improve relations between the United States and Israel. The deteriorating situation brought on a dramatic confrontation at Ben Gurion Airport, shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Israel on Nov. 8, 2013, for what was supposed to be a quick stop en route to Geneva for another round of Iran talks. As aides to both men listened through the wall, Netanyahu began shouting at Kerry inside an airport lounge, angered that, in his view, the United States had gone back on promises to Israel about elements of the deal. (Asked about the incident, Netanyahu says, “I don’t raise my voice.”)

Photo illustration by Cristiana Couceiro

As the negotiations progressed, Obama himself spent hours on the phone with the prime minister, engaged in numerous circular efforts to engage Israel in the details of the proposed nuclear deal. But the relationship was beyond repair. The American president would often return to two estimates that the Pentagon had made for him: An Israeli strike would set back Iran’s enrichment program by only a year or two. The proposed nuclear deal would suspend it for a decade or more, and even after that Iran would still be prohibited from building a bomb. Netanyahu wasn’t buying it. During one conversation, according to Philip Gordon, a National Security Council official who listened in on the phone call, he told Obama he planned to lobby Congress to simply kill the deal. Obama told him he wouldn’t win.

In late January 2015, Gordon and other White House officials began hearing rumors that, at first, they couldn’t imagine were true: Netanyahu had been invited to give a speech before Congress to denounce the impending nuclear deal. Gordon immediately dashed off an email to Dermer, the Israeli ambassador. “It’s complicated,” was Dermer’s cryptic reply. Dan Shapiro was furious when Speaker John Boehner’s office notified the State Department of the planned speech, calling it a “punch in the gut” and the hardest moment of his term as ambassador.

He called Yossi Cohen, the national security adviser who would later take over at the Mossad. Cohen, as it turned out, was also in the dark. “I found out about it when you did,” he told Shapiro. The speech failed to turn Congress against the deal, and many in Israel now see it as a foolish stunt. “Israel must never take a side in internal American politics,” says Moshe Yaalon, Netanyahu’s defense minister at the time. “Bibi identified with the Republicans, and that was a mistake. His speech in Congress was poking a finger in the eye of the president of the United States. I said all of this to Bibi, but he told me: ‘Forget it. You don’t get it.’ In his view, no one understands America but him and Ron Dermer.”

Netanyahu still thinks that’s the case, wryly noting that none of his critics understand “the big secret” of American politics. He says that some of his former cabinet members and generals seemed to believe that the United States consisted of little more than the Pentagon and the White House, but they were wrong. American public opinion was the key, and the ability to shape it in some ways cut to the very heart of Netanyahu’s political persona. “In the last 30 years, I appeared innumerable times in the American media and met thousands of American leaders,” he says. “I developed a certain ability to influence public opinion, and that is the most important thing: the ability to sway public opinion in the United States against the regime in Iran.”

Despite his powers of persuasion, Netanyahu was — at least for the moment — unable to prevent a deal. Iran and the United States — along with Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — approved the final draft of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on July 14, 2015. “Tough talk from Washington does not solve problems,” Obama said in a statement that day. “Hard-nosed diplomacy, leadership that has united the world’s major powers, offers a more effective way to verify that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.”

For some, it was the capstone to Obama’s foreign-policy legacy and a significant step forward in stabilizing the region.

For Netanyahu, it was a significant setback, but by no means a permanent one.

8. ‘He Has No Political Weight in the System’

Donald Trump inherited a nuclear deal that American spy agencies believed was fundamentally working to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check. But he also inherited a loaded gun: military plans for an Iran strike that had been meticulously refined during the Obama years.

Less than two weeks after Inauguration Day, Mike Flynn, the national security adviser, took to the White House lectern and said that the White House was “officially putting Iran on notice” for engaging in a missile test and supporting an attack on a Saudi warship. Flynn had little chance to expand on the vague meaning of “notice”; he was pushed out 12 days later. But Trump, in his first address to Congress, twinned in one sentence a shot at Iran and an embrace of Israel. “I have also imposed new sanctions on entities and individuals who support Iran’s ballistic-missile program and reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the state of Israel.” The House chamber erupted in thunderous applause.

Trump did pass on early chances to withdraw from the Iran deal, a result of a split in his cabinet: Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued that the J.C.P.O.A., while imperfect, was fundamentally working and could be strengthened after further negotiations with the Europeans. Gerard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, said that he and his European colleagues came to think that Trump would continue his bluster but ultimately stay in the deal. “There was the feeling that, as usual, all politicians are different when they are campaigning and when they are governing,” he says.

But tensions boiled over in July 2017 during a meeting at the Pentagon, when Tillerson clashed with Trump and Bannon about the wisdom of staying in the Iran deal — “we all know he’s getting out of the deal,” Bannon snapped at Tillerson, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting.

Trump fired Tillerson in March 2018, and H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, quit the same month. Mattis left nine months later. The C.I.A. chief, Mike Pompeo, an Iran hawk since his days as a Republican congressman from Kansas, had taken over as secretary of state and became perhaps the administration’s most influential voice on Iran. And to replace McMaster, Trump turned to John Bolton, who had written the strategy paper the previous summer advocating for Trump to leave the J.C.P.O.A. What remained was to persuade the president to do what he had always said he was going to do: abrogate the Iran deal.

The White House, at least officially, was still on the Tillerson track, favoring negotiation over withdrawal. Brian Hook, a lawyer Tillerson brought to the State Department early in the administration, was negotiating with European leaders to carry out what appeared to be Trump’s orders: push to broaden the J.C.P.O.A. to include new restrictions on Iran’s ballistic-missile program and on support for proxy groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. By April, European officials had come to think that their negotiations with Hook were working and a solution was in sight. A five-page draft agreement laid out, in broad terms, new restrictions on Iran’s missile programs and more aggressive inspections of nuclear facilities.

Hook regularly reported back on the status of the negotiations, telling other American officials that he thought a deal with the Europeans was possible. But the Europeans were up against a powerful set of players — from Netanyahu to the leaders of the Arab gulf states — who used their representatives in Washington to lean on the White House to break from the Iran deal. Some French and German officials now think that the entire negotiation process was an elaborate charade. “It was a fiction because Trump was not behind it,” Araud says.

Once again, policy came down to personnel. “I like Brian Hook,” Araud explained, but he said the French government came to the assessment “that he has no political weight in the system.” (Hook declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Trump-administration officials say that the negotiations were undertaken in good faith but that they didn’t make enough progress before Trump decided to pull the plug. A senior administration official says that although the president “felt that he was being generous” in giving several months to allow the talks in Europe to proceed, “it didn’t mean his generosity was limitless.”

Even as the European talks continued, Netanyahu was working on a different track. In January 2018, he would later announce, a high-stakes Mossad operation enabled the theft of tens of thousands of documents, videos and photographs being housed in a warehouse on the outskirts of Tehran. The intelligence trove represented a kind of secret history of Iran’s quest for a bomb, and Yossi Cohen, the Mossad director, said in a July 2019 speech that the goal of the operation was to help enforce a strict inspection regime. “The operation enabled us to inform the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency where the Iranians are hiding the nuclear materials and enable the group to destroy them,” he said.

But Netanyahu saw far greater opportunities in the intelligence coup, believing that it could help push Trump to finally get out of the J.C.P.O.A. He claims now that even before the election, Trump had told him that he would annul the agreement. “I believed him,” Netanyahu says, “but of course I looked for ways for him to bolster this decision.” That March, Netanyahu met with the president personally to go over highlights from the archive, which he said showed how Iran had lied for two decades about its nuclear program.

By the time Netanyahu went on television in Israel in late April to reveal the fruits of the covert operation to the world, the announcement was seen by many in the United States as an 11th-hour effort to influence Trump’s decision. But its work had already been done. According to an official familiar with the arrangements, American and Israeli officials originally discussed a joint news conference in Washington with four participants: Netanyahu and Cohen, the Mossad chief, would disclose the Mossad operation and its fruits; Pompeo would expound on the significance of the findings; and Trump would use the archive as Exhibit A for why the United States needed to abandon the J.C.P.O.A.

With the decision made, all that was left to do was tell the Europeans, who were still laboring through negotiations under the impression that there was a chance to salvage the deal. On April 24, 2018 — six days before Netanyahu’s televised presentation and two weeks before Trump’s announcement of withdrawal — President Emmanuel Macron of France arrived at the White House for what would be the first official state visit of Trump’s presidency. Trump seemed to like Macron (their relationship was dubbed “Le Bromance”), and that day Trump and Macron and their wives stood on the South Lawn of the White House and planted a small oak tree. The tree came from Belleau Wood, to the east of Paris, where American troops turned back German forces near the end of World War I. Macron wrote on Twitter that the tree “will be a reminder at the White House of these ties that bind us.” The tree has since died.

Trump brought Macron into the Oval Office, where the two men sat alone. Trump became serious, according to an official with knowledge of the meeting, telling Macron he was the first to hear the news: The United States was leaving the J.C.P.O.A. The news was hardly unexpected for Macron, but the French president pushed back nonetheless. He told Trump that the negotiations led by Brian Hook had been successful and that a breakthrough was close.

As was reported at the time, Trump was clearly puzzled and seemed to be largely unaware of the negotiations. “Who is Brian Hook?” he said.

9. ‘A Big Risk’

Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal brought the nuclear standoff full circle. Severe economic sanctions, announced in April with the aim of driving down Iranian oil exports, triggered months of clandestine tit-for-tat measures that escalated to the point that, in late June, American forces were within hours of striking Iran before Trump ordered them to stand down, much to the disappointment of his more hawkish allies. For its part, the Mossad has no doubt about who is to blame for the present crisis. Yossi Cohen said in his July speech that the recent attacks in the gulf region are “part of a single campaign” and were “approved by the Iranian leadership and executed — most of them at least — by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and its proxies.”

The White House has adopted a guns-or-butter approach to economic asphyxiation: Less money in the Iranian government’s treasury will, the argument goes, force the regime to choose between supporting its suffering population and funding groups like Hezbollah that it uses to expand its influence in the Middle East. American intelligence assessments have concluded that Iranian military and financial support to such groups has in fact been drying up, a welcome outcome for leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have seen their own influence in Washington grow during the Trump administration. But the larger goal — a regional realignment — remains very much in flux.

The present crisis has drawn the United States and Israel — and their self-confident leaders — even closer together. Where he once saw opportunity in openly warring with an American president, Netanyahu has used his close relationship with Trump as currency as he fights for his own political survival. Trump is widely popular in Israel, and Netanyahu’s campaign has adorned its party headquarters in Tel Aviv with a portrait of the two men standing together. One senior Israeli official, cracking a smile, said, “Trump is the only one who could beat Netanyahu in the election.” (Another side of the building features a similar portrait, with Netanyahu standing beside President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.)

Having served as C.I.A. director and secretary of defense during a meltdown in relations between an American president and an Israeli prime minister, Leon Panetta says there is now danger in the other extreme. “If it looks like the United States is going to do whatever Israel’s bidding is, on any issue, then I think the United States loses any leverage,” he said. “Our fundamental goal has to be to protect our national security interests. What is in the United States’ interest? And yes, we are a friend and an ally of Israel, but I think we always have to maintain a relationship that looks at the bigger picture of that region and what needs to be done to preserve peace in that region.” In recent days, Trump has used support for Israel as a kind of litmus test for American Jews, saying that Jews who opposed him were being “disloyal” both to Israel and the Jewish people.

And yet Trump’s last-minute decision to abort the attack in June led to a concern among Iran hawks in both Israel and the United States: that the president ultimately might not have the resolve to confront the threat with military force. The hawks also had reason to fear that two other partners in the anti-Iran coalition — Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. — might read any “softening” of Trump’s position on Iran as a sign that they, too, must adjust their positions out of fear of being left alone to deal with their regional nemesis. Both countries once aggressively lobbied the Trump administration to take a hard-line position on Iran and advocated the United States’ leaving the J.C.P.O.A. But the U.A.E. recently announced a drawdown of its military involvement in Yemen — where Emirati and Saudi troops have been battling a rebel group that receives military support from Iran — and sent a delegation to Tehran to discuss maritime security.

Once again, more than a decade after they first raised the subject with American officials, Israeli officials have been considering the possibility of a unilateral strike against Iran. Unlike with Bush and Obama, there is greater confidence that Trump wouldn’t stand in the way. Netanyahu has recently been flexing Israeli muscle around the Middle East — launching hundreds of raids into Syria against Iranian and Hezbollah arms stores and troop concentrations, and undertaking an even bolder operation in July against a base in eastern Iraq that, Israeli intelligence believed, was being used to store long-range guided missiles en route to Iranian forces in Syria.

The threat of war could be a bluff, or an election ploy. But it also represents a dangerous confluence of interests: an American president often reluctant to use military force and an Israeli prime minister looking to deal with unfinished business. “I think that it’s far more likely that Trump would give Netanyahu a green light to strike Iran than that Trump would strike himself,” Shapiro says. “But that, you know, is a big risk.”

Yaakov Peri, a former chief of Shin Bet, has for years watched Netanyahu speak about the Iran threat in almost apocalyptic terms. He has made a kind of causal study of the man whose presence for more than a decade has loomed over American decision making about Iran, one who doesn’t believe he’s finished. “When Bibi took the Knesset podium to make a speech, we used to play a game and bet how often he would say the name Iran,” he says. “Bibi today is spellbound by his success in putting the issue on the world agenda, by Trump being so deeply involved with it, by the fact that his opinion is listened to — and that he was the prophet of doom who foresaw all of this.”

Negative Chance of a New Nuclear Deal

Iran president insists he will not meet Trump for nuclear talks

After a political backlash in Tehran to suggestions that he might meet the US president, Hassan Rouhani makes clear that his answer to an offer of personal talks ‘will always be a negative’

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has said he will not take part in bilateral talks with Donald Trump. Last week Mr Rouhani said that would meet anyone if it served the national interest of his country – hinting at a meeting with the US president but without mentioning Trump’s name. However, that statement did not play well among hardline factions in Iran, sparking a political backlash.

Speaking in Tehran, Mr Rouhani insisted that no contact with Mr Trump would take place.

He said: “There has been a lot of offers for talks but our answer will always be negative. If America lifts all the sanctions then like before it can join multilateral talks between Tehran and parties to the 2015 deal.” Mr Rouhani also stated that Iran’s policies and political direction are determined by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, putting the ball in the Leader’s court.

Although the Supreme Leader did not publicly comment on Mr Rouhani’s suggestion of meeting the US president, hardline factions close to Ayatollah Khamenei republished a video of him from last year in which he said there could be no meetings between the Iranian president and Mr Trump. In that video, Khamenei even warned his country’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to not take such a meeting.

Mr Rouhani’s change of tone within a week signals that chances of him having a public meeting and a photo-op with Mr Trump at the United Nations in New York has diminished, as the annual assembly of world leaders is fast approaching. The Trump administration has also recently put sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister which could potentially limit Mr Zarif’s travel to New York.

Last year Mr Trump unilaterally pulled America out of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, calling it the “worst deal ever”. Iran recently reacted by slowly violating limits of the deal and stepping up its nuclear programme, which it has always insisted is peaceful and concerned with generating power and scientific research.

European powers have been trying to preserve the deal, with French efforts to mediate between Washington and Tehran moving further this week.

On Monday France reportedly offered Iran a $15 billion line of credit to allow it to sell its oil, in exchange for Tehran scaling back its nuclear program to the limits of the 2015 agreement. Since Mr Trump reinstated oil sanctions against Iran, the country’s exports have dramatically decreased and Tehran has been struggling to prevent a major loss.

Farrokh Negahdar, a former Iranian opposition leader who lives in exile in London, told The Independent that two important decisions had been made over the last few months in Tehran. First, he says, Iranians have arrived at the conclusion that they should not line themselves up with the Democratic party in the US. “Democrats might be interested in Trump’s failure in sitting down with Iranian partners. Iran should act independently upon its own needs or national interests,” Mr Negahdar said. Secondly, Iranians hope to rely on, or even widen, the gap between President Trump and his national security adviser, John Bolton.

Jon B Wolfsthal, senior advisor at Global Zero and former senior director at the National Security Council in the Obama administration, told The Independent “the US and Iran need to engage to avoid conflict and see if a deal to prevent a nuclear Iran is possible”. On the other hand, “Trump has no chance of being focused, detailed, or principled enough to get a good deal. I fear Iran will be North Korea but worse. With North Korea, Trump has undermined any effort to roll back Kim’s nuclear and missile programmes. But with Iran, Trump may accept a deal that he can sell as progress but leaves Iran even closer to a nuclear capability,” Mr Wolfsthal added.

Meanwhile the US has taken further steps against Tehran, imposing sanctions on its civilian space agency and two research organisations that the US says are being used for Iran’s ballistic missile program. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said that last week’s failed attempt to test a space launch vehicle underscored “the urgency of the threat” the program represents. He added: “The United States will not allow Iran to use its space launch program as cover to advance its ballistic missile programmes.”

Last week Mr Trump tweeted a photo of the satellite launch pad in Iran, claiming the US had no involvement in the failure of the launch. Iran’s Minister of Technology then responded on twitter saying the satellite is doing well. He later posted a selfie of himself with the satellite named “Nahid 1”.

 

Two Days to Nuke Up

A technician checks valves at the uranium conversian facility in Isfahan, 450 km south of Tehran, February 3, 2007.Reuters

Iran Says It Is Able to Resume Production of 20% Enriched Uranium in 2 Days

Enriching uranium up to 20% purity is considered an important intermediate stage on the path to obtaining the 90% pure fissile uranium needed for a bomb

Reuters03.09.2019 | 14:21

Iran is capable of resuming production of 20% enriched uranium within two days, the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Behrouz Kamalvandi said on Tuesday.

“If Iran decides, it can have 20% enriched fuel within one to two days,” Fars news agency quoted Kamalvandi as saying.

Enriching uranium up to 20% purity is considered an important intermediate stage on the path to obtaining the 90% pure fissile uranium needed for a bomb.

Iran will never hold bilateral talks with the United States but if it lifts all the sanctions it reimposed on Iran it can join multilateral talks between Iran and other parties to a 2015 nuclear deal, President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday.

“No decision has ever been taken to hold talks with the U.S. and there has been a lot of offers for talks but our answer will always be negative,” Rouhani told an open session of parliament broadcast live on state radio.

“If America lifts all the sanctions then like before it can join multilateral talks between Tehran and parties to the 2015 deal,” he added.

U.S. President Donald Trump, although applying “maximum pressure” on Iran, has offered to meet its leaders and hold bilateral talks with no pre-conditions to end the confrontation between their countries.

Last month, Rouhani said Iran would not talk to its longtime foe until the United States lifted all of the sanctions it reimposed after it exited the 2015 nuclear deal last year.

European parties to the deal have struggled to calm the deepening confrontation between Iran and the United States and save the deal by shielding Iran’s economy from the sanctions.

But the European powers have warned that their support for the deal is dependent on Iran’s full commitment to it.

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Iran has called on the Europeans to accelerate their efforts and Rouhani stressed on Tuesday that Iran would take a third step in scaling back its nuclear commitments by Thursday unless the Europeans kept their promises to salvage the deal.

“If Europeans can purchase our oil or pre-purchase it and we can have access to our money, that will ease the situation and we can fully implement the deal… otherwise we will take our third step,” he said.

The 2015 deal between Iran and six other countries, reached under former U.S. President Barack Obama, curbed Iran’s nuclear work in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions in 2016.