The secret sextet
Begin, Meridor, Ya'alon, Lieberman, Barak, Netanyahu and Obama must swiftly and resolutely grasp their opportunity.
As everyone knows, Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet is a mess. Big, bloated and mediocre, it is stressed out and flip-flopping, running scared and fundamentally flawed. However, this wretched cabinet contains one apparatus worthy of special mention - the sextet. This is the supreme strategic team consisting of Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Ya'alon, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin. Little is known about the sextet. Nothing leaks from it. The sextet has (almost) no public relations and (almost) no politics. It functions in an orderly, responsible and businesslike manner. It meets several times a week, holds lengthy discussions and navigates Israel's foreign policy with professionalism that has not been seen for years.
Barak has been part of Israel's decision-making processes for about a quarter century. Privately, he says he has never seen such a thing. In complete contrast to the reckless way Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni conducted state affairs, every issue is now debated thoroughly and methodically. Unlike the daily mixture customary in Olmert and Amir Peretz's days between high strategy and petty politics, proceedings now are orderly.
Begin, Meridor and Ya'alon are the scholars. They do their homework, read every document and ask the right questions. Netanyahu and Barak are the captains. Surprisingly, they are displaying a sober view of reality, responsible management and judgment. Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is living up to his post. There is no similarity between the bullying public Yvet and the thinking Avigdor, who plays an important role in closed debates.
The most disturbing information on the sextet's agenda regards Iran. National Security Advisor Uzi Arad was right - the earth is scorched. In 2005 Iran resumed its military nuclear program. In 2006 it completed the research and development process. In 2007 it began enriching uranium industrially. In 2008 it crossed the technological threshold enabling the production of nuclear arms. At the end of 2009 it will have enough fissile material to produce its first atomic bomb.
The question whether Iran will have nuclear weapons in 2012 or 2014 is simplistic. If Iran really wants to, it will have nuclear weapons next summer. But Iran is aware that running helter-skelter to the nuclear bomb is very risky. So it is building its nuclear potential gradually. When the number of centrifuges in Natanz is not 7,000 but 30,000, Iran will be unstoppable. When it has enough fissile material for a dozen bombs, it will hold all the cards. So postponing the deadline does not mean the deadline is no longer valid. By beating the West with a knockout in the past four years, Iran has proved that the deadline is more lethal than ever.
All senior American officials visiting Arab states in recent weeks have broached one issue only - Iran. Some moderate Arab leaders are no longer just talking but are launching civilian nuclear programs that could turn military later on. The message is simple. If Iran goes nuclear, the Middle East goes nuclear. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are already preparing for it. The world could become a nuclear jungle before U.S. President Barack Obama's term in office ends.
The significance is clear - the sextet will have to make fatal decisions in the near future. The world is talking about plan A (dialogue) and preparing for plan B (sanctions). But the dialogue is a joke and the sanctions could be too little, too late. If the United States doesn't come to its senses the dilemma will be in plan C (to bomb or not to bomb).
This dilemma does not bode well. So the sextet faces a double challenge - it must think of an alternative creative idea on the one hand, and get America to sober up on the other. The democratic rebellion against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has created a golden opportunity. Begin, Meridor, Ya'alon, Lieberman, Barak, Netanyahu and Obama must use it swiftly and resolutely.