Buying time for Iran

Negotiations between Iran and "P5+1" in Istanbul

Negotiations between Iran and "P5+1" in Istanbul

The talks last week between the Iranian regime and representatives of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany (the “P5+1″) went more or less like this:

P5+1: We’ll reduce sanctions if you stop enriching uranium.

Iran: How about we enrich uranium and you reduce sanctions?

Unnamed US official: “We’re getting to things that matter.”

Another meeting has been set for July 18.

Ho hum, almost another month, more uranium enriched to (at least) 20% and the Fordow facilities get more centrifuges and become more difficult to hit. I suppose that ultimately the P5+1 will get tough, and ‘force’ Iran to agree to something more substantial than yet another meeting date. But since their initial bargaining position was considered by many (including Israeli PM Netanyahu) inadequate to prevent Iran from preparing a “fast breakout” position in which weapons could be built on short notice, how much less adequate will the final deal be?

In an editorial, the Washington Post said,

For now, the crucial question is whether even an interim, time-buying deal is possible. The administration’s optimism was based on the notion that Iran would agree to cease its most advanced form of uranium enrichment, export the stockpile of that material to the West and stop operations at Fordow in exchange for several Western concessions, like the supply of spare parts for commercial aircraft and fuel for a reactor that produces medical isotopes. In Baghdad, Iran rejected that deal as one-sided; it appears to expect major sanctions relief in exchange for any freeze of advanced enrichment.

Who is buying time here, of course is Iran — or rather, it is being given to them gratis. The sanctions and concessions that are on the table are ludicrous, given the fact that acquisition of nuclear weapons has been among the most important objectives of Iranian policy for decades, one to which enormous resources have been dedicated. Imagine trying to induce the US to drop the Manhattan Project in 1944!

It is a good bet that the only way to stop Iran today is by force. A European oil embargo is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, but even that will leave loopholes. And there are other markets for Iranian oil, like Turkey and of course China, Japan, India and South Korea.

While the Iranian nuclear program is a problem for the US and for Israel, it is both more serious and more urgent for Israel.

The Obama Administration sent diplomat Wendy Sherman to Jerusalem on Friday to “reaffirm our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.” And no doubt to deploy various carrots and sticks to keep Israel from taking matters into its own hands.

Will Israel violate its long-held principle that it cannot depend on others to guarantee its security? I doubt it, for two reasons. One is that the West has time and again violated its commitments to Israel:

  • Eisenhower’s 1956 promise to keep the strait of Tiran open was not honored by LBJ in 1967.
  • In 1991, G. H. W. Bush promised to destroy the Scud launchers in Iraq if Israel stayed out of the conflict. Israel stayed out, but the Scuds continued to fall on Tel Aviv.
  • During the Oslo period and the Second Intifada, Israel made numerous serious concessions and withdrawals in the name of peace, while the Arabs didn’t budge. Rather, Arafat started the Second Intifada and Hamas rocketed southern Israel from Gaza. Yet Western diplomatic pressure and condemnation of Israel increased.
  • The UN Security Council passed resolution 1701 to end the Second Lebanon War in 2006. It called for UN forces to block Hizballah’s return to South Lebanon, to interdict arms shipments from Syria and to disarm Hizballah’s militia. None of these things happened, and Hizballah has refortified South Lebanon and rearmed with weapons delivered through Syria.
  • The 1994 letter to then-PM Sharon from George W. Bush, which said that a “full and complete” return to 1949 lines and the settlement of Arab refugees in Israel were not “realistic,” was disavowed by the Obama Administration.

The second reason is specific to the Obama administration, which has shown itself remarkably unfriendly to Israel so far:

  • President Obama began his Mideast policy with a speech in Cairo in which he compared the Holocaust to Palestinian suffering in pursuit of a homeland.
  • Then he adopted the position — more extreme than that of the Palestinians themselves at the time — that any Israeli construction outside of the Green Line was an ‘obstacle to peace’, and in March 2010 orchestrated a break with Israel over the announcement by a local authority of plans to build apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.
  • Obama then summoned PM Netanyahu to Washington and abandoned him in a White House conference room while he went to have dinner with his family. There were no photo-ops; the whole affair seemed designed to humiliate the PM in a way which was unprecedented.
  • In May of 2011, Obama produced a “peace proposal” which moved US policy significantly closer to the Arab position and away from Israel. If implemented, it would be a disaster for Israel. Netanyahu was on a plane to the US when the speech was delivered, and he did not receive a heads-up beforehand.

If you were PM Netanyahu and were deciding whether you could entrust the West in general, and this US administration in particular, with the physical survival of your country, what would you do?

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2 Responses to “Buying time for Iran”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    While the examples given here of broken U.S. promises to Israel are strong evidence for the proposition that Israel should not rely on U.S. guarantees the situation involving Iran’s nuclear program is still not clear. We hear about the progress in enriching uranium, and today David Albright said that the Iranians already have enough fissile material for five nuclear weapons, but we also here about delays and trouble in their program. What effect for instance does the newly revealed Malware ‘Flame’ have on Iran’s nuclear program?
    Also there are increasing reports on the failure of the negotiations. If that is the case doesn’t this increase the likelihood that the U.S. will in fact take action?
    At present it seems to me that there are two many unknowables to argue with certainty that Israel’s best option now is attacking Iran as soon as possible.

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    Brett Stephens in today’s WSJ says that Iran is making fools out of the West, as always. He adds something which I’ve wondered about: perhaps Iran actually wants Israel to attack, believing that an attack would be ineffective and would cast Israel as the aggressor.