Kerry & Netanyahu Spar in Rome

With Iran’s nuclear clock running out.

BFD8291D-E3C2-4210-BE9A-1B2F7F47908E_mw1024_n_sAP reported this week that Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi “predicted…the nuclear talks could take as long as a year…with the first milestone coming in three to six months and negotiations concluding within the year.”

That “prediction” should come as no surprise. The same report says “significant gaps remain between what the Iranians offered” in last week’s first round of talks and what the P5+1 countries are seeking “to reduce fears Iran wants to build nuclear weapons.”

In other words, Iran’s strategy is to make an offer it knows even its eagerly “peace”-seeking interlocutors are quite capable of refusing—and then take lots of time seemingly whittling down that offer toward something more acceptable. Meanwhile Israel—if this goes according to plan—gets diplomatically closed out of taking military action and incurring universal wrath by wrecking “peace” and “progress.”

Also this week The New Republic posted a long interview with Amos Yadlin, Israel’s previous chief of military intelligence and current head of its leading security think tank.

Interviewer Ben Birnbaum notes that in September 2012, when many thought an Israeli strike on Iran was imminent, Yadlin told an Israeli journalist: “They say that time has almost run out, but I say there is still time. The decisive year is not 2012 but 2013. Maybe even early 2014.”

That is, a direct clash with Araghchi’s assessment of another leisurely year for talks.

Does Yadlin still see it the same way? It emerges that he does:

…I think 2012 was the wrong year to do it, because in 2012, it was a bright red light from Washington. I would like to emphasize, Israel is not asking for a green light. Israel only doesn’t want to do something that is going 180 degrees against American vital interests as long as it is not a response to a threat that is almost an existential threat. I think in late 2013 or early 2014, especially if America sees that Iran is not serious about reaching an acceptable agreement and only continues to buy time, the U.S. will accept an Israeli attack because a nuclear Iran is absolutely against American vital national security interests.

Yadlin adds later:

The most problematic issue has nothing to do with Israel. It’s nonproliferation in the Middle East. It’s the fact that the Saudis, the Egyptians, and the Turks will go for nuclear weapons if Iran gets them, and…miscalculations, unintended escalations, nuclear weapons to terrorists will be multiplied tenfold—it will be a nuclear nightmare.

Meanwhile, in a tour of European capitals this week Secretary of State John Kerry tried to assuage, in particular, Israeli and Saudi concerns about Washington’s Iran policy. According to a New York Times report on Thursday, Kerry had little success.

The Times notes that “Saudi officials have made it clear they are frustrated with the Obama administration,” which is viewed in the region at large as simply seeking to avoid confrontations and hence quite amenable to Iran’s approach of drawing out the talks and playing for time.

And as for Kerry’s seven-hour-long meeting in Rome on Wednesday with Binyamin Netanyahu, the Times says “Kerry’s comments appeared to do little to persuade” the Israeli prime minister, with “the United States and other world powers…willing to explore a deal that is far less stringent” than any Netanyahu would consider acceptable.

In other words, the picture that emerges is less optimistic than former intelligence chief Yadlin’s expectation of U.S. understanding for a possible Israeli attack in a matter of months.

The next round of talks with Iran on November 7-8 should help clarify whether the U.S. and its European allies are capable, even at this late date, of relating to the danger with a modicum of seriousness.

Israel, for its part, should be thinking about forestalling the nuclear nightmare without even an amber light from Washington.

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