(/sites/default/files/uploads/2013/11/Iran.jpg)Israel—and Sunni Arab states of the Middle East led by Saudi Arabia—watched with trepidation on Wednesday as the P5+1 countries and Iran reconvened in Geneva for another round of nuclear talks.
British foreign secretary William Hague spoke of narrow differences and a historic deal being in reach. “It is the best chance for a long time,” he told an Istanbul news conference, “to make progress on one of the gravest problems in foreign policy.”
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov—whose country is not exactly a foe of Iran, having helped it build its Bushehr nuclear reactor—said: “We hope the efforts that are being made will be crowned with success at the meeting that opens today in Geneva.”
In a sort of prelude to this lovefest, on Tuesday Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif released a YouTube video in which he said:
For us, nuclear energy is about securing the future of our children, about diversifying our economy, about stopping the burning of our oil, and about generating clean power.
In other words, meet the new, hip, enlightened Iran, second to none in its concern for clean power and diversity.
Zarif did not explain why, if those are Iran’s innocent aims, it has been spending billions of dollars for decades in developing bomb-grade uranium, a reactor for making plutonium bombs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear triggering devices, and so on. But sometimes diversity and clean power come with certain accoutrements.
The depressing picture that emerges, though, is of an ongoing courtship the Western powers—still with the possible exception of France—cannot resist; while the non-Western members of the P5+1—Russia and China—have been abetting Iran for years anyway.
To the Obama administration and the Europeans an interim agreement at this point, followed by a supposed six-month trial period for further diplomacy, looks enticing indeed. It takes the proverbial military option off the table, at last giving that supposedly heavily weighted table some rest. It puts Israel in a position where, for its part, it cannot exercise a military option without becoming a rogue state responsible for wrecking a peace process. And by relaxing sanctions it opens the gates—very cautiously and reversibly, we’re told—to renewed, lucrative trade with the expansionist, terror-supporting Shiite power which, after all, is a source of good business.
By this time, the objections of Israel—and its not-so-tacit Arab allies on this issue—to the deal said to be taking shape are well known. The deal requires Iran to suspend uranium enrichment temporarily while leaving all 19,000 of its enrichment devices—that is, centrifuges—in place. It requires Iran to stop fueling its Arak plutonium reactor but not to stop building it. And it relaxes what we’re told will be only a few billion dollars’ worth of sanctions, but which Israel says will quickly snowball to $20-$40 billion worth and more.
This week Israel’s former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, who stepped down only a few weeks ago, said in an unusually blunt statement that Israel could set back Iran’s nuclear program “for a very long time,” that its air force has been conducting “very long-range flights …all around the world,” and that:
We are not bluffing. We are very serious, preparing ourselves for the possibility that Israel will have to defend itself by itself. From here to Iran, it is 2,000 kilometers [1,243 miles], and you have to be familiar with such destinations. All those who have radar cover of the Middle East know what we are doing.
The coming days may tell whether the U.S. and Europe are eager for a deal at just about any price, whether the supposed sticking point of Iran’s insistence on a “right” to enrich uranium can be finessed, and whether France is indeed in the Sunni Arabs’ and Israel’s camp and will seriously oppose a bad deal. The first two seem likely, the third more dubious, but time—possibly not much more time—will tell.
If things continue in their downward trend, with a bad, easily-violated deal creating passive satisfaction in Washington, Brussels, London, and Berlin, the sanctions crumbing as Western and Chinese firms leap happily into all sorts of loopholes, and Iran retaining all its capabilities, Israel will be left facing a test.
A few days ago Britain’s _Sunday Times_—known for sensationalistic stories about Israeli security issues—ran a report claiming that the Mossad and Saudi officials are working together on “contingency plans” for a strike on Iran. Far-fetched? Maybe; but desperation can produce strange friendships.
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