Geneive Abdo is director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
Iran is set for nuclear talks Wednesday with members of the U.N. Security Council, and the Obama administration, as well as some Iranian and European Union officials, expressed optimism that a compromise will be reached.
But it is useful to examine Israel’s long-term objectives for a bit of a reality check.
During a recent trip to Israel, where I met government officials, one issue became clear: for many in the Israeli government, Iran has already crossed the red line. Unless Iran halts all enrichment and dismantles its nuclear program, the diplomatic process is irrelevant to many Israeli officials.
The Israelis are not willing to wait for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to make the political decision to move toward developing a nuclear weapon; by then, it is too late. This is a major point of difference between Israel and the United States and the European Union — one which the nuclear talks will not resolve. The Americans and Europeans are trying to buy time by stating repeatedly that Khamenei has not yet made the decision to develop a nuclear bomb. But this is of no comfort to the Israelis.
According to a report Saturday in the New York Times, Obama administration officials said the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany — were prepared to offer a deal to the Iranians that would include easing restrictions on the sale of technology, such as airplane parts and assistance to Iran’s energy complex.
Even if Iran were to accept such a deal, it is highly unlikely the regime would make concessions in turn to meet Israeli demands.
Iran demands the right to a nuclear program, including enrichment. But the Israelis will accept only the long-standing P5+1 position of no enrichment. Even if, as former Iranian ambassador Hossein Mousavian suggests, that an offer be made to limit enrichment at 3.5% to 5%, this is not enough for Israel.
Iran also wants an end to sanctions. But the sanctions are the only measures that have pacified Israel. There is talk that the P5+1 might offer a deal that would involve pushing back the scheduled oil embargo on Iran, which is due to take effect July 1. This would only antagonize Israel.
Iran could agree to permit inspectors full surveillance of its centrifuges. But the Israelis have little or no trust in Iran and believe that while inspections might address the part of Iran’s nuclear program that is visible, they wouldn’t do much to monitor nuclear technology the Iranians may have hidden from the international community.
So why all the optimism? The P5+1 needs to buy time to avert a unilateral attack by Israel. And the Iranians need ongoing diplomacy to push back the oil embargo.
As the talks draw near, high-ranking Iranian officials have been making daily statements predicting the talks will be a great success. For once, it seems Iran and the West are on the same page.
The only negative statements have been made by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator. Jalili mentioned Thursday that Iran considers using nuclear energy its right and will not budge from this position.
Iran’s development path is not reversible, he said, adding that any additional pressure on Iran will only result in further resistance and progress. In the long term, these statements are likely to more accurately reflect Iran’s position.
The Israeli clock has already run out. Whatever patience Israel is demonstrating is merely to respect President Obama’s wish to get through the November election without an incident.
But it is likely that after November, there will no longer be a pretense of optimism from any side.
The views in this article are solely those of Geneive Abdo.
If the views expressed here are valid, credible and based on "reality," once again, for political purposes, we have "kicked the can down the road" without effectively resolving the impasse.
- Naturally, the Obama administration does not want a military conflict between now and November when the American people will vote in another presidential election.
- Naturally, the Israeli people and government do not trust the Iranians in their public display of innocence about nuclear enrichment.
- Naturally, (it would seem) there is a double standard with respect to nuclear weapons, given Israel's fairly large stockpile, while refusing a similar weapon to Iran.
- Naturally, the group of P5 +1 wants the UN agency IAEA to have the right to full inspection of Iran's facilities.
- Naturally, support for Iran, against the decisions of P5+1 will come from Russia and China.
- Naturally, should Iran develop nuclear weapons, other Middle East countries will seek to obtain them.
- Naturally, North Korea, Iran, and potentially Pakistan (already a nuclear power) will make whatever developmental secrets available to whatever state, in opposition to the west, seeks nuclear weapons.
- And finally, naturally, the UN has been, is and will be impotent to reach an effective and enforceable agreement to bring this conflict to a resolution...
- we can expect both a full-court press to develop nuclear weapons by Iran
- we can also expect an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel (eventually joined by the U.S.) shortly after the U.S. elections
- we can also expect other Middle East countries to take sides in such a conflict
- we can also expect the UN to twiddle its collective fingers while the conflict escalates
- we can also expect Iran to retaliate against Israel, resulting in many casualties on both sides
- we can also expect, following a military "chapter" in this story, some cease-fire, that merely band-aids the distrust and the contempt that Iran has for Israel's existence
- we can also expect the price of oil, shortly before, during and after the conflict, to rise considerably
- we can also expect the U.S. president elected in 2016 to have to deal with this evolving conflict both politically and militarily, as well as make another attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict