'US, Israel and Iran have approached the end game'

ByHILARY LEILA KRIEGER
October 21, 2010 03:14

US policy of sanctions and engagement is hardening Iran’s position, claims ex-Teheran U. prof at debate on Islamic Republic in Washington.

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Iran Bomb 311. (photo credit:ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON – A former University of Teheran professor warned Wednesday that the US, Israel and Iran have “approached the end game” where “very difficult choices” will have to be made.

Farideh Farhi, speaking at an event organized by the US Institute of Peace, also assessed that turning up pressure on Iran has had an effect – one of pushing Iran further away from the negotiating table.

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“The combined US policy of sanctions and offers of talks without preconditions is having an impact, just not the intended one,” she said.

“The escalation has been so drastic on both sides it has made it almost impossible for both sides domestically to make compromises,” she contended, arguing that when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, “It actually entrenches the worst aspects of Iranian policy. I do not believe that it will change.”

Whereas before the sanctions conservatives in Iran had disagreed with Ahmadinejad’s tactics, she said, they have “widely supported” him ever since.

Farhi and most of the panelists at Wednesday’s event agreed that whatever the effects, sanctions were unlikely to convince Iran to halt its nuclear program.

But Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli-Iranian analyst, dissented.

He thought that sanctions could possibly lead to Iranian concessions in negotiations, which is why he praised the Obama administration for enacting tough sanctions as well as keeping the door to diplomacy open.

He said that the American outreach to Iran – and the subsequent refusal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to accept the US offers – had helped Israel significantly by strengthening the international case for sanctions.

But Javedanfar also said the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear drive had been hurt by Israel’s own actions.

He charged that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision not to extend the recent settlement freeze, which Palestinians have made a condition of continuing peace talks, played directly into Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hands.

“The decision to end the settlement freeze was a gift for President Ahmadinejad,” according to Javedanfar. “He would have loved the opportunity to take the focus away from Iran and put it on the West Bank. The current Israeli government did it for him.”

Javedanfar described Israel as more isolated than ever, and said that by not resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not talking to Syria, the country is “strengthening the hand of Iran.”

Former State Department official Steven Simon said that both the US and Israel have the same goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb, but they differ on what “a nuclear-capable Iran” means. While the US doesn’t want Iran to be able to rapidly assemble a bomb if it chose to, Israel’s red line was in an earlier stage of enrichment for such a bomb.

“The difference between those red lines leaves quite a lot of room for error,” he warned.

Simon noted that in the past Israel had taken unilateral military action – such as in the case of its attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in the early 1980s – “as a last resort” when it felt the international community had turned its back on the issue.

Still, he said he didn’t think that Israel would risk its relationship with the US over an attack, though he added, “they might misjudge the risk.”

He listed other factors affecting an Israeli decision to attack, such as whether sanctions, diplomacy and covert actions have been exhausted; whether Israel felt it could succeed in setting back the program at least three to five years, and whether it would have an uncontested flight plan for reaching Iran.

A US Institute of Peace expert, Scott Lasensky, suggested that another consideration for Israel would be the strategic context. He noted that during the first Gulf War, when Israel exercised restraint and didn’t respond to Iraqi missile attacks, it was in the context of a massive US military build-up and active US exercising of force.

“One problem today when you think about [Israeli] restraint,” he said, “is that Israelis don’t see the United States preparing for a credible threat to use military action, and it’s heightened their sense of isolation.”

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