Israel was struck by mixed feelings on Sunday amid optimism in the West that
talks world powers will hold with Iran this week in Baghdad could end in an
agreement over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
On the one hand,
Israeli officials acknowledged that without Israel’s efforts and primarily Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s saber rattling,
the world would not have imposed the sanctions it has and would not be taking
the issue as seriously as it is.
On the other hand, the Israelis are at
the same time concerned that under a deal that does not lead to a complete
cessation of the enrichment of uranium, Iran will be able to continue to develop
a nuclear weapon, albeit a bit slower than it is today.
The P5+1 – the
United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – seems to be putting
the emphasis right now on getting the Iranians to suspend their enrichment of
uranium to 20 percent, the closure of the underground Fordow facility and the
removal of the stockpile enriched to 20%.
The reason for the focus on
this part of Iran’s nuclear program is that this is the primary concern for
Israel at the moment.
The enrichment of uranium to 20% levels and the
activation of the Fordow facility is what has served as Israel’s main
justification for a strike in the coming months or before Iran enters the
so-called “immunity zone”. If this is no longer the case, the timeline gets
pushed back as does a military option.
Israel’s concern though is that
while Iran might appear to be complying in the talks that will be held in
Baghdad this week, it might be toying with the West.
This fear is based
on previous rounds of engagement with Iran over the years which ended in
failure. It is also based on a general assessment regarding Iran that after
working so hard to get to where it is today, it will not easily walk
That is why Israel has been taking the more stringent approach,
calling for a complete cessation of enrichment activities, even to the low level
This could be for two different reasons: One possibility is that
by making tougher demands, Israel is hoping that the West will reach something
close –like stopping enrichment to 20% – which would be enough. The second
possibility is that without a complete stop of enrichment, Israel would still
feel justified to employ a military option.