Analysis: What is the PM's red line on Iran?

National security experts discuss what Netanyahu may have in mind when he calls for a red line to be drawn.

September 4, 2012 23:11
2 minute read.
Ahmadinejad looks on next to nuclear scientists

Ahmadinejad nuclear unveiling 390. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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This week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke of a critical red line, a watershed moment that the international community must tell Iran that there is no turning back from, if Tehran wishes to avoid a military strike.

Just what could that red line be? National security experts provide a range of answers.

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“I do not know what ‘red line’ Netanyahu has in mind, but at this point, stopping all uranium enrichment, and full transparency for International Atomic Energy Agency experts visiting all nuclear sites is necessary to convince Israel that Iran no longer pursues a nuclear military option, said Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin- Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

“Later on, dismantling the uranium enrichment infrastructure is necessary,” Inbar said. Furthermore, the prevention of construction of plutonium separation facilities “could reassure Israel that Iran is not on its way to the bomb.”

Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Institute for National Security Studies, noted that red lines have already been crossed by Iran.

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“I find myself totally in agreement with Netanyahu on this point,” she said. “You need massive pressure on Iran to get it to negotiate seriously,” Landau said, adding that this was the purpose served by defining a red line.

Without a credible military threat, economic sanctions and diplomacy stood no chance, she said. While international sanctions have been tightened, “we’re not seeing a clear enough message on the credible threat,” Landau added.

General statements by US President Barack Obama have not been sufficient, Landau argued, “because it seems that the US is depending on intelligence intercepts of information showing that Iran has made a decision, that the supreme leader told the head of the nuclear program, go for it, we’re going for nuclear weapons.”

But the US could very easily miss that information, and Iran could move to the breakthrough stage in its nuclear program without giving the US enough time to use military force, she argued.

“The idea is to set a red line now, to beef up the credibility of consequences,” Landau said.

The clearest red line would be any indication that Iran has enriched uranium beyond the 20 percent level, she added. The IAEA can detect that kind of change.

“That is a clear-cut red line. It is not based on intelligence. The idea is that you get Iran to think that the US is totally serious,” Landau said.

A 20 percent red line policy stands a chance of getting Iran to enter into negotiations in a serious manner, in which the West would aim to get the Islamic Republic to stop enriching uranium, ship out its stockpile and shut down its subterranean nuclear site at Fordow.

Ephraim Kam, deputy head of the Institute for National Security Studies said he could only guess what Netanyahu meant by a red line: “A defined and final timetable for negotiations with Iran, after which other measures will be taken, including a military option.”

Most importantly, Kam said, Netanyahu is expecting the US “to make it clear, without stuttering, that the military option is real if Iran does not stop enriching uranium.”

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