Demonstrators protest against Iran's regime opposite Coburg Palace, the venue of talks on Iran's disputed nuclear programm in Vienna November 19, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Will Israel be pushed into a corner from which military action against Iran may be the only recourse? It is Iran that should have been pushed into a corner by the international community over its nuclear program, but the direction talks have taken so far between world powers and the Islamic Republic leaves little room for optimism.
At press time, the deadline set by the sides for talks – midnight of November 25 – was expected to come and go without a deal, due to Iranian opposition. The feeling in Israel was that if the mullahs ruling Tehran had agreed to the accord presented to it by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany – also known as the P5+1 – Iran would have remained a threshold nuclear state.
And Israel might have been forced to act.
That was the clear message given to The Jerusalem Post’s Michael Wilner by a high-ranking Israeli official. It is still not clear what precisely were the details of the accord rejected by Iran. The understanding in Jerusalem is that certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would have been imposed for roughly 10 years. During that time, an inspection regime would have been put in place by the world powers. Current uranium stockpiles would have been removed or converted.
Iran’s ability to produce fissile material for a bomb would have been capped at nine months, compared to the current three months.
But all this is in theory. In practice, Iran would have been allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges that would have enabled it to enrich uranium for a bomb within a short time.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put it in an interview with the BBC on Monday, “There’s no right to enrich.
What do you need to enrich uranium for if you’re not developing an atomic bomb?” Inspections cannot be relied on to stop enrichment without Iranian goodwill, of which there is a dearth. Iranian officials will inevitably attempt to use subterfuge and lies to cover up its nuclear weapons program, as it has in the past.
And the experience with North Korea tells us that inspection regimes are unreliable. Even intelligence agencies are far from perfect. It took years to discover the nuclear facilities located in Natanz and Qom.
Thanks to Iranian intransigence, the signing of a bad deal has so far been averted. And clearly no deal is better than a bad one. But where do we go from here? The Iranians are apparently stalling for time in an attempt to come closer to nuclear weapons capability. In the meantime, they are also involved in perpetuating a number of conflicts throughout the Middle East. The Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a number of terrorist organizations operating in Gaza all receive support from the Iranians.
Eventually, however, the P5+1 will have to make a decision.
In the best-case scenario, they will soon reach the conclusion that Iran has no intention of willingly giving up its nuclear weapons program and will reinstate a strict sanctions regime. Combined with a credible military threat, stiff penalties might yet coerce the Iranians into giving up on their aspirations to become a nuclear power. A military attack on Iran, and the unknown negative consequences resulting from such an attack, would be avoided.
However, if the P5+1 permit Iran’s leaders to continue to stall for time as they develop their nuclear program or if they end up signing a bad deal that allows Iran to remain a nuclear threshold power, a peaceful resolution to the conflict will be impossible.
Countries such as Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia would not stand by silently while Iran attains nuclear weapons, or the ability to deploy them within a short period of time.
The ensuing nuclear arms race would risk destabilizing the Middle East. Because Iran is also developing intercontinental ballistic missiles – missiles which are used only to carry nuclear payloads, as Netanyahu pointed out Monday – it would also have the ability to strike targets thousands of kilometers away, endangering large parts of the world.
Of course, Israel would be forced to act as well. Just a few weeks ago, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for “the elimination” of Israel. He urged Israel’s enemies to commit to “armed resistance” until the Zionist entity is destroyed.
The best way to prevent Iran from dragging the region into a war is by using non-military means, combined with a credible military threat, to pressure it to give up its aspirations for nuclear weapons. Signing a bad deal or dragging out talks for too long will only lead to conflict, a nuclear arms race, and perhaps even war.