'World powers still mishandling Iran’s nuclear program'

For non-proliferation efforts against Iran to progress, INSS researcher says US will have to drastically change diplomatic mindset.

Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor 311 Reu (photo credit: Raheb Homavandi / Reuters)
Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor 311 Reu
(photo credit: Raheb Homavandi / Reuters)
The world’s powers continue to mishandle the Iranian nuclear threat – and the optimal time for striking at Tehran’s nuclear program has long passed – according to two leading Israeli authorities on Iran’s nuclear program.
Emily Landau and Giora Eiland – both senior research fellows at the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University (INSS) – said in a briefing with a small group of journalists Thursday that while Iran’s goals are clear, the solutions to its nuclear designs are much less obvious.
“We’re in a state of limbo,” said Landau, director of arms control and regional security at the INSS. “Nothing is happening right now on Iran.”
Landau contrasted Tehran’s unambiguous nuclear ambitions with the disparate, often conflicting, interests of the so-called P5+1 Countries – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany, who have led efforts to confront the Islamic Republic’s nuclear drive.
“There’s basically no plan,” Landau said. “Every state in the P5+1 is following its own national interest. Iran is one part of the national interest of each, and it’s not necessarily number one – and maybe not number two, three or four.”
“The name of Iran’s game over the last eight years has been playing for time,” she continued.
It’s clear Iran is pursuing military nuclear capability, and “it’s less relevant whether Iran wants to develop nuclear warheads, put them on missiles and deploy them – or whether it’s going for a Japan model,” Landau concluded.
Though not actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program, Japan has the technology and know-how to produce nuclear weapons within about six months, according to experts.
For non-proliferation efforts against Iran to progress, Landau said the US will have to drastically change its diplomatic mindset.
“Negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue is not the same as negotiating with it to improve US-Iranian relations,” Landau said. “This is not about engagement and confidence-building… The nuclear issue is going to be a hard bargain.”
She listed three elements to improving US policy in Iran.
First, Washington must apply more forceful sanctions backed by a credible threat of consequences, should Iran violate them. Second, she said the US has to show it’s “in the driver’s seat” to determine the time and place of negotiations – and setting its own terms in “framing” those negotiations. Third, the US must be clearer about the incentives it plans to offer the Islamic Republic for ceasing its nuclear activity.
Landau also spoke about containment: the idea that the West can live with a nuclear Iran as it did with the USSR and China. The problem, she said, is that deterring a nuclear state from using its weapons depends on the existence of a credible threat – and US credibility with Iran is at its lowest point in years.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said last week that the world must make clear that Iran would face “credible military action” if sanctions do not shut down Tehran’s nuclear program.
In an interview with CNN, he said it was clear Iran was pursuing its nuclear ambitions despite international sanctions, and was getting closer to obtaining weapons of mass destruction.
“They have enriched enough material now almost for three nuclear bombs,” he said. “The only thing that will work is if Iran knew that if sanctions fail there will be a credible military option.”
Netanyahu said if military action were taken, he would prefer it be led by the US.
Eiland, a retired IDF majorgeneral and former national security adviser, told journalists the most auspicious time for confronting Iran’s nuclear program was three years ago.
“Most of the important assets were located in a few key sites, and poorly protected,” he said. “Iran didn’t – and still doesn’t – have very advanced air defense systems. From a purely military point of view, the best timing was three years ago. Unfortunately, from a political point of view, it wasn’t quite so good, and therefore wasn’t considered.”
Eiland also outlined four key questions Israel must ask itself before embarking on a strike of Iranian facilities.
First is a question of whether Jerusalem has reliable intelligence about Iran’s principal nuclear facilities and targets. Assuming it does, secondly, he added, Israel must determine whether it has the ability to send enough sorties to attack those targets.
Third, it must decide whether it is feasible to fly over hostile countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
More important than the other variables, Eiland said, is the question of results.
“Let’s assume we’re successful in questions one, two and three. Then what?” he asked. “What would be the real damage that would be caused to the Iranians? What would be the delay that we would produce for the Iranians in producing nuclear weapons? If it’s only weeks and months, it’s insufficient. If years, it may be worthwhile.”