Iran: Are all options still on the table?

An erosion in the threat of force against Iran may be taking place.

Ahmadinejad behind massive Iranian flag 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
Ahmadinejad behind massive Iranian flag 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
US President Barack Obama is withholding support for the Syrian rebels because he believes that it would ruin chances for a negotiated settlement with Iran over its nuclear program, according to a report by the AP on Tuesday.
The story quotes Javier Solana, former EU foreign policy chief, saying on Monday at a Brookings Institution discussion: “I think that the United States has not taken a more active role in Syria from the beginning because they didn’t want to disturb the possibility, to give them space, to negotiate with Iran.”
This reasoning is only speculation, but combined with other recent events, an erosion in the threat of force against Iran seems to be taking place. If the US administration believes in linkage between intervention in Syria and the success of diplomacy with Iran, then this “is cause for very serious concern,” wrote Walter Russell Mead on his blog at the American Interest website.
Mead, a professor of Foreign Affairs at Bard College, characterized such policy as appeasement.
“Subvert your neighbors all you like, arm terrorists and enable murder and civil war across the region all you like; just please, please don’t build a bomb and between us all will be well.”
Former UK foreign minister MP Jack Straw wrote an op-ed in the Telegraph newspaper last week titled, “Even if Iran gets the bomb, it won’t be worth going to war,” stating that the phrase, “All options remain on the table,” is more of “a hindrance to negotiations, rather than a help.”
Such thinking in the halls of power in Britain is surely not an isolated case, but the question remains if this represents a shift by Western leaders from taking a stronger negotiating position to a more congenial approach.
Prof. Barry Rubin, director of the GLORIA Center and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, thinks that Straw’s view is not a typical one, but that it is “another signal that the resolve of the West is failing.”
“Obama will keep saying that all options are on the table until Iran has nuclear weapons,” he said, noting that Obama’s preferred option is Iran getting to the brink of a weapon, but not crossing the threshold, thus excusing the need to take military action.
In seeming accordance with this view, Iran’s leadership decided to keep its nuclear weapons program within the limits set by Israel, at least for now, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
The limit set by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN last September was 20 percent purity of uranium enrichment. This move, in combination with dragging out ongoing negotiations with Western powers, seems to be affecting the thinking of Western leaders.
But is the Western negotiation strategy and the media hype about an attack on Iran altering Iranian behavior? There seem to be some small tactical adjustments that have been made by Iran in response but, overall, the country is continuing on course towards its strategic objective.
As the West dithers betwen a preemptive strike, more sanctions, or containment of a nuclear Iran, its leadership remains on course towards its strategic objective.
Prof. Ze’ev Maghen, head of the department of Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University and a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), told the Post that “Iranian leaders are too savvy” to get caught up in speculations of an American or Israeli attack.
“Such knee-jerk evaluations are rather a characteristic of Western short-sightedness,” he stated, adding that the same thing occurred in 2007 when the US National Intelligence Estimate stated Iran was not building nuclear weapons.
However, the US intelligence community and the world “quickly learned these facts were useless for predicting the overall trajectory of the Iranian nuclear program, which always was and to this day remains a race toward full atomic weaponization,” said Maghen.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threatClick here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
It is this apparent Western short-sightedness that makes Israel and Sunni Muslims nervous. After Obama’s recent visit to Israel, the pendulum had swung again, and the media began to notice Obama’s strong statements of preventing a nuclear Iran. Now, with the latest reports that Obama is appeasing Iran and trying to negotiate a deal, the pendulum has swung back.
“The Iranians have a longer, less superficial view, which is another way of saying that they are not as stupid as their adversaries,” Maghen said. “They know that a reduction in media traffic concerning an American or Israeli preemptive strike does not mean that such a strike is off the table, and they concentrate on remaining prepared for the worst. Our side ought to learn from that.”