While the Israeli government is unhappy that six major western powers gave Iran five weeks until the next round of talks over Tehran’s nuclear program, Israeli pundits are less worried about the span of time.
“We all want Iran to cease uranium enrichment at 20 percent. However, this is not going to be an overnight process,” said Iranian-born Israeli Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfar. “Both sides decided to reconsider their positions and meet again in five weeks. Five weeks is not the end of the world,” he added. “What does the government suggest we do? Should we go to war because of five weeks?”
On Saturday, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany – the so-called P5+1 – met with Iran in Istanbul for negotiations about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. The only tangible result from the talks was an agreement to reconvene on May 23 in Baghdad.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who consistently warned of the urgency with which Tehran’s nuclear program needs to be confronted – said on Sunday that he feels “Iran has been given a ‘freebie,’” as it was granted five weeks “to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition.”
He added: “Iran should take immediate steps to stop all enrichment, take out all enrichment material and dismantle the nuclear facility in Qom.”
In February, Netanyahu intimated to an Israeli television station that a possible Israeli attack on the country’s nuclear facilities, in case sanctions and diplomacy failed to yield results, was “not a matter days or weeks, but also not a matter of years.” “I am not standing with a stopwatch in hand,” he said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barack repeatedly says that Iran is moving steadily closer to “a ‘zone of immunity’ — a position from which the Iranian regime could complete its program without effective disruption, at its convenience.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Saturday’s talks in Istanbul were “constructive and useful.” She hoped they would jumpstart “a sustained process of serious dialogue.”
‘If Israel jumps to the forefront and were to attack, let’s say, it would all be about Israel, and nothing else would gain any attention in the international debate over this issue. It would all about the ‘warmongering’ Israel’
Javedanfar, too, said the meeting was positive, “albeit in a limited manner.” While it failed it yield concrete results — the Iranians refused to sit down with the American delegation on a bilateral level — it is already an achievement to get Tehran back to the negotiating table for the first time since January 2011, he said.
“The best way to stop Iran making a bomb is to get their leaders to change their decisions. That’s done through a duel track of sanctions and talks. Giving five weeks of waiting between two sets of negotiations is not something to be concerned about,” he said.
After all, he added, the Iranian government is confronting five extra weeks of sanctions. “It’s not like the old days when they could just wait and nothing would happen.”
“If the [Israeli] government really wants to worry,” Javedanfar added, “let’s wait for the next round of talks. If Iran then says that it’s in no way ever going to cease uranium enrichment at 20 percent, then there would be a genuine reason to be concerned. But we should only begin to panic if there are intelligence reports saying Iran actually making a bomb.”
Emily Landau, a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies, or INSS, said she was disappointed with the outcome of Saturday’s meeting, although five weeks between rounds of negotiations were not uncommon.
“There were expectations ahead of these talks because we had seen a lot more determination, especially from the Obama administration, but from others as well,” she said, referring to unprecedented sanctions the US and Europe recently imposed on the Iranian banking system and the country’s energy sector.
“There was a sense that the heat was on Iran,” she said. “But then the talks ended after perhaps four or five hours and no concrete measures were taken.”
“The only possible sliver of hope is that something more was achieved through backchannels,” added Landau, who directs the INSS’s Arms Control and Regional Security Project.
“That’s not something that would be totally farfetched when we think about how these negotiations have been conducted in the past. These are very difficult negotiations, obviously, and there is a lot at stake for all the parties. Everyone realized that if Iran were to actually move towards a deal it would need a long ladder to climb down from the high tree that it has gone up on. Therefore, there might be a little more to this that we don’t know. But if reality is as it has been reflected in the media reports that I’ve read, this is a great disappointment.”
While Landau shares Netanyahu’s frustration about the slow progress, she advises the government against becoming too vocal about it and threatening an attack.
“Iran is truly an international problem and not an Israeli problem,” she said, adding that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime is posing a genuine threat to the entire Middle East.
“Israel moving itself to the forefront is not doing itself a favor nor is it helping the issue. All it will do is allow everyone to rally around the danger that they see Israel is presenting. If you look at media reports over the last few months you will see many comments and op-eds that are referring to Israel’s intent to attack as the most dangerous implication, forgetting that it all started because of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
While it is understandable that Jerusalem worries a great deal about Tehran’s enriching uranium and likes to sound the alarm bells as loud as possible, “it’s not a wise policy,” Landau said.
“It’s basically letting the international community off the hook. It’s their role, it’s their responsibility. It’s an international concern. But if Israel jumps to the forefront and were to attack, let’s say, it would all be about Israel, and nothing else would gain any attention in the international debate over this issue. It would all about the ‘warmongering’ Israel that’s only looking to attack its ‘arch foe’ Iran.”