It’s almost over. It really doesn’t much matter if a triumphant US Secretary of State John Kerry announces in the next few hours or days that a dramatic accord has been reached with Iran to regulate its nuclear program, or if it is decided to extend the negotiations beyond the November 24 deadline to finalize that deal. We know where the negotiations are heading. We know that the conclusion is dire.
The P5+1 countries, their approach to talks with the ayatollahs determined by the Obama administration, have insistently behaved like the Three Wise Monkeys. Iran pours its energies into mastering the technology for nuclear weapons. From its “supreme leader” on down it makes crystal clear its hegemonic regional ambitions, its contempt for the West, and its aim to bring about the demise of Israel. And the US-led international community willfully closes its eyes and ears to the dangers, wishing them away.
Ultimately, the failure is rooted in President Barack Obama’s desire to heal relations with America’s enemies in this part of the world. But what the administration would like to have perceived as a new generosity of spirit emanating from Washington, a desire to conquer past animosities, to build new bridges, to play fair, is regarded in this brutal region, by the purveyors of that brutality, as weakness.
The P5+1 negotiators aim to avoid humiliating Iran, so they choose not to insist on IAEA inspectors gaining access to the Parchin facility where they would find evidence of Iran’s years of efforts at nuclear weaponization. And thus Iran can publicly maintain the fiction that it does not seek, and has not been seeking, the bomb.
The P5+1 negotiators back away from the earlier goal of using the economic pressure of sanctions in order to force Iran into a strategic U-turn — to dismantle the facilities and equipment that have brought it so far along the road to nuclear weapons — and instead now work for an accord that would, in theory, keep Iran some 6 to 18 months from the ability to produce the fissile material for a bomb. This very framework is a tacit admission that Iran, if left unchecked, would push full speed ahead to the nuclear weapons it risibly claims not to seek. But the negotiators prefer not to acknowledge this logistical flaw at the heart of their approach.
The P5+1 negotiators would have us believe that a better deal is simply not possible — not the best negotiating strategy. When you tell the world that a better deal is out of reach, you can be dead certain that the Iranians are listening, and are not going to agree to a better deal.
The negotiators work for an accord that would keep Iran months from the ability to produce the fissile material for a bomb. This very framework is a tacit admission that Iran, if left unchecked, would push full-speed ahead to the nuclear weapons it risibly claims not to seek. But the P5+1 team prefers not to acknowledge this logistical flaw at the heart of its approach
The P5+1 negotiators would have us believe that there was insufficient international resolve to force Iran into the corner, that the sanctions regime was not sustainable, that an imperfect deal is far better than no deal at all, that Iran’s nuclear scientists have the knowhow now and nothing can change that. Lousy arguments, one and all.
Statecraft in the face of an extraordinarily dangerous regime required mustering the international resolve to reverse Tehran’s drive for the bomb; it required maintaining the unity of purpose to ensure sanctions were kept in place and ratcheted up as required; it required making plain that there would be no deal at all unless the necessary terms were reached, with the combined threat of more sanctions and a military readiness to underpin that stance; and it required the dismissal of ridiculous, extraneous, defeatist arguments such as the one that holds that the Iranians have the knowhow anyway.
Syria’s scientists, as Emily Landau, an expert on nuclear proliferation at Tel Aviv University’s INSS think tank, points out, did not suddenly lose the knowhow to build chemical weapons when international pressure forced President Bashar Assad into giving up his chemical weapons capabilities last year. They still have the knowhow, but their leadership no longer risks having them utilize it.
If only the Iranians had been forced into a similar capitulation. Having the knowhow is not the issue. It’s attaining the bomb. That’s what is irreversible — terrifyingly so in the case of Iran.
Let nobody kid themselves. Whether the deal now taking shape ostensibly keeps Iran six months or eighteen months from the bomb makes no significant difference. An arrangement that depends on verifying Iranian good behavior and taking speedy counteraction in the event of bad behavior is simply not workable — and both sides know it.
Iran can be relied upon to breach the terms of the deal — just as it breached the interim agreement, says Landau, by pouring gas into its IR5 centrifuges. It can then be relied upon to dispute that it has breached the terms — just as it did this week in the case of the IR5s. The international community would then have to determine whether a breach has occurred, decide whether it merits a response, agree on what kind of response, and take action. That’s the same international community that has failed to utilize the sanctions regime to reverse the program in the first place, up against the same resolute Iranian regime. Really, forget about it.
The prospect of regime change in Iran will have diminished still further. The region’s more moderate states will know themselves more vulnerable. Tehran will be hugely emboldened
“The United States,” says Landau (who spoke to me at length for this article), “has been acting as though it is engaged in a confidence-building effort, showing the other side that it can be trusted, that ‘we can reach a common goal.’ But there is no common goal. Iran does not want a deal that would require it to back away from its nuclear program. It wants a deal that allows it to become a threshold state that can go for the bomb at a time of its choosing.
“Once the goal became merely to restrain Iran, to keep it months away from a nuclear weapons capability rather than forcing a strategic U-turn,” she says, “the game was lost.”
Whether in the next few hours or days, or a few weeks from now, then, we can brace for handshakes, embraces and brief bonhomie; for an Iran whose smooth-talking foreign minister hails vindication while his supreme leader spouts poison; for a United States that claims success, talks of having capped and regulated the Iranians, and seeks to press on toward some kind of rapprochement despite every indication that Iran seeks nothing of the sort.
The prospect of regime change in Iran will have diminished still further. The region’s more moderate states will know themselves more vulnerable. Tehran will be hugely emboldened.
And what of Israel? Directly endangered by Iran, and rightly reluctant to resort to the military intervention that the United States should have credibly threatened, Israel cannot afford to adopt the Three Wise Monkeys approach. We see the evil all too clearly. While the international community celebrates a Pyrrhic victory, protecting this country, never anything less than immensely challenging, will have become significantly more complex.