Israel won’t attack Iran while West pursues current diplomatic effort, official tells Times of Israel

There will be two more rounds and ‘of course we have to wait,’ official says

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, speaks with Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili during May 2012 talks in Baghdad (photo credit: Hadi Mizban/AP)
EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton, left, speaks with Iran's former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili during May 2012 talks in Baghdad (photo credit: Hadi Mizban/AP)

Jerusalem will not launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities so long as the West is pursuing its current diplomatic effort at thwarting the Iranian program, a well-placed Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

“Of course we are going to wait, what else can we do?” the official, who asked to remain anonymous, said. To attack before the current diplomatic avenue of engagement was exhausted was unthinkable, he said.

The comments seemed to mark a significant departure from Israel’s previous position, which has been to state that the military option is “on the table.”

Furthermore, the official added, that diplomatic route — the nuclear talks between six Western powers and Iran — is going to extend for two more rounds, which have yet to be so much as scheduled.

The third round of talks between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5+1, held in Moscow this week, ended without tangible results. But since the West has not abandoned the diplomatic option, Jerusalem has no choice but to wait for the next rounds, the Israeli official said.

“In the beginning, the Western powers announced there will be five rounds of nuclear talks with Iran. At that point already it was clear that if Tehran has anything to offer, we would only find out during the fifth round,” the official told The Times of Israel. “The first rounds are only tactical play: posturing, maneuvering and outmaneuvering each other, and all for the purpose to get to the final line in a better position. Only at the very end will the Iranians show us their cards — whether they have something to offer that’s acceptable or whether they just wanted to buy time.”

The Moscow talks actually ended at a lower point than previous rounds, in Istanbul and Baghdad. Those talks broke up with commitments to continue the talks at different venues, but this week the two sides only agreed to engage in low level talks in July.

This engagement includes an “early follow-on technical-level meeting” on July 3 in Istanbul, followed by “contact at the deputy-level” between Western and Iranian negotiators, according to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who heads the P5+1 delegation. “I will then be directly in touch with [Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed] Jalili about prospects for a future meeting at the political level,” she said.

As of Thursday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had not directly commented on the breakdown of the Moscow talks. He only addressed the Iranian nuclear threat in general terms at the closing plenary of the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem on Thursday evening, saying humanity needs to stop Iran and other dictatorial regimes from attaining weapons of mass destruction.

“There is a concentration of effort to produce the weapons of mass death. This is a central challenge of our time,” he said in a recorded video message to be screened at the conference. Netanyahu said he was unable to attend in person due to a foot injury. “The central challenge of our time is to continue the proliferation of freedom and to stop the proliferation of these deadly weapons,” he said.

The world’s major powers should unite “to secure the presence and embrace the future,” Netanyahu continued. “I’m very confident about the long term but I know that we must prevent, in the short term, radical forces from bringing us down, bringing millions of people down, before they themselves are brought down. That paradox is not something beyond our powers. Free societies and the Jewish people have overcome tremendous challenges and I think if we focus on these twin tasks then I think we will achieve this as well.”

Regarding the government’s stance on the diplomatic efforts to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program, Jerusalem has until now seen “no evidence whatsoever” that the Iranians seriously consider in any way to halt their nuclear weapons program, the official told The Times of Israel. The prime minister believes the Iranian strategy is to play for time, “to keep on talking and talking and in parallel continue enriching uranium,” the official said.

Israel wants the international community to send an “unequivocal message” to Iran: “their enrichment program, of high-level uranium and of low-level uranium, must totally stop — or else the international community will take efficient steps to stop it themselves,” he said.

The West is only going to learn about Tehran’s real intentions after the fifth round of senior-level talks, the official reiterated. “That’s how negotiations are being conducted everywhere in the world, and that’s certainly how you bargain in the Middle East.”


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