By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Aside from the glimmers of hope coming out of the P5+1 (U.S., UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) nuclear talks with Iran, strategic geopolitical realities on the ground suggest tacit cooperation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman as a good cop bad/cop force against Iranian non-nuclear armament. Both Israel and the Saudis have expressed frustration with any move from Washington toward Iran; especially, the nuclear talks.
The Obama administration wants peace without Iranian nukes and is no longer willing, or in a position, to go to war. There exists the remote possibility that King Salman and Prime Minister Netanyahu are planning a joint preventive military strike against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure without U.S. consent. Perhaps there is some secret nuclear weapons base out of reach of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors on the ground in Iran right now. Israeli fighter bombers could possibly attempt an attack without the Americans or the Arabs. Additionally, the Netanyahu government is projecting a strategy of internal political manipulation within the U.S. by framing the nation’s Iran policy as apocalyptic around U.S. partisan polarization.
It has been imperative for Washington to act as a more neutral mediator over the larger regional issues of destabilization, including nuclear armament and nuclear weapon proliferation in the Middle East. The American envoy to the funeral of previous Saudi King Abdullah presented Iran with difficulty in how to gauge U.S. intent.
It would seem that Iran’s choices are that it can either gain relations with the West through occasional diplomacy or take its chances with Russia and China—bypassing the imposed sanctions as America rekindles stronger ties with Israel and the Arab states. Iran can make a greater enemy or potentially resolve a decades old rift with the Americans but they may also not be capable of realizing this fully or their hands may be too tied at home to act in good faith.
President Obama and his allies must assure the Israelis that they will not be abandoned in spite of the Netanyahu government. Meanwhile, they must also assure the Saudis and convince the Iranians of safety guarantees and better relations.
A rational decision out of Iran, from a Western perspective, might seem far removed from the military drills that destroyed a replica U.S. aircraft carrier during the nuclear talks this week. Still, a moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is obligated to release a pressure valve for his hardline political rivals in Iran—the ones that really want a war or might profit from any attacks in a rise to power or profit from failures in diplomacy. The destruction of a fake American warship is a play to the theatrical, in-line with Iran’s usual “puff-up” model when faced with external threats or uncertainties that lay deep in a bed of fear. Under the strain of a possible military invasion several years back, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once claimed to have a flying saucer.
As to the content of the nuclear negotiations in progress, the P5+1 countries demand a limitation on refining uranium and preventing short-term production of weapons grade plutonium. Since 2003, Iran had only a few dozen centrifuges and now they have 19,000 centrifuges installed and 10,000 of them are operational. The Iranians have a long history of starting and stopping their nuclear weapons program, but the West has a long history of inconsistency with Iran as well. Since Iran’s refusal to give complete access to the international inspectors failed, and the inspectors could not determine that Iran was not enriching materials for weapons, they have been under harsh economic sanctions from the world. These were loosened slightly by the 2013 interim agreement.
According to the Times of Israel, in finalizing a deal, Iran was offered 6,500 centrifuges and must undergo rigorous international inspections for 10 to 15 years. The difficulty has been for each side finding the compromise within the compromise. The Iranians are clearly nitpicking, with three to seven years of inspections instead of 10 to 15, while wrestling with hardline factions that want no nuclear restrictions at all. They have been accused of conspiratorially stalling but it might be more realistic to point out that they are as divided as we are. Washington and the other five states can very easily lead the Iranians away from the table or feed them from the table at this point.
All parties want to outline of provisions by March and to extended deadline of June, as there has already been an extension last November. According to The New York Times, neither side wants an extension beyond June.
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