The Israel-US divide on Iran

Israel fears a bad deal could be struck between the US and Iran, writes former IDF Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin.

The round of talks between the six powers and Iran over its nuclear program was held in Istanbul, and another round is scheduled in May. Despite a decade of empty dialogue, both sides have an interest in holding negotiations: Iran seeks to avoid a tightening of the sanctions against it, and US President Barack Obama wants to postpone hard decisions, at least until after the elections. Although the two sides' opening positions are far apart, it is in the nature of negotiations to bring the position of the parties closer. Both sides have a clear interest in creating the image of a successful process, if only to push back the option of an Israeli strike.

The assessment is that any possible deal would include Iran's right to uranium enrichment on its territory. The difference between a "good" deal and a "bad" deal is not the legitimization of enrichment, but the parameters that will prevent a "breakthrough" to a nuclear weapon, which will stop the clock, or even turn it back, and do not allow Iran to enter the zone of immunity, thereby making feasible the non-military option for stopping Iran's military nuclear program.

Between a "good" and "bad" deal

A "good" deal would include significant restrictions on continued uranium enrichment in Iran, removal of most of the enriched uranium from the country, closing the underground facility on the mountain near Qom, and Iranian consent to intrusive supervision. Such a deal promises that an Iran breakthrough to a nuclear weapon will be far off, and therefore outside the zone of immunity. Such a deal does not meet the maximum demands previously made of Iran, but it is better than the alternative of a Bomb or bombing. Nonetheless, the likelihood that Iran will agree to the terms are very low.

A "bad" deal, which the Iranians will probably propose, and which the powers will be tempted to take, will include explicit international legitimization of Iranian uranium enrichment on its territory up to 5%, but will exclude the removal of most of the enriched uranium and will not limit the number of centrifuges and enrichment sites. At the same time, Iran will be able to continue to protect its sites by hardening them against attack.

In such a deal, Iran will be able to improve its capabilities for a breakthrough to a nuclear weapon within a short time from the moment a decision is made to do so. If the sides agree to a deal along such lines, it will be a "bad" deal, because, in practice, it will essentially mean acceptance of the current situation in which Iran stays on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon. At the same time, the international pressure on it will be lifted, the sanctions will be suspended or eroded, and Iran will obtain "diplomatic immunity" from military action against it.

Israel will find it difficult to accept a situation in which Iran can at any moment decide to make the breakthrough to quickly develop a nuclear weapon. But international legitimization of Iran's nuclear capability will put Israel in a difficult strategic dilemma, because it will find it hard to justify an attack aimed at damaging this capability.

The US red line refers to an actual Iranian breakthrough toward a nuclear weapon, and the Americans say that they will know of this in advance. Jerusalem is not sure, and it is not prepared to take the risk. The result is that reaching a compromise with Iran means widening the differences and disputes between Israel and the US. While Israel's semiofficial red line is quite clear, and Iran is liable to cross it soon, the US red line is very blurry and hard to distinguish, but it conforms with US policy which seeks to postpone the day of reckoning, at least until after the November elections.

The writer, an IDF major general (res.) is the director of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies and former head of Military Intelligence.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 24, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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