US President Barack Obama is convinced that the resumed international nuclear negotiations he has worked hard to set up will not only avert war but lay to rest once and for all the problem of Iran’s nuclear bomb program. He was led to this belief in secret back channel exchanges at the highest level between US and Turkish representatives and emissaries of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei which paved the way for the formal talks.
Our Washington sources describe the White House mood as one of high optimism. They think they have the silver bullet for success: The US will match Iran’s concession on its nuclear weapon program with the staged whittling down of sanctions. They will drop to zero for a successful accord.
No confirmation of this assumption is to be found from any Iranian sources. However, Obama’s well-informed former senior adviser Dennis Ross was confident enough that talks were just around the corner to publish an article in the New York Times Thursday, Feb. 16 under the caption “Iran Is Ready to Talk.”
The furious response to the news in Jerusalem is in direct contrast to the rosy optimism in Washington and a measure of the gaping rift between the two administrations on the nuclear issue.
And indeed, putting nuclear diplomacy on Iran back on the table has already had untoward consequences, debkafile reports, even before formal talks get started:
1. It has triggered am Iranian-instigated terror campaign against Israeli targets.
Official of Israel’s Counter-Terror Bureau, in a briefing to reporters Friday, Feb. 17, said Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are plotting more attacks on Israeli and Jewish institutions overseas.
Travelling Israelis were advised to exercise extreme caution. The special alert for Israeli embassies and institutions declared after the last two of five bombing incidents in two months, one of which injured an Israeli woman in New Delhi, the other thwarted in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, remains in force.
The advisory was not based on specific intelligence about locations but on incoming warnings of Iranian plans to continue to seek out Israeli targets for widely-spaced attacks on different continents.
debkafile’s counter-terror sources say that neither Israel nor any Western agency has identified the specific Iranian body orchestrating the five bombing and botched attacks in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Thailand, Argentina and India.
Their investigations appear to have ruled out the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence – which Washington added to its banned list Thursday, Feb. 16 for collaborating in the Syrian ruler’s crackdown on dissenters – as well as the notorious Al Qods Brigades. Both defer directly Ayatollah Khamenei, and are unlikely to have been authorized to engage in terror against Israel while he accepts diplomacy with the United States – especially not in India, one of Tehran’s most valued allies.
debkafile’s sources believe that the bombing attacks are the work of Iranian radicals bent on derailing the Supreme Leader’s diplomatic cooperation with the US in case he is persuaded to give up Iran’s nuclear program. Therefore, the more progress achieved in the forthcoming negotiations, the harder these elements will fight it with an escalating spiral of terrorist attacks – and not just against Israeli targets.
As for sanctions, Ross presents them as a whip for the United States to force the Iranians back into serious negotiations if they try their old tactics of spinning out the process to buy time for their nuclear plans.
A timer was accordingly built into the toughest sanctions imposed in the last few weeks: They go into force in July. If the talks are going well by then, they will never be needed and stay on paper – or so it is hoped.
But this delaying mechanism has already made the sanctions self-defeating.
The governments Washington seek to harness to its oil embargo, as well as such opponents as India, China Russia, Turkey, South Korea and the Europeans, realize the Obama administration is not planning to stiffen sanctions but more likely to ease them in the coming months of negotiations with Iran until they disappear. So why play along with them?
The sanctions regime is therefore breaking up before the formal talks have even begun.
This accounts for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s angry comment Wednesday, Feb. 16, after his talks with Cypriot leaders. He said sanctions imposed on Iran are important but so far “haven't worked. … the Iranian president's guided tour of centrifuges at Tehran research reactor on Wednesday was proof that sanctions have not properly crippled Iran's efforts to develop nuclear capabilities.”
Tehran knows this too and has anyway made it clear that sanctions will not make Iran give up its nuclear program. So if anything persuaded Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to go along with Obama’s pursuit of diplomacy it was not sanctions, but the Israel’s willingness to resort to military action to pre-empt a nuclear Iran.
The US president for his part is pinning his hopes of averting a Middle East war with unpredictable consequences by engaging Iran in dialogue. Its advisers wave off the side-effects of a new wave of terror and the disabling of sanctions as calculated risks worth taking.