On the face of it, the only outcome of the six world powers’ nuclear talks with Iran in Baghdad (April 23-24) – to be continued in Moscow (June 16-17) – was Israel’s decision to reconsider its pledge to US President Barack Obama to refrain from attacking Iran while he is campaigning for re-election. Israel could therefore strike at any time – depending on how Tehran behaves.
The Netanyahu government was at the same time firmly holding President Obama to his commitment of mid-May, not to drag out dead-end negotiations but turn to military action without further ado as the only remaining option for curbing Iran’s nuclear weapon drive.
This commitment was Israel’s condition for holding off attacking Iran until November.
However, a tidal change has occurred in this state of play, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources. They report that administration officials are going around the last few days asserting that Israel’s leaders informed President Obama this week of their acceptance of his new seven-point plan (see previous article) for resolving the nuclear crisis and have agreed to postpone an attack on Iran until its outcome is clear.
Therefore, say those sources, Israeli leaders were throwing sand in people’s eyes this week with such rhetoric as: “International nuclear talks have achieved nothing.” (Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon); “… Iran must be confronted with tougher sanctions and stiffer demands…” (Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu); and, “I can’t sleep at night because of the Iranian nuclear program.” (Defense Minister Ehud Barak).
Those officials are claiming that Israel has in fact embraced the principle underlying American policy of a shared interest in staving off military action – both by the US or Israel – and adhering to diplomacy for now, however barren.
Promise of tougher sanctions persuaded Israel
DEBKA-Net-Weekly was unable to obtain corroboration of this assertion by the closing of this issue – except from one reliable Israeli source. (Like the American, Russian and Iranian governments, Israeli too has been preoccupied in the last week with the horrific situation unfolding in Syria, the potential for US and possibly European-Arab armed intervention and Russian and Iranian responses.)
Senior Obama administration sources were insisting Thursday, May 31, that Israel was won around to the Obama plan by his promise that the US and Europe would ratchet up the sanctions applied against Iran in three timed stages, even if the next rounds of negotiations between the six powers and Iran did show progress.
Those sources gave us an exclusive timetable for the tough new sanctions to go into effect:
1. On July 1, the Europeans will activate their embargo on Iranian oil exports and banks.
2. Around September, the US administration will bring out its most potent economic weapon: an embargo on aircraft and sea vessels visiting Iranian ports. Any national airline or international aircraft that lands in Iran will be barred from US and West European airports. The same rule will apply to private and government-owned vessels, including oil tankers. Calling in at an Iranian port will automatically exclude them from entry to a US or European harbor.
This sanction will lay Iran to aerial and naval siege without a shot being fired.
3. President Obama promised Prime Minister Netanyahu he would deal personally with India and Indonesia, which are the most flagrant violators of anti-Iran sanctions and abet Tehran in its evasions of financial restraints by the use of their financial networks.
Israel could no longer wait for diplomacy to deliver the goods
The US president came up with a promise to apply harsher sanctions against Iran when Israel was seen to have reached the end of its tether on the Iran issue: The point had come where its leaders would have to stop hanging around for international diplomacy to terminate Iran’s nuclear plans, and either make good on their threats with direct action or else lose all credibility.
US tactics earlier in May had made Netanyahu and Barak deeply suspicious that they were being led by the nose: The Amano incident, for example, left a bad taste. Tuesday, May 22, UN nuclear agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano reported he had come away from his two days of talks in Tehran with an accord on the controversial issues that would be signed soon.
The information reaching Israel was just the opposite: Amano had left Tehran empty-handed. The Iranians had turned down his requests to open the Parchin military complex, the Sharif nuclear site and the SUT University of Technology in Tehran to IAEA inspections. They are all suspected of housing clandestine nuclear activity. Amano also failed to gain permission to interview a list of Iranian scientists long requested by the agency.
Officials in Jerusalem concluded that Amano was hiding the truth so as not to spoil the Obama administration’s policy which was to press forward with the diplomatic process with Iran in Baghdad the next day at all costs.
The Baghdad talks deepened Israel’s mistrust
Disillusion in Jerusalem deepened when the talks in Baghdad between Iran and the six world powers stretched from Wednesday, May 23, into Thursday to avoid any admission of crisis and allow the parties to put a positive spin on the negative results.
In fact, Israel discovered, Iranian delegate Saeed Jalili had had nothing to say to the world power representatives sitting around the table excepting a flat “no.” One by one, he rejected proposals to hold down production of enriched uranium, halt 20-percent enrichment, export stocks and dismantle the underground nuclear facility at Fordo.
For Israel, the nuclear diplomatic track was terminally exhausted at Baghdad.
But not for the Obama administration: Friday, May 25, U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, arrived on a direct flight from Baghdad to brief the Israeli government on the talks. In a rare snub, Netanyahu and Barak declined to meet her when they realized she had nothing to report aside from the date for another round of talks in Moscow.
They felt that Obama was breaking his promise by carrying on dead-end diplomacy instead of making good on his commitment to pull out of the negotiating track at crisis-point and turn to the military option.
According to senior Washington officials, the administration has since managed to mend yet another rift with Israel over the Iranian nuclear issue – at least, for the time being. They report that understanding and cooperation are restored to the channels of communication between Washington and Jerusalem and the two governments are against working together in harmony – a claim that has till to be confirmed as well as withstanding the test of time.