The Iranians have now agreed to talks with the P-5+1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the
Obviously, negotiations are not to begin prior to the U.N. General Assembly meeting as previously had been stipulated. The talks are now expected to begin Oct. 1, a week later. This gives the Iranians their first (symbolic) victory: They have defied the P-5+1 on the demand that talks be under way by the time the General Assembly meets. Inevitably, the Iranians would delay, and the P-5+1 would not make a big deal of it.
Talks About Talks and the Sanctions Challenge
Now, we get down to the heart of the matter: The Iranians have officially indicated that they are prepared to discuss a range of strategic and economic issues but are not prepared to discuss the nuclear program — which, of course, is the reason for the talks in the first place. On Sept. 14, they hinted that they might consider talking about the nuclear program if progress were made on other issues, but made no guarantees.
So far, the Iranians are playing their traditional hand. They are making the question of whether there would be talks about nuclear weapons the center of diplomacy. Where the West wanted a commitment to end uranium enrichment, the Iranians are trying to shift the discussions to whether they will talk at all. After spending many rounds of discussions on this subject, they expect everyone to go away exhausted. If pressure is coming down on them, they will agree to discussions, acting as if the mere act of talking represents a massive concession. The members of the P-5+1 that don’t want a confrontation with Iran will use Tehran’s agreement merely to talk (absent any guarantees of an outcome) to get themselves off the hook on which they found themselves back in April — namely, of having to impose sanctions if the Iranians don’t change their position on their nuclear program.
To this end,
In discussing crippling sanctions, the sole obvious move would be blocking gasoline exports to
There is, however, a dimension that indicates that this crisis might take a different course.
The Israeli Dimension
After the last round of meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, the Israelis announced that the United States had agreed that in the event of a failure in negotiations, the United States would demand — and get — crippling sanctions against Iran, code for a gasoline cutoff. In return, the Israelis indicated that any plans for a unilateral Israeli strike on
Our view always has been that the Iranians are far from acquiring nuclear weapons. This is, we believe, the Israeli point of view. But the Israeli point of view also is that, however distant, the Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons represents a mortal danger to Israel — and that, therefore, Israel would have to use military force if diplomacy and sanctions don’t work.
Obama’s assurances notwithstanding, there accordingly is no evidence of any force or process that would cause the Iranians to change their minds about their nuclear program. With that, the advantage to
And the question of the quality of intelligence must always be taken into account: The Iranians may be closer to a weapon than is believed. The value of risking delays disappears if nothing is likely to happen in the intervening period that would make a strike unnecessary.
Moreover, the Israelis have Obama in a box. Obama promised them that if
The calm assumptions in major capitals that this is merely another round in interminable talks with
Netanyahu appears to have made a secret trip to
As mentioned, the chances of the Russians imposing effective sanctions on
Ramifications of an Israeli Strike
An Israeli airstrike would involve the
Some have pointed out that the Iranians would be hurting themselves as much as the West, as this would cripple their energy exports. And it must be remembered that 40 percent of globally traded oil exports pass through Hormuz. The effect of mining the
Given the foregoing, the
When we speak to people in
It isn’t clear that Obama can do that, however. The Israelis don’t trust him, and
It should also be remembered that Obama reads intelligence reports from
We are reminded of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis only in this sense: We get the sense that everyone is misreading everyone else. In the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Americans didn’t believe the Soviets would take the risks they did and the Soviets didn’t believe the Americans would react as they did. In this case, the Iranians believe the
The current situation is not as dangerous as the Cuban Missile Crisis was, but it has this in common: Everyone thinks we are on a known roadmap, when in reality, one of the players —