Wednesday, February 25, 2015

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon
Last week, I posted about a nice interview by David Ignatius of the Washington Post of Israeli intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz where Israeli objections to an Iranian nuclear deal are spelled out in detail. Ignatius admitted that he had no counter-arguments, but he asserted that he still supported the deal.

Now, Ignatius' job was to find any arguments for what he already admitted he would support even if there weren't any.

Sure enough, he found them:

The administration’s response is that the agreement is better than any realistic alternative. Officials argue it would put the Iranian program in a box, with constraints on all the pathways to making a bomb. Perhaps more important, it would provide strict monitoring and allow intrusive inspection of Iranian facilities — not just its centrifuges but its uranium mines, mills and manufacturing facilities. If Iran seeks a covert path to building a bomb, the deal offers the best hope of detecting it.

If the current talks collapsed, all these safeguards would disappear. The Iranians could resume enrichment and other currently prohibited activities. In such a situation, the United States and Israel would face a stark choice over whether to attack Iranian facilities — with no guarantee that such an attack would set Tehran back more than a few years.
The deal taking shape would likely allow Iran about 6,000 IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz. The Iranians apparently wouldn’t install IR-2s, which operate twice as fast, and they would limit research on future models, up to IR-8s, that are on the drawing board. How these research limits would be monitored and enforced is a key bargaining issue. Another critical variable is the size of the stockpile Iran could maintain; U.S. officials want a very low number, with additional enriched material shipped out of Iran.
One official argues that the United States would be better off with 9,000 IR-1s and a small stockpile than with 1,000 IR-2s and a large stockpile. Netanyahu probably won’t address this issue in his speech to Congress, since he insists the only acceptable number of centrifuges is zero. 
The entire parameters of the talks are being misrepresented as if the US has no alternative between largely accepting Iranian demands or war. Ignatius is ignoring that the sanctions have been having an effect. Iran's Supreme Leader has said that his goal for the negotiations are the removal of sanctions.

It is far from clear that Iran will go full speed ahead with enrichment activities if the sanctions remain in place or are strengthened.

Which brings up the biggest problem with this article - its revelation that the White House has no idea how to negotiate with Iran.

For administration officials to tell the Washington Post that there is no realistic military action (which they have been saying for years anyway) signals to Iran that there is no threat of military action, ever. Moreover, the public break of the White House with Israel over this issue effectively neutralizes the threat of Israeli military action - an unstated threat that could have improved the US negotiating position significantly. In other words, the US has given up on its major disincentive to Iran without getting anything in return, the exact opposite of how negotiations are supposed to be done.

Kerry tells Israel that they cannot criticize the agreement since it hasn't been finalized, but at the same time says that it will not share the details with Israel. What message does that tell Iran?

It tells them that the US trusts Iran more than Israel!

The unnamed officials who are telling Ignatius that this is the best deal possible are simultaneously telling Iran that the US has no stomach to either threaten military action nor to maintain the sanctions.

As far as the substance of the argument, that Iran could go full speed ahead with its nuclear weapons program without oversight, this is a false assumption as well. There are still IAEA inspections and reports that have been consistently pointing out Iranian violations, which affect how Iran acts to an extent. Those reports (or Iran's rejection of any future inspections) can and should trigger serious warnings of more extreme sanctions and of military action.

Beyond that, the reported agreement does nothing to limit Iran's weaponization program - building rockets whose purpose is solely to carry a nuclear payload, for example. Secret Iranian nuclear facilities will remain secret with or without this framework. But with the framework in place, the world will no longer pay attention to Iranian violations; if the US walks away from a bad deal then there would be more effort made in monitoring Iran through espionage and open-source methods.

Ignatius' piece hurts the US in these negotiations. It shows a fatalistic White House that is not serious about truly addressing the Iranian threat. It shows a desperation for a deal, any deal that Iran would agree to. It shows how no amount of logic or facts will sway the White House and its cheerleaders who would rather craft a bad deal than no deal. And it does not seriously address a single one of Israel's substantive points about the dangers of the deal.

That's pretty bad.

(ht David G)



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