Thursday, May 17, 2012

Was Ambassador’s Iran Threat Credible?

by Jonathan S. Tobin

America’s ambassador to Israel sounded a reassuring note today to Israelis and others wondering whether the direction of the West’s negotiations with Iran was leading inevitably to appeasement of Tehran. Ambassador Dan Shapiro seemed to be echoing the tough talk uttered by President Obama when he spoke to the AIPAC conference in March when, according to the AP, he made the following comments:

Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force.

“But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it’s ready,” he said. “The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready” …

“We do believe there is time. Some time, not an unlimited amount of time,” Shapiro said. “But at a certain point, we may have to make a judgment that the diplomacy will not work.”

Though it would certainly be to the advantage of the West were Iran to believe it is in genuine peril of an attack if they refuse to abandon their nuclear ambitions, given the fact that it is EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton who is running the P5+1 talks, and not someone like Shapiro, Iran’s obvious confidence that it will prevail in the negotiations is hardly unfounded.

No one, not even the most sanguine leaders of the Iranian regime, doubt there are contingency plans in place for an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Unlike the difficulties that the Israeli Air Force would face in mounting such an operation, American forces in the Persian Gulf regime are more than adequate to accomplish the task. But to say there are plans is one thing. To believe President Obama would order the use of force if Iran refuses to give ground in the talks is quite another.

Indeed, far from the Iranians doing the retreating, it has been the West that has, as the Iranians haven’t failed to note. Every red line set by the West on Iran’s nuclear program has been transgressed. From the putting of reactors on line to the construction of heavy water facilities and now to the refining uranium at a rate that is needed to produce a nuclear weapon, the Iranians acted and then waited for the West to eventually concede the point. That is why they are heading to Baghdad for the next round of talks so confident that the West will allow them to keep their nuclear toys that they are actually demanding the crippling international sanctions that were belatedly imposed on the regime be lifted.

We hope the Iranians are mistaken about President Obama’s resolve but nothing he has done — as opposed to the many things he has said about the topic — has led them to believe they can’t get away with building up their capability to the point where converting it to military uses will be quite simple. And because, as the International Atomic Energy Agency has noted, devices for testing military uses of nuclear power are already in place in Iran, they have every expectation that sooner or later they will be able to confront the world with a nuclear fact.

Like much of what the administration has said and done in recent months, Ambassador Shapiro’s comments seem to be geared more toward convincing Israel to refrain from its own strike on Iran — for which the IAF has proclaimed its readiness — than a genuine demonstration of an American will to act to forestall the threat.

But rather than judge the administration on its words, it is far wiser to judge them on what happens in the coming negotiations. If, as the Iranians expect, the EU, Russia and China, with President Obama, as always, leading from behind, make “progress” in the coming weeks toward a deal that will leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place, we will know the ambassador’s statement was merely an empty threat.

Jonathan S. Tobin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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