U.S. and Iran buy each other time

Six world powers – the U.S., Britain, France, German, Russia, and China – have been talking with Iran this week about Iran’s nuclear program. The six powers presented Iran with a detailed proposal including a freeze on its enrichment of uranium that could be converted to bomb-grade fuel. Iran balked at the proposal due to what it characterized as an insufficient easing of sanctions in exchange.

Iran has agreed in principle to allow U.N. inspectors to restart probes into a military site suspected of being used in its nuclear weapons program. However, it is believed that Iran has already largely cleaned up the site. Even Western diplomats reportedly are unimpressed by Iran’s gesture.

Meanwhile, Iran held military maneuvers this week as a response to “global arrogance.”

But this doesn’t mean the talks have been a failure. The parties kept talking and will meet again in mid-June. This counts as success, as a matter of general principle, in the world of modern diplomacy. Moreover, it constitutes concrete success given that the objective of the key parties is simply to buy time. Iran wants to time to develop nuclear weapons without being attacked. The Obama administration wants time so the president can get through the November elections without what he fears will be a foreign policy crisis.

The only threat to the attainment of these objectives is Israel. It has both the motive and the means to launch an attack on Iran, and to do so before our elections. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent decision to build a coalition government, rather than crushing his rivals in an election as was expected, has increased fear by the Obama administration that Israel will soon strike.

The real purpose of ongoing negotiations with Iran is to dissuade such a strike. The hope is not that Israel will take the talks seriously as a matter of substance. Rather, the hope is that Israel will fear the international repercussions of launching an attack while negotiations involving the U.S. and other major powers are ongoing.

A better way for the U.S. to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran would have been to persuade Israel that we have its back. But Israel has figured out that, under Obama, the U.S. almost certainly will never attack Iran. In doing so, Israel needed no heightened powers of perception.

The fact is that Obama has become an object of derision in Israel across a broad swath of the political spectrum. Consider a recent op-ed in Ha’aretz, a left of center publication, by Ari Shavit, a respected member of the paper’s editorial board. As reported by the Jerusalem Post, Shavit wrote:

[T]he man sitting in the Oval Office is ignoring the possibility that his inaction will make the Middle East go nuclear and undermine the world order. He doesn’t care that he might be responsible for losing the United States’ superpower status and turning the 21st century into a century of nuclear chaos.

The dispassionate man from Chicago is proving every day what rare stuff he’s made of. The president sees how the Iranians mock him – and does nothing. He sees radical Islam approaching the nuclear brink – and does not budge. With amazing courage Barack Obama watches the tsunami rolling toward America’s shores – and smiles. . . .

He is staging a deceptive show of a deal with the Iranians, which will seem to dull the . . . threat. He is trying to make a fool of Jerusalem as Tehran is making a fool of him. The president is pushing Israel into a corner, but is hoping that Israel will accept its fate submissively. He is counting on Benjamin Netanyahu not to surprise him and ruin his election season. Never has the United States had such a gambler for a president. . . .

The international community and international public opinion are preoccupied with King Netanyahu these days – will he or won’t he attack? But instead of focusing on a statesman who isn’t supposed to save the world from Iran’s nuclear program, it would be better to focus on the leader whose historic role is just that. In the past 40 months Barack Obama has been betraying his office. Will he wake up in the next four months, come to his senses and change his ways?

Will Israel attack Iran in the coming months? I don’t know and won’t hazard a guess. The smart move might be to wait until November in the hope that Romney will defeat Obama. After that, Israel may not have to act alone.

But I doubt that Israel would even be contemplating an attack if it considered the U.S., under Obama, a reliable ally.

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