24 Jul 2024
Monday 8 October 2012 - 21:03
Story Code : 7125

Who needs red lines: Iran or Israel?

Who needs red lines: Iran or Israel?
By The International News Magazine,Nabi Sonboli (Expert on International Affairs)

In his September 23, 2012 speech at the United Nations General Assembly,Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the United States and itsallies to define clear red lines for the Iranian nuclear program,emphasizing that Iran will reach the threshold at which it couldmanufacture a nuclear bomb by mid 2013. A deep scrutiny of the past and ofpresent events and trends tells a different story.

After Iraqs defeat in the 1990 war in Kuwait, Israeli officials focusedon the Iranian nuclear program as the main threat to Israel security. Atfirst they alleged that Iran had bought nuclear weapon components from theformer Soviet Republics. Then they put aside that argument and stressedthat Iran was seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, and would reach that target within a few years and requested that the U.S. and EU to doeverything possible to prevent Tehran from achieving that goal. Israel hadsufficient influence in the U.S. to see sanctions imposed on the Iranianoil industry in mid the 1990s. But European powers that were tired offollowing the U.S. and Israeli lead after the end of the Cold War were notprepared to accept these arguments. They improved their relations withTehran and consequently the attempt to apply U.S. laws regarding Iranextraterritorially failed.

However, Israeli lobby succeeded in convincing the U.S. of the threatposed by Iraq. Sanctions and military attacks against Iraq continued untilthat country was invaded by a U.S.-UK arranged coalition in 2003. Duringthe presidency of G.W. Bush, Israel benefited from the support ofNeoconservatives who held high office in his administration. Tel Aviv putaside the peace process and launched military attacks against Lebanon in2006, Syria in 2007 and Gaza in 2009. Israel also encouraged the U.S. toput increased military and economic pressure on Iran. To satisfy Israel,the Bush administration undermined the EU3s negotiations with Tehran,and constantly emphasized that all options were on the table[1].

However, the U.S. administration was hamstrung, because of the situationin Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, realities weakened the Neoconservativesand brought Realists back to power in Washington. The bipartisan IraqiStudy Group recommended negotiation with Iran to stabilize Iraq.

The Bush administration found a clever method by which to deflect Israelipressure and Neoconservative rhetoric. After years of emphasizing thatall options were on the table, the administration had two options-either: (i) to implement their threats or (ii) to take the military optionoff of the table. The U.S. also gradually began to feel the economicconsequences of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at home and was thereforenot able to launch another war. President Bush did not change his positionbut the U.S. intelligence agencies rather acted to remove the urgency ofthe Iranian threat. In 2007 the U.S. intelligence community published aNational Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that assessed that Iran had haltedits nuclear weapons program in 2003. The NIE paved the way for the U.S. tonegotiate with Tehran in Baghdad and to join in the nuclear negotiationswith Tehran.

The U.S. intelligence communitys position on Irans nuclear program hasnot changed. Moreover, the current positions of Iran and the U.S. arecompatible with one another. The U.S. emphasizes that Iran be prohibitedfrom acquiring nuclear weapons, while Iran emphasizes its right as asignatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to enrich nuclear fuel.

The NPT accommodates both of these sets of interests. Consequently Iranand the U.S. have a common basis for negotiation. During the Bushadministration, the Israeli lobby in the United States succeeded inimposing a red line on U.S. conservative establishment policy that wasillegal under international law. And that was to insist that no enrichmenttake place in Iran. The Obama administration changed this redline to onecompliant with international law, whereby Iran not be permitted to acquirenuclear weapons. The swap agreement [2] that was proposed and thenrejected by the U.S. included tacit agreement to the idea that nuclearfuel could continue to be enriched in Iran. In the recent nuclearnegotiations with Iran that took place in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow,the EU3+3 have also tacitly accepted that the enrichment of nuclear fuelin Iran can continue; the negotiators have asked that Tehran refrain fromenriching nuclear fuel up to the twenty percent purity leveleven thoughsuch enrichment is legal under the International law.

The Israeli position continues to differ from that of the U.S. and theEU3+3. Tel Aviv emphasizes denying nuclear technology to Iran, but itsmain target is actually to weaken Iran irrespective of the state of Iransnuclear program. Israels main problem is not with Iran but with itsimmediate neighbors. Tel Aviv has lost its control over its neighborhoodand cannot influence the situation there. At a minimum, Israel feelsbesieged by new, unknown forces. By emphasizing the Iranian nuclear issueIsrael is pursuing two goals: (i) to create a new (Iranian-Israeli)conflict so that (ii) the world forgets the old (Arab-Israeli) one.

Due to the fact that Arab governments are concerned about the Iraniannuclear program and Iranian regional influence, Israel has somehow beenable to create a loose Arab-Israeli alliance against Iran. We should notforget that Arabs did not condemn the Israeli military actions againstLebanon in 2006 and Hamas in 2009. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are moreconcerned about Iran than about Israel. The Syrian conflict andSaudi-Qatari support for extremists there demonstrate this very clearly.

The question is, if the extremists succeed in Syria, who will their nexttargets be? Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or the U.S.? This is whythe U.S. and EU are hesitant about intervening in Syria.

What Israel fears most is not Iran but being left to its own devices bythe West in an instable region. For the first time, Israel really feelsisolated in the region. Because of their internal economic problems, theEU and the U.S. are not capable of defending Israel by going to war.Israel has lost both its supremacy in the region and the commitment of itsallies. What Israel is seeking to achieve is to keep the U.S. and EUengaged in the region by maneuvering them into launching another war. ForIsrael, the costs of the war and the degree of success it achieves aresecondary issues. The main objective is a long-term U.S. and EU commitmentand involvement in the conflict on Israels side.

Israeli security is important for the U.S. and EU but not more importantthan their own interests. The U.S. knows very well that, if the Israelisattack Iran, the U.S. has no option but join them. If they do so, however,they will not be able to defend their own interests. The U.S. has greatmilitary power, but many vulnerable interests as well. The EUsvulnerabilities are even more pronounced than those of the U.S.Consequently, long-term conflict in the Middle East will be too costly forthe U.S. and EU to tolerate.

Iranian behavior during the past decade demonstrates that Tehran is notseeking nuclear weapons. By implementing the Additional Protocol to theNPT from 2003 to 2005 and by subsequently resolving outstanding issueswith the IAEA, Iran demonstrated that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Irans religious leader has issued a fatwa against the acquisition ofnuclear weapons as a clear demonstration of Irans future intentions. Thisfatwa has the capacity to prevent the proliferation of Weapons of MassDestruction (WMD) in Muslim countries and to prevent the use of such aweapons by Islamic groups.

After years of intervention, sanctions, political pressure, covert warfareand cyber- attacks, Iran has much more reason to be concerned about thereal intentions of Israel, the U.S. and its allies than the latter have tobe concerned about those of Iran. A nuclear capacity has simply provided aminor form of reinsurance of Irans security; it does not deter any attackon Iran. But those who intend to attack Iran, should think twice or more.

Iranians have now understood the importance attached to such a nuclearcapacity in U.S. and Israeli military calculations. This shows that apeaceful nuclear capacity can also contribute to peace and stabilityit isnot even necessary to have nuclear weapons in order to deter rationalenemies.

If we compare the behavior of Iranian and Israeli leaders, we can easilyconclude that Iranian behavior has been much more rational. Voluntarycooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, implementation ofthe modality agreement, acceptance of the swap proposal, cooperation andnegotiation with the U.S. to bring peace and stability to Iraq andAfghanistan are all clear indicators of rational behavior in Tehran. Ifany of the Western countries had faced the threats and pressures that Iranfaces, they would surely have behaved differently. Israel will not be ableto achieve sustainable peace by force in the new Middle East. Regionalconcerns about Iran's nuclear program can be solved through regionalsecurity dialogue. Iran has always supported bilateral and multilateraldialogue with neighboring countries.

U.S. and Israeli options are limited: accept an Iranian nuclear enrichmentcapacity under the IAEA control or strike and then accept thereconstitution of the same capacity outside of IAEA control. It took manyyears for the U.S. to change its position from no enrichment to lowenrichment. Israel has not yet been able to make up its mind. Someoneneeds to go to Tel Aviv and help Israelis comprehend that Irans nuclearcapacity is a reality and that Iran is a rational player. The existence ofsuch a capacity in the hands of a rational player that has been engagedand integrated at the regional and global levels, will be different fromits existence in the hands of a player that has been attacked by allmeans. Sanctions, cyber attacks, isolation, and the terrorization ofIranian nuclear scientists have simply exacerbated the situation and ledto a loss of Western influence on Iran.

The Middle East is already unstable enough. Israel has just one option:accept the new realities, change its behaviors and look for sustainablepeace. During the last decade the U.S. and its allies were the main losersdue to instability in Iraq and Afghanistan. Economic and socialinstability paved the way for moderate Islamists to come to power, but ifthe instability continues to grow, they will not be able to solve problemsand keep their positions. Extremists are at the gate from North Africa toCentral and South Asia. These developments have limited U.S. and Israelifreedom of action in the Middle East, not the Iranian nuclear program.

If being moderate or extremist is a criterion for being entitled topossess a nuclear capability, then Israel clearly fails, as it currentlyhas a most extreme government. That is why EU and the US should set a redline for Israel and not let it to impose its policies on them. In recentweeks Israeli officials have repeatedly talked about a military strikeagainst Iran and Western countries have mostly remained silent. Extremistsin Israel have clearly demonstrated their intention and if they strikeIranian nuclear facilities, Western officials cannot say that they havenot been informed. Those who provide all kinds of weapons for Israel havemore responsibility. Just as in the case of the ongoing economic waragainst Iran, innocent people will be the main victims of any militarystrike. The Iranian nuclear program enjoys strong national support. U.S.,Israeli and EU pressures target Iranian nation, nationalism in Iran andwill have long-term consequences for the West.

Netanyahus request at the UN General Assembly strengthened thewell-established belief in the Middle East that Israel and its lobbiesdetermine European and American policies toward the region. With thisopinion widespread in the Middle East, Washington and Brussels will notbenefit from Arab Spring. It is time for Western countries to stop Israelfrom intervening in their domestic and foreign policies and for themdistinguish between values and interests that they do and do not sharewith Israel. Netanyahus speech in the UNGA demonstrated his arrogantapproach toward the West. If Western powers cannot control Israel, it willimpose at least another three trillion dollars in costs upon them. Duringthe past decades, Israeli officials have followed one imaginary enemyafter another: Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and now Iran areamong the list and it will extend to other countries in the Middle Eastand North Africa. This approach needs to be stopped. The U.S. and EU needto clearly impose the following redlines on Israel:

First: Do not interfere in U.S. and EU politics. Western officials arewise enough to recognize their interests and know how to decide.

Second: Occupation, intervention, violation of Palestinian rights, and theterrorization of scientists are not values and interests that Israel, theU.S. and EU share in common. Tel Aviv must desist from these policies.

Third: A regime which has manufactured nuclear weapons and is not a memberof the NPT does not have right to tell an NPT member state what to do.

Fourth: A regime that has repeatedly attacked its neighbors during thepast five decades cannot accuse a peaceful nation of having such anintention.

Fifth: Israeli officials should not mislead the international community.It is twenty years that they have been saying that Iran will reach nuclearweapons within a few years. All those years have passed without anynuclear weapon and the next year will also end in the same way.

Sixth: The U.S. and EU are no longer ready to pay the price for Israelimistakes. Because of past unconditional support, Israel has repeatedlyattacked its neighbors and has not learned how to live with them.

Seventh: Preventing war is a global responsibility and the internationalcommunity will stop Israel from launching another one.

Solving the Iranian nuclear issue has never been complicated. Transparencyfor recognition is still the best solution. Iran is ready to increasetransparency if the other parties to the EU3+3 negotiations negotiateseriously. Iran has not rejected re-implementing the Additional Protocoleither. A transparent nuclear program will not endanger anyonessecurity. Many countries around the world have such a capacity, includingGermany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, South Africa and Brazil. Iran hasno problem with transparency; the problem is that the U.S. and some of itsallies have not been able to recognize Irans rights, role and interests.

The U.S. has tried to exclude Iran from any regional and internationalmechanism. They have just tactically engaged Iran in some cases such asIraq and Afghanistan. Israeli pressure has been an important factor, butwe should not neglect other domestic and international elements.

Iranophobia is not limited to Israeli extremists. Many people, even someelites, in the West suffer from a distorted image of Iran. Reinforcingclosed doors by sanctions, isolation, military threats, and cyber attackswill not lead to transparency and cooperation. All sides need to pave theway for doors to open.


[1] i.e. including a possible military attack on Iran

[2] whereby nuclear fuel enriched to twenty-percent purity in Iran wouldbe shipped out of Iran in exchange for enriched nuclear fuel to power theTehran Research reactor (TRR) supplied from abroad

Published under an arrangement with Iran review 8 October 2012.


The Iran Project is not responsible for the content of quoted articles.
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