About Those Iran Negotiations ...


In Iran-related news:
The New York Times quotes one anonymous Western diplomat as saying, in reference to the just-completed P5 + 1 talks over Iran's nuclear program -- talks in which the only subject discussed was when to talk -- "I don't think they would come if they weren't serious."

The "they" is the Iranian regime, and this Western diplomat may be right, though there is an alternative explanation for Iranian participation: They came because they're stalling for time, and what better way to stall for time then create the appearance of negotiations? Could this aforementioned Western diplomat not have thought of that?

I think the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, overreacted when he called the 5-week period between this round of talks and the next, in late May, a "freebie" to the Iranians, who can use the time to enrich uranium, and further harden their nuclear sites, and so on. Five weeks is not too terribly long, and President Obama (who, I get the sense, Netanyahu is back to mistrusting) has said explicitly that he's not going to allow the Iranians to stall. But again, we're back to the phase of this drama in which Netanyahu feels that Obama, who desperately wants to avoid the economic disruption he fears would ensue if Israel attacked Iran's nuclear program (that is to say, he doesn't want the economic disruption before November), is stringing along Iran, and stringing along Israel.

I believe Netanyahu should trust Obama to deal with Iran in 2013 (and yes, I've taken a beating from various of my friends for suggesting that Obama is serious about stopping Iran by whatever means necessary, but I'm sticking with this analysis until someone actually makes an argument that doesn't consist mainly of, "Are you kidding? Obama?") 

And so, again, June. After the Netanyahu-Obama meeting last month, I thought the White House had bought some time with the Israelis. Though it makes no sense for the Israelis to strike Iran's nuclear sites after November (the political climate, and the actual climate, as in cloud-cover, makes a strike this winter implausible), I thought the Obama Administration had moved the Israeli clock back a bit, to September. But I think we're back to looking at June as a possible (I didn't say probable) month for an Israeli attack.
 
Here, by the way, is Slate's Fred Kaplan on the subject. I agree with Fred -- I hope I'm not mischaracterizing his position -- that if the Israelis don't strike by November, then they will have, in essence, decided to subcontract out the problem to the Americans:

(I)f the Israelis really are intent on attacking the Iranian nuclear facilities, they're likely to do so before this November's American presidential elections. If they started an attack and needed U.S. firepower to help them complete the task, Barack Obama might open himself up to perilous political attacks--for being indecisive, weak, appeasing, anti-Israel, you name it--if he didn't follow through. It could cost him the votes of crucial constituencies. If the Israelis tried to pressure the United States into joining an attack after the election, Obama would have (to borrow a phrase from another context) more flexibility. So, to the extent the Israeli leaders have decided to attack (and it's not at all clear they have), they are probably thinking: much better sooner than later.

One of several reason I think an attack, if it comes, will come sooner rather than later is a just-aired report from Israel's Channel 10 Television on the Israeli air force's preparedness for an attack. (Times of Israel has a synopsis). The fact that the Barak-run Defense Ministry allowed this report to air (it has the power to censor national security information) suggests something, I think. (And, yes, it could be part of a bluff, but I don't tend to think so. I think the airing of this report was more a signal to the White House and to the Europeans that Israel won't wait very long.)

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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