War on the nuke?

The March 5 talks between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington. Source: GPO

The March 5 talks between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington. Source: GPO

Journalists revealed the details of the March 5 negotiations between U.S. and Israel which may fuel tensions between Israel and Iran.

“Israel has not yet decided on military action against Iran but it might resort to force,” Reuters reported, citing an unnamed source close to the talks that took place on March 5 in Washington.

Obama stressed: “We do believe there is still a window for a diplomatic resolution to this issue.”  He said the U.S. was committed to “preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy, sanctions and, as a last resort, force.”

It is not quite clear whether Tel Aviv is happy with the results of the negotiations.  “We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation,” said Netanyahu, addressing the meeting of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Yevgeny Primakov, a former Russian Foreign Minister and chief of foreign intelligence said that Netanyahu’s comments show that he is for attacking Iran but cannot launch the offensive without Washington’s backing. Primakov argued that Israel could not succeed in damaging Iran’s nuclear capacity only with airstrkes, as “planes can drop bombs but the nuclear capacity is hidden deep underground. This will not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear arsenal.” Primakov continued, “As for land operations… they will fail, as to fight a war in Iran would be even more difficult than in Iraq.”   

According to Yury Rogulev, Director of the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation at Moscow State University, the U.S. and Israel are playing the roles of good cop/bad cop with regards to Iran. “Washington has enough opportunities to put pressure on Israel’s Iran policy, and tough statements by Tel Aviv’s politicians are becoming an effective tool for mounting pressure on Tehran,” Rogulev added. 

Washington obviously sees force against Iran as the last resort. “American officials who have assessed the likely Iranian responses to any attack by Israel on its nuclear program believe that Iran would retaliate by launching missiles on Israel and terrorist-style attacks against United States civilian and military personnel overseas,” reported the New York Times.

Another factor is the potential threat against the oil industry in the Persian Gulf.   

Most important, however, is that Iran will certainly use the strike as a pretext to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. “This will completely destroy the Treaty, which forms the cornerstone of Washington’s foreign policy,” said Gennady Evstafyev, a retired lieutenant-general of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service.

Apparently, it is largely for these reasons that Obama, while reiterating that he does not rule about any scenarios with respect to Iran, still hopes that the economic troubles caused by the economic sanctions might trigger social unrest, which would either sober up the Iranian leadership or topple it, as the Washington Post reported in January. And a new military campaign with an unclear outcome is the last thing Obama wants ahead of the presidential election. 

In Iran, open pressure from the U.S. and Israel is becoming an important factor bringing local voters together around the ruling elite, unifying its positions around a single issue. Moreover, by organizing naval exercises in the Gulf or declaring its new uranium enrichment capabilities, Tehran seems to be provoking sharp responses from the West, which might be quite useful for Iran’s internal politics. The question is, however, how far this war of nerves can go within the U.S.-Israel-Iran triangle.

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