For Israel, the Problem With Iran Diplomacy Is the Prospect of Nuclear Compromise
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amplified his skepticism of President Obama’s Iran strategy on Wednesday, when he used a Holocaust remembrance speech to warn that Iran was building nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel. “The Iranian regime is acting openly and decisively toward our destruction, and it is acting feverishly to develop a nuclear weapon to achieve this goal,” Netanyahu said, two days after accusing the Administration and its partners of giving Iran a “freebie” in last weekend’s nuclear talks in Istanbul. The combination of those statements creates an impression that the Israelis see the current diplomacy with Iran as prevarication in the face of a mortal threat to Israel — a message calculated to raise the domestic political heat on President Obama.
Of course, the U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessment is that Iran is not in fact currently embarked on a feverish dash to build nuclear weapons; it has not yet taken the strategic decision to build such weapons even as it steadily accumulates the capability to do so. And even Netanyahu’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, has suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran would be unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, given Israel’s own capability to “lay waste” to Iran. Administration officials believe that because Iran has not yet opted to build nuclear weapons and the pressure of steadily escalating sanctions has made Tehran more amenable to compromise, it remains possible to seek a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear work — and that if it could be achieved, such a solution represents the best and most durable solution. Still, it should come as no surprise that Israel’s leaders are agitated and openly skeptical over the U.S. entering a new process of diplomatic engagement on Iran’s nuclear program. They know that even the best-case diplomatic outcome would fall short of Israel’s demands but might do enough to de-escalate the conflict and push the issue off the international community’s crisis agenda.