“Bibi” Netanyahu was disgusted.
“My initial reaction is that Iran has gotten a freebie. It has got five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation.”
The Israeli prime minister was referring to Saturday’s meeting in Istanbul of the P5-plus-1 — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany — with representatives from Iran.
Subject: Iran’s nuclear program. After a “constructive” meeting of one day, all agreed to meet again in Baghdad, May 23, and departed.
For Bibi, it was a strategic defeat.
For Israel’s goal is a halt to Iran’s enrichment of uranium and the removal of enriched uranium from that country.
But Catherine Ashton, the foreign minister for the European Union who is leading the P5-plus-1, stated that the West accepts Iran’s position that, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, she has a right to a peaceful nuclear program and nuclear power.
“Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear power” must be fully respected, Ashton said. No one dissented.
If the United States assents to Iran’s enrichment of uranium, and Iran gives assurances that the Ayatollah’s fatwa against the acquisition of nuclear weapons is being observed, a Washington-Tehran deal may be in the offing.
What would be the elements?
An end to Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, once Iran has a sufficient stock for its program of nuclear medicine.
Transfer of any excess 20 percent uranium outside the country to prevent further enrichment to weapons grade.
Regular intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities to ensure there is no diversion of uranium to bomb-making.
What would Iran demand?
Step-by-step lifting of sanctions, as it demonstrates it is telling the truth about not seeking nuclear weapons.
Such a deal would end the U.S.-Iran confrontation, yet allow Iran to continue to gain the knowledge, experience, and technical capacity to break out, should it ever decide to take the risk and build the weapons.
Netanyahu believes Israel’s security and survival mandate the nuclear castration of Iran. Sunday, in a detailed report cleared by military censors, Israeli TV showed how an attack would be mounted.
Yet reporter Alon Ben David conceded that the Israeli Air Force “does not have the capacity to destroy the entire Iranian program.”
Unlike the Iraqi nuclear reactor and the Syrian reactor Israel bombed in 1981 and 2007, Iran has many more nuclear facilities, spread over a far larger country, farther away and better defended.
And given the public threats by Israel and test runs by the IAF as far as Gibraltar, no attack on Iran will come as a total surprise. There would be losses of planes and pilots.
What would be the results?
While it would destroy some of Iran’s nuclear facilities, it would not end the program but rally Iranians behind the regime. And it might trigger retaliation by Iran and Hezbollah, by missile, against Israel itself.
An Israeli attack on Iran, which President Obama and the U.S. military strongly oppose, would also put the issue of a U.S. war with Iran front and center in the presidential election.
What would America do; what would Obama do?
The election of 2012 could turn on that decision.
Should Iran retaliate against Israel, the Israeli lobby and the neocons would demand that America come to Israel’s defense. Mitt Romney, the GOP hawks, evangelical Christians, conservative commentators and many Democrats would echo the demand, no matter who started the shooting.
A clamor would arise for us to finish the job of smashing Iran’s nuclear facilities.
As Israel is admired and Iran’s regime is detested, Obama could never declare neutrality. And should he order the U.S. military to go to Israel’s aid, his re-election might well be assured.
As commander in chief and first diplomat, Obama holds all the cards.
If Iran is accommodating, the sanctions he has imposed will be seen as successful. If Iran balks in negotiations, he can impose new sanctions.
If Iran walks out of the talks, he can issue ultimata.
If Israel attacks Iran, he can come to Israel’s defense and finish the job of destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities. If done close to the election, this would assure Obama’s re-election. The “October surprise” of 2012.
What are Iran’s interests and options?
Tehran cannot want war with the United States. For whatever the damage done to U.S. interests, the destruction of Iran’s air, naval and missile forces and nuclear program would be total.
The smartest course for Iran to pursue is to demonstrate to the West that she is reasonable and anxious to prove she has no present or future intention of building atomic weapons.
Which is what Iran was doing in Istanbul.
No wonder Bibi is frustrated. If there is no U.S. attack on Iran by November, and Obama wins, there may never be a U.S. attack on Iran.
Israel cannot do to Iran what Bibi wants done to Iran. Only Obama can.
But how does Bibi get Obama to do it, before November?
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?