By Andrei Ilyashenko
On March 5 talks are scheduled to take place in Washington between the US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The main issue is the preventive strike against Iran.
The essence of the talks is most clearly presented by the Israeli «Gaarez» newspaper that cites the words of an anonymous Israeli diplomat: «The talks with the US are similar to how porcupines have sex – slowly and carefully. They (the Americans) make a lot of general statements that in their view we want to hear, while we keep asking them where the critical point is? How are the Iranians supposed to understand that if they don’t stop, in the end they will be attacked?”
As one can easily notice, the starting point of the negotiations is the assumption that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, and that there is no reason to strike.
In January during the US Senate hearings the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the Director of the CIA David Petraeus made a statement that at the present moment there was no proof of the fact that Iran had made a decision to start producing nuclear weapons. The US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey made similar statements. That group of people can persuade anybody.
Nonetheless, Tel-Aviv is signaling officially and via leaks to the press that in the event of a growing Iranian threat it cannot guarantee to hold back even though only Saudi Arabia and Katar support its ambitions.
One must say that the publicity around the Iranian nuclear program has completely erased the Palestinian problem from the global agenda. Also forgotten is Obama’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict announced last May, which caused Tel-Aviv a lot of problem. Also forgotten is the issue of Palestine’s joining the UN, which almost blew up last year’s General Assembly session of the UN.
Israel from an object of international criticism forcing it to give in to the Palestinians turned into a key element in the process of resolving the currently most acute international crisis.
One should also keep in mind the pre-election landscape in Israel, to which Benjamin Netanyahu is naturally sensitive like any politician running for re-election.
On the other hand, tough anti-Israeli rhetoric of Iran together with the regular missile trials is perceived as a threat by the Israeli state. For the Israelis this threat is quite real.
Netanyahu is clearly leaning towards a strike against Iran, but «he cannot start that strike without the US, – says Academician Eugeniy Primakov, who at various times was the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the foreign intelligence service.
Israel, however, does not border on Iran, which in military terms is a regional heavy weight. But even a joint air strike would not be sufficient, «because the aviation can strike, but the nuclear facilities, all nuclear activity is hidden way below the ground surface. It would not destroy all of Iran’s nuclear capabilities. And a land operation if started would be a failure, because it would be even more difficult to fight in Iran than it was in Iraq», believes Primakov.
Besides that, «the US officials that analyze potential Israeli attacks on Iran believe that Teheran would react with a missile strike at Israel and terrorist attacks aimed against the US citizens and military personnel abroad», writes The New York Times.
And finally, quite probable is the threat to the oil complex of the Persian Gulf. However, the main consequence would be Iran using the attack as an excuse to break the Treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and to legitimize the creation of nuclear weapons. «It would completely destroy the terms of the treaty, which is the keystone of the US foreign policy», says Lieutenant General of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Gennady Yevstafiev. Nuclear weapons is like a Colt revolver a «great equalizer», only in global aspect.
This is probably why as Washington Post reported in January, Obama while repeating that he «does not rule out scenarios» as far as Iran goes, is still betting on the fact that economic downturn caused by the sanctions would lead to social unrest, which in turn would either force the Iranian leaders to be more reasonable, or cause a change of that leadership. And he absolutely does not need a new military campaign with an unclear outcome right before the elections.
Iranian leadership does not need it either. While anti-Iranian publicity is quite useful. March 2 is the date for the Iranian parliamentary elections (Medjlis). Next year is the presidential elections. Open pressure and threats from the US and Israel (the Great Satan and the Small Satan in Iranian political terms) are becoming an important factor that brings together the voters around the ruling elite, and all conflicts within the elite are neutralized by its common stand on the nuclear program issue.
Moreover, by organizing the naval exercise in the Straight or announcing its new capabilities in enriching uranium Teheran appears to be provoking the West to come up with well-dozed threats that end up being quite useful in the internal policy.
The problem is all this escalation of mutual threats, sanctions and muscle flexing exercises cannot go on forever. But we are unlikely to see any clear alternative based on the results of the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu.