Sure, Negotiate with Iran on Nuclear Crisis — But Step Up Sanctions & Prepare for a Military Strike

by YOSSI MELMAN [co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars and The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran]

TEL AVIV — Let us start evaluating the election of a new president in Iran by flashing back 20 years to the words of Israel’s then-prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.  On a historic September morning in 1993 on the South Lawn of the White House, he signed a framework for peace with Yasser Arafat.  Yet Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians continued.

Israel’s Rabin – an inspiration

Rabin was repeatedly asked, how could he keep negotiating with Arafat? His formulation still seems perfect for the Middle East of today: “We shall negotiate peace, as though there were no terrorism, and we shall fight terrorism as though there is no peace.”

The Obama Administration and its Western allies would be wise to adopt the same stand toward Iran: Resume the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, but don’t lift the sanctions aimed at compelling the Iranians to stop it. In fact, tighten the sanctions – to show that the West is losing patience.

And keep preparing for military action, with a serious belief that however undesirable it may be necessary.

Iran’s uranium enrichment, which has continued through election campaigns and smiling news conferences by the winner in Tehran, goes on without pause. So say the CIA, the Mossad, and European and Arab intelligence analysts who are all highly concerned about it.

At least he’s leaving in August : Ahmadinejad energized Iran’s nuclear project

If Iran’s scientists and military succeed in manufacturing nuclear warheads for missiles, then American interests  in the Middle East– and Israel’s safety – would be in peril.

The White House has welcomed the electoral victory of Hassan Rouhani as a potentially hopeful sign, but the self-described reformist has a long record of supporting and covering up his country’s nuclear program. As a senior official a decade ago, he had a role in suspending the uranium enrichment – apparently out of fear that the Bush Administration would follow-up its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by striking Iran – but intelligence analysts say the secret work resumed in 2005.

The analysts also say that Rouhani’s own writings indicate that Iran’s strategy was to keep negotiating with the West as a delaying tactic, while the centrifuges kept spinning to amass a large quantity of enriched uranium.

Intelligence agencies, including some in the Arab Gulf countries trying to assess if the world is about to face a more gentle Iran – or a more insidious one – are pointing to indications that Rouhani is, in fact, highly loyal to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The reputed evidence includes what is said to be a suicide note, left 21 years ago by Rouhani’s son, which blasted his father for “kissing the hand of Khamenei.”

Israeli, American, and European “Iran watchers” conclude that the main reason for Rouhani’s election victory was the disastrous decline of his country’s economy. This is primarily a result of the international sanctions imposed on Iran since 2005 and enhanced in the last two years.

Iran’s cash requirements are heavily dependent on its oil production and export. Last year oil exports fell to a new low of 1 million barrels per day from 3.3 the previous year. The sanctions have cost Iran nearly $100 billion, and the economic crisis is manifested by every indicator: an unemployment rate exceeding 30% (and much higher among the younger generation), a major fall in foreign currency reserves, a practical devaluation of 50% for its currency, increased drug abuse and prostitution, and the obvious growth of black-market trading.  Iran is on the verge of bankruptcy.

To save the country from collapse Ayatollah Khamenei had no choice but to allow Rouhani to be elected. The Supreme Leader now hopes that his new president — with his smiling face and softer tone — will charm the U.S. and the West and will persuade them to lift the sanctions, without giving up the nuclear program.

Now, therefore, is the time to consolidate the sanctions.  The election proved that they are effective.   If oil exports drop to 500,000 barrels per day, Iran will be probably be willing to make real concessions on its nuclear program.  There are many possible formulations for slowing or stopping uranium enrichment, sending medium- and highly-enriched uranium out of Iran, and opening all facilities to U.N. inspectors.

If President Obama really wants to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but without going to war, he has to impose more sanctions while accelerating the pace of negotiations that have been sporadic, apparently vague, and definitely inconclusive. One more turn of the screw on the Islamic Republic and its new president-elect would prove to be the best, peaceful but firm, route to burying the Iranian nuclear spectre.

June 23, 2013

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