Israel: Not seen but very much heard at Iran nuclear talks (+video)
Fearful that Iran could still build a nuclear weapon, Israel is insisting sanctions be tightened further. But US negotiators are urging the opposite to give talks a chance.
Israel is Iranâs arch-foe, and the United States' closest Middle East ally. US officials vow its security is sacrosanct, and have been striving to reassure IsraelÂ that any deal struck willÂ addressÂ IsraelâsÂ insistence â also stated by President Barack Obama repeatedly âÂ that Iran never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.Â
âTo the people of Israel, I want to say the [Geneva] talks are the first step to stop the clock and prevent [Iranâs] nuclear program from going forward,â US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told Israeli televisionÂ on Sunday.
Iranâs Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali KhameneiÂ on SundayÂ called Israel âan illegal and bastard regimeâ that the Islamic Republic would forever challenge. Iran accuses Israel of assassinating a number of its nuclear scientists, and has warned the US not to let Israel and the pro-Israel lobby in Washington dictate the policies of a superpower.Â
Israelâs Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a nuclear-armed Iran would be an âexistential threatâ to the Jewish state and has threatened military strikes to prevent that outcome. He has also demandedÂ ratcheting upÂ sanctions until Iran dismantles its entire nuclear infrastructure. But given the scale of Iranâs programs and extent of its homegrown expertise today, thatÂ demand is likely no longer feasible.Â
Israeli security and Iran experts have a much more nuanced view about what Israel should expect.
âIf Iran and the United States will come to a deal, itâs not going to be against the interests of the state of Israel, and I know that many people in Israel understand that,â says David Menashri, the founder of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University and now president of Israelâs College of Law & Business.Â
One Iranian scholar has told Mr. Menashri: âWe are not stupid to think it is possible for Iran and the United States to have good relations, while Israel and Iran are fighting each other. It doesnât go together. So be quiet, stay there, your turn will come.â
Speaking at the conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said,Â âThe technology now is homegrownâŚ You cannotâŚ kill our scientists and remove the program."
âSo how do you make sure this technology is peaceful?â added Mr. Zarif. âEnable Iran to exercise it in a transparent fashion; you cannot push it under the rug.â
Such changes will not come easily, however. Anti-US and anti-Israeli ideology have been âpart of the DNA of this [Iranian] revolution,â says Manashri. âWe cannot expect [President Hassan] Rouhani to become one of the âlovers of Zionism,â as we say. We have to understand the limitations of what he can do and what he cannot.â
Mr. Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was known for anti-Israel, anti-Zionism diatribes that questioned the scale of the Nazi Holocaust and declared that Israel one day would âdisappear from the face of time.â While Iran's anti-Israel rhetoric has not ceased under the new centrist president â chants of âDeath to Israel!â have often been voiced alongside âDeath to America!â at official events â its shrillness has been dialed back.
But Israel's overriding concern is still that the negotiations are a stalling tactic.Â Today, Mr. NetanyahuÂ warnedÂ US Secretary of State John Kerry in Jerusalem against any initial deal thatÂ would allowÂ Iran toÂ continueÂ enrichmentÂ as sanctions are eased.
In contrast, Zarif said in ParisÂ on Tuesday: "I believe it is even possible to reach that agreement this week." He added that if there is no breakthrough, however, it is "not a disaster."Â
The goal for Israel? âThat at no point in the future will we wake up one morning and find that a capability that was dormant was suddenly activated,â says Efraim Halevy, a former head of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, who was instrumental in brokering Israelâs peace with King Hussein of Jordan in 1994.
Mr. HalevyÂ describedÂ parts of a presentation by Zarif at the Istanbul conferenceÂ as âexhilarating.âÂ In it, ZarifÂ laid out the framework of a win-win nuclearÂ deal, in which both sides would accept and act upon the primary concerns of the other â Iran's right to enrich would be acknowledged by six world powers, while Iran would do everything it could to ensure that making a nuclear bomb would not be possible and allow that to be verified.Â
But Halevy told The Christian Science Monitor that theÂ prospects of a deal were âremote âŚ because itâs almost too difficult to strike the degree of pain that both sides will have to endure in getting an agreement.â
âFor Iran, itâs become a symbol for everything,â added Halevy. âAnd for the United States, it has become an issue in which the prestige of the United States is at stake."Â
Iran has created a so-called Axis of Resistance against US and Israeli influence in the Middle East that includes ally Syria, Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, and Palestinian militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Â
âOf course, the Iranians say that Israel has no right to exist, et cetera, but they are not capable of really threatening our existence, our survival, even if they got nuclear weapons,â says Shlomo Brom, an Israeli peace negotiator with Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians who is now at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
âI donât think the Iranians are suicidal,âÂ says the former Israeli Defense Force brigadier general.Â âThe way they conduct their business. .. shows that they are completely rational [by] making cost-benefit analysis and operating accordingly.
âIf a nuclear deal is made, it will be good enough for Israel â maybe not the dream solution, but good enough.â