In the winter of 2013, the Middle East was captivated by then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy, watching him hop from Ramallah to Jerusalem to Amman over and over again. Kerry was on an obsessive mission to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
At the time, I told a U.S. official that I was worried. “History suggests that peace efforts in this region culminate with war,” I said, “what is your fallback position?” The official replied that there was no Plan B.
We all know what ultimately happened. The peace process died and three Israeli teens were abducted, triggering the 51-day Operation Protective Edge. Kerry’s tennis match with the region’s capitals ended with the U.S. flunking Middle East 101 once again.
It was only the Americans’ latest futile effort at understanding the region. An inexhaustive list includes its failure to support the Shah of Iran during the Carter administration; President George W. Bush’s illusion that toppling Saddam would usher in a prosperous Iraq; Condoleezza Rice’s insistence that the Palestinian Authority conduct elections that ultimately led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza; and Barack Obama’s Cairo Address in 2009, as well as his decision to side with the protesters who wanted to take down then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak two years later, which paved the way for the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power.
Over the past 18 months, the world has been watching the U.S. play another match of regional tennis: the nuclear talks with Iran. Tehran and the West have each been hitting the ball back and forth. We occasionally get news about a deal getting “closer,” or that the latest draft is “the final offer” and it is “just a matter of days” before a deal is made, or that “the window is closing.” Both sides prefer this process to play itself out forever, very much like an inconclusive sporting event.
Iran is hardly the most pressing issue on the U.S. foreign policy docket. As for Iran, time is on its side, because a protracted process allows it to continue its nuclear program. Enrichment levels have already reached 60% purity levels; Tehran’s coffers have been filling up, in part because of the rise in oil and fuel prices and Chinese consumption; and Russia has been buying Iranian arms. On top of that, the Iranian regime is not facing an existential threat.
It is sad that the U.S. has once again fallen into the pattern of the pursuit of peace leading to a potential war. The Iranians’ response to the latest U.S. offer has confirmed my suspicions—which are shared by others—that Iran doesn’t want a deal but is only using the talks to buy time.
The talks have allowed Iran to divert attention from what it really cares about: Shortening the time it would take to reach a bomb—the breakout time—to zero. This means Iran would be ready to break toward a nuclear weapon once the talks collapse. By the time the U.S. comes up with a Plan B, the Iranians believe, they will already have a bomb.
For Iran, the never-ending tennis match is just a ruse. The real game is elsewhere. From what has been reported in the media, Tehran’s breakout time currently stands at several weeks. One can assume that Iran will not be foolish enough to show its hand and will hold some cards close to its chest. Then, when the talks are history, they will break toward a bomb and the U.S. will face the excruciating dilemma it wanted to avoid all along: accepting a nuclear-armed Iran or a bloody war with the murderous regime in Tehran.
To paraphrase the famous Churchillian adage, the U.S. was given a choice between war and dishonor; it chose dishonor, and both Israel and the U.S. are facing the real prospect that they will have war.
Ariel Kahana is Israel Hayom’s senior diplomatic commentator.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.
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