By all accounts, negotiations in Vienna to stop Iran’s headlong drive to acquire nuclear weapons are proceeding poorly.
Unsurprisingly, Iran is backtracking on points already agreed upon and posing new pre-conditions—like immediate suspension of all economic and trade sanctions against it by the U.S.-led international community.
Former U.S. Representative John Dingell once wisely observed that “war is failure of diplomacy.” His words accurately describe the stakes riding on the diplomatic efforts to prevent Tehran from achieving its nuclear ambitions.
Ever since the P5+1 nations (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, plus Germany) started negotiating with Iran for what eventually became the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran hasn’t taken its eye off its goal.
Despite the positive spin President Obama put on the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA had three major flaws: First, it only slowed the Iranian path to nuclear weapons. Second, the agreement lacked deterrents sufficient to ensure Iran abided by its restrictions. Third, the Iranian mullahs, inveterate cheaters, had no intention in any case of complying with them.
As Dennis Ross, a former special assistant to President Obama for the Middle East and South Asia, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, former commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and director of the CIA, wrote in The Washington Post shortly after the signing: “Deterrence is the key to ensuring not just that the Iranians live up to the agreement but also to preventing them from developing nuclear weapons. Iran must know that we will not permit it to become a nuclear weapons state ever.”
Ross and Petraeus were voicing another axiom of international negotiations: Your counterpart must believe you are ready to use force if diplomacy fails.
Unfortunately, while JCPOA offered a big carrot in sanctions relief for Iran, there was little stick to ensure they didn’t breach the deal. Because of Iranian breaches—above all its secret intentions to create nuclear weapons and its failure to allow meaningful inspections—President Trump pulled the United States out of the deal.
At the time, Trump said: “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”
Indeed, rather than prevent conflict and violence, the JCPOA was actually leading to it—whether the negotiating nations were ready or not.
Iran is now a nuclear threshold state. Though the JCPOA allowed it to enrich uranium to no further than 3.67 percent, they are already enriching uranium to a 60 percent level—just a short step from the 90 percent needed for nuclear weapons. Clearly, the international community was not aware of many elements of Iran’s program.
At a recent European press briefing, a senior Israel Defense Forces official said that “according to our assessment, Iran is one month from being able to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear bomb, if they decide to.”
The question is, what happens now?
The United States has claimed frequently that “all options are on the table”—meaning military force has not been ruled out. However, this formulation has never motivated the Iranians, because they sense U.S. reluctance.
Israeli officials have recently become frustrated with American response to the eventual need for military action. Despite its words, the United States seems to lack the stomach for them, even if current Iran talks fail—which they almost certainly will.
Israel’s Defense Minister just returned from the United States, where he made clear that he has directed Israel’s military to prepare for a possible strike on Iran.
According to diplomatic sources cited by The Jerusalem Post: “When Defense Minister Benny Gantz was in Washington last week to implore the Americans to take a tougher stance against the Iranian nuclear threat, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted they devote equal time to discussing settlements as they did to Iran, which Israeli diplomatic sources found baffling.”
That the United States would waste valuable time talking about Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria when Israel is facing an existential threat from Iran is more than baffling—it is alarming, sending a dangerous message on priorities both to friends like Israel and enemies like Iran.
Moreover, the United States is not just rhetorically stymying Israel’s ability to defend itself from nuclear-armed Iranian clerics who have repeatedly threatened to “wipe it off the map.” Israel recently asked the United States to speed up delivery of Boeing refueling aircraft it has purchased to support an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. The United States, seemingly as a delaying tactic, told Israel the plane won’t be ready until 2024.
Clearly, if Israel’s assessments are correct it cannot wait three years.
Thus, it seems that Israel—not for the first time in its history—is on its own, facing an arduous if not almost impossible task. Iran is not like Iraq and Syria, the nuclear weapons programs of which Israel struck in 1981 and 2007, respectively. Iran has multiple nuclear sites in various locations, most deep underground and some near civilian population centers.
Iran also retains a strong retaliation option, chiefly through its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Tehran Times recently published on its front-page a map of all the places it believes it can reach and attack in Israel.
Unsurprisingly, Israel may soon conclude it has no good options—only bad and worse ones. Israel has long understood it cannot allow its enemies the ability to destroy it. It has also learned that when enemies say they will annihilate the Jewish people, it must take that threat seriously.
The United States has reached this perilous point precisely because it relied too much on diplomacy without commensurate resolve to use force—and it failed. Even today many in Vienna persist in trying to resuscitate long-dead talks, while refusing to consider meaningful alternatives.
Unfortunately, while for some participants this is a challenge of diplomacy—for Israel it’s a matter of life or death. The Jewish state has always chosen life—and it no doubt will again.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.
Be a part of our community
JNS is your ideological home. Situated at the center of the pro-Israel ecosystem, we provide readers with the critical context they need on issues facing Israel and their Jewish world.
You can help support our efforts — and enjoy an ad-free experience, as well as premium content and other community benefits.
Join our community and help us continue to keep you engaged and informed.