The War Drums Never Stop: Israel Resumes Threats Against Iran
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the United Nations' 2012 General Assembly.
Photo Credit: Avi Ochayon/Israeli Government Press Office
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As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resumed his threats to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, 29 former senior U.S. experts and foreign diplomats urged President Barack Obama to show greater flexibility in anticipated negotiations following the inauguration of President-elect Hassan Rouhani.
“While it will take time to secure an agreement to resolve all concerns, diplomacy will only succeed if we are prepared to leverage existing sanctions and other incentives in exchange for reciprocal Iranian concessions,” according to the letter.
It was signed by, among others, former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs Thomas Pickering and Bruno Pelleau, the former deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“Further, in the lead-up to Rouhani’s inauguration, it is critical that all parties abstain from provocative actions that could imperil this diplomatic opportunity,” said the letter, which was also signed by Peter Jenkins, the former British ambassador to the IAEA, and Paul Pillar, a veteran CIA analyst who served as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005.
“For the U.S., no further sanctions should be imposed or considered at this time as they could empower hardliners opposed to nuclear concessions at the expense of those seeking to shift policy in a more moderate direction,” according to the letter.
It was released on the eve of a meeting Tuesday of senior officials of the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia plus Germany), which has been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme since 2006.
Both Netanyahu’s comments, which during a widely viewed Sunday CBS News programme, and the letter come as the Obama administration grapples with the aftermath of last week’s military coup d’etat in Egypt, the ongoing civil war in Syria that appears to be going badly for the U.S.-backed opposition, and new uncertainties about the pace and timing of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as increasingly bleak prospects for peace talks with the Taliban.
Netanyahu downplayed the relative significance of these other crises and complained about what he said was the lack of a sense of urgency in Washington about Iran’s nuclear programme.
“(A)ll the problems that we have, however important, will be dwarfed by this messianic, apocalyptic, extreme regime that would have atomic bombs,” warned the Israeli leader, reverting to the kind of rhetoric he has generally avoided for much of the past year.
He also renewed his past threats to take unilateral military action, insisting, “I won’t wait until it’s too late.”
He called for the P5+1 to demand that Iran halt all enrichment of nuclear material, shut down an underground enrichment facility near Qom, and remove and remove its existing stockpile of enriched uranium from its territory.
Those demands, he said, “should be backed up with ratcheted sanctions…(a)nd, if sanctions don’t work, …they have to know that you’ll be prepared to take military action; that’s the only thing that will get their attention.”
Netanyahu also characterised Rouhani, whose election last month was greeted among experts here with both surprise and cautious optimism given his explicit appeal to moderate and reformist sectors in the Iranian electorate, as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.
“Smile and build a bomb,” he said of Rouhani’s diplomatic skills and alleged strategic aim.
Netanyahu’s remarks were not well-received by some administration officials. “We did not regard the interview as helpful,” said one who asked not to be further identified.
Indeed, the administration, which just imposed a new set of economic sanctions against Iran Jul. 1, has quietly made clear since Rouhani’s election that it opposes any additional sanctions before the next round of P5+1 negotiations, which are expected to take place in September, at least one month after Rouhani’s inauguration Aug. 4.