Even before this week’s deadline for nuclear negotiations with Iran was extended, news headlines had resumed warnings of an Israeli military strike, ending a brief hiatus in reporters’ war-mongering.
Never has a stick been so joyfully dangled by the world’s press. Israel has always reserved the right to bomb Iran, despite generals warning that it wouldn’t work and despite the grave risk of a counter-attack. Israel has past ‘form’ in this regard, destroying an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. There, too, there were protestations of innocence.
But the truth is that ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran, the United States, the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany essentially preclude that option. As long as there is hope of a diplomatic deal, Israeli bombers will be stood down. A deal that suits Jerusalem is highly unlikely though, because Israel now wants to dismantle Iran’s “break-out capability”.
That means getting rid of the centrifuges and the civilian nuclear infrastructure that Tehran spent billions of dollars building up and which it is legally entitled to under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The ayatollahs would never – and could never – agree to tear it down. Yet Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, is keen to find some common ground, as is the so-called P5+1.
Last year he froze the nuclear programme, scaled back bits of it and opened up previously closed military sites, to reassure monitors there was nothing untoward. It won him time and it won the world powers an interim agreement. Now, he is desperate to get a deal to get the country trading again. Just the right time, in other words, to add some pressure, argues Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Don’t dismantle sanctions until you dismantle Iran’s capability to make a nuclear bomb,” he warned last week. “If they agree to leave Iran with that capacity to break out, I think that would be an historic mistake.”
With the deadline now extended, much of the commentary says it is both a bad deal averted and the inevitable delayed. Our guess is that with Obama in the White House, Bibi and his bombers will have to sit tight. That means Rouhani has until the next US elections, in November 2016, to convince his own hardliners to accept a stomach-churning climb-down.
The IAF has until then to practice in the flight simulators. And the world’s press has two more years to spill many more column inches on talk of war.