The P5+1 and Iran are pursuing yet another round of negotiations and The Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson is asking the pestering question on everyone’s mind “What will happen if neither side can take yes for an answer?” Fear not—it fortunately isn’t going to be war. The stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program that has lasted for a decade can extend indefinitely so if the current confab goes to pieces another one will be attempted at some later date when both sides grow weary of bickering. A deal is ineluctably coming and the only questions are when it will happen—sooner or later—and who will be making it. There is a chance that Russia and the EU will boot the U.S. out of the P5+1 and negotiate its own deal with Iran as Russia was prepared to do with Syria if the UN didn’t approve of Moscow’s chemical weapons disarmament initiative.
Another possibility is the U.S. is influencing conditions so that it eventually has no choice but to disband the P5+1 because Washington knows a deal can only be inked in one-on-one talks with Iran. That would explain why the U.S. conveniently allowed France to hinder an interim deal at the previous meeting. After splitting up the group for its inability to craft a unified position, the U.S. could then bring into the light of day the covert bilateral talks it has apparently been having since last year and from there conduct a successful negotiation. Having caught wind of these backchannel talks, the Israeli government has resigned itself to a deal happening regardless of what becomes of the P5+1. According to Stuart Winer, “the expectation in Jerusalem is that a deal is on the way in the near future, even if it is not achieved during the talks in Geneva, the report [Winer is citing about the behind the scenes negotiations] said.”
Not that the U.S. achieving a deal matters all that much to Israel. Yes, Prime Minister Netanyahu will shed crocodile tears and act as if the apocalypse is on the horizon when Iran is legitimized as a nuclear threshold state but, contrary to his public pantomime, he’ll have long since moved on. As I have written, Israel is inching towards containment and will have formed its strategy to counter Iran by the time all the sanctions are lifted. Containment will win out—especially as Israelis keep souring on the military option—and Shabtai Shavit, a former Mossad head, suggested that containment would be made more palatable for Israel if Iran underwent a political transition away from theocracy. When asked by Elhanan Miller “Could Israel conceivably allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons?” this was Shavit’s response:
“In a scenario where Iran changes from [a leadership] of Muslim fanatics to a civil society, we can decide that ‘OK, it’s not worth going to war over.’ Why? Because a civil society decides differently than fanatical Muslim leaders whose duty in life is to annihilate you.”
Well, if that’s the case Israel could drop whatever lingering reservations it may have over containment because Iran isn’t exactly governed by Muslim fanatics. As Muhammad Sahimi points out “After the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, passed away in June 1989, the Iranian government began to gradually distance itself from his revolutionary policies,” and in the Nineties Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani “went so far as to declare publicly that “the era of Ayatollah Khomeini is over.” Dismissing the Arab states dread of Iran spreading its revolutionary values as “a fear that has no basis in reality,” Sahimi concludes “when it comes to foreign policy, Iranian leaders long ago set aside their ideological fervor.” Although Sahimi adds that the “only exception to this is Israel,” this doesn’t mean the mullahs are zealously committed to obliterating Israel but rather to seeing through a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So if Israel will have no problems containing Iran (theocratic or secular) why do Netanyahu, who has stressed that he prefers a diplomatic solution, and his supporters continue to rail against any deal? In truth, these histrionics aren’t about the deal but about what Washington will do in the aftermath. Containing Iran will be a tall order and Israel frets that, if the U.S. pivots too much of its power to the Pacific, it will be left holding the bag and contending with a reinvigorated Iran. It is an understanding with the U.S. that Netanyahu wants and the Washington Post editorial board seems to have gotten the message. They suggest that “the Obama administration ought to be assuring Israel and Arab allies that it will continue to reject Iran’s regional ambitions, respond to its aggressive acts and support the aspirations of Iranians for a democratic regime that respects human rights.”
Doesn’t the Post’s recommendation for mollifying our Middle East allies sound strikingly similar to the mini cold war I predicted was going to happen in the region post-Iran nuclear deal? If this is the line of action that’s going to be promoted to bridge the gap, then I don’t think Israel and the Gulf States have a thing to worry about since it won’t take much convincing for the Obama administration to go along with this reassurance policy. The U.S. was going to keep some heat on Iran anyway as part of a larger confrontation with China. What Iran’s opponents do have to watch out for is pressing their luck and thinking they can get the U.S. to remain more involved in the region than it wants to be. Other than that, the U.S. and its allies will find a way to be on the same page for the day after a deal with Iran.