Opinion

Israel expects negotiations with Iran to fail

Meanwhile, Tehran believes it needs nuclear power to protect itself from a hostile neighborhood.

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Since nuclear talks between world powers and Iran began earlier this month, Israel may appear to be watching from the sidelines, but it's planning for the day when the talks might fail.

And now Iran appears to be rejecting the Vienna deal ( which intended to postpone Iran's nuclear activity) – precisely as the Israelis expected.

Iran's discussions with world leaders, both in Vienna last week and in Geneva earlier this month, have been major topics of discussion in Israel, as evidenced by a conference last week in Jerusalem hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

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Naturally, Israelis believe President Obama's strategy of engaging Iran is deeply deficient and will result in allowing Iran to buy time to develop nuclear weapons.

Instead of pursing a diplomatic track alone, the United States should also be imposing tougher sanctions and threatening a military attack, Israeli military experts said. This carrot-and-stick approach would apply pressure on Iran to negotiate in good faith and with haste. "There will be no chance to reach an agreement if there is diplomacy which is not backed by a military option," said Maj. Gen. Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former commander in the Israeli air force.

While many agree, Israelis are debating whether Iran's political system is weaker or stronger after the June 12 presidential election, which sparked the gravest unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Some Israelis believe Iran's political elites are vulnerable to the broad-based opposition movement inside the country, which is waiting in the wings for another opportunity to foment a large-scale rebellion. But by negotiating with Iran, they say, the US is weakening this opposition by giving legitimacy to a circle of hard-liners who brought Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power when they rigged the election on June 12.

Many Iranians agree with this view. In fact, there was a discussion on several Farsi-language blogs and websites before the negotiations began in October, demanding that the Obama administration insist that a leader in the opposition movement participate in the talks. This would show the hard-liners running the state, they said, that the world does not recognize the current government as the sole representative of the Iranian people.

There seems to be evidence already that Iran's political system is deriving strength from the negotiations. Not only has Iran now ignored the deadline, which was Oct. 23, to accept a draft proposal agreed upon last week in Vienna, but powerful figures have unleashed hostile rhetoric about the process.

Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran's parliament though a moderate conservative foe of Mr. Ahmadinejad, accused the international community this past weekend of trying to deceive Iran.

It is a safe bet that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say over all nuclear matters, disapproves of the deal. This explains the reason that Mr. Larijani, the deputy parliamentary speaker, and a host of other figures have rushed to condemn the deal during the last few days.

And Ahmadinejad has boasted since the talks began that the process is a success for the Islamic republic. In general, the Iranian president has spun Mr. Obama's gestures toward Iran as an admission of past mistakes committed by the US.

For example, in a televised speech on Oct. 11, Ahmadinejad asserted that "most of" Obama's speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September was influenced by Iran, and that Obama had "confessed to the previous US government's mistakes."

Even though this is untrue, Iran's leaders have been successful at making a convincing case to their own people that the international community considers the state legitimate. This will help Iran's beleaguered leadership, which is ensuring its survival by giving increasing power to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

In addition to blaming Obama for strengthening Iran's hand through the nuclear negotiations, some current and former Israeli government officials believe the US president's speech in Cairo, billed as redefining the US relationship with the Islamic world, has also empowered Iran.

Claiming a direct connection between Iran's behavior over the nuclear talks and Obama's Cairo speech is a bit of a stretch. But the general thrust of this view stands; according to information coming from inside Iran, the leadership sees Obama as a dove and highly unlikely to either launch a military attack against Iran or give Israel the green light to do so.

As Israel watches the Iranian nuclear negotiation process, it appears increasingly impatient. For many, it is inevitable that Iran will become a nuclear power. The question now is when. Israel's most immediate objective is to prolong that day, and there seem to be few options on the horizon, aside from a military attack.

While there may be little Israel or the US can do to postpone a nuclear Iran if negotiations ultimately do fail, it is important to understand that Iran believes it needs nuclear power only to protect itself from a hostile neighborhood.

Geneive Abdo is the editor of insideIRAN.org and the director of the Iran program at The Century Foundation.

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