Much is at stake as the June 30 deadline approaches for the P5+1 nations and Iran to conclude nuclear weapons negotiations, and as Tuesday approaches I am uncomfortably ambivalent. Here are my reasons why.
The Iranian leadership, without question, is a tough, stubborn, brutal, dishonest, and ideologically driven group that seeks hegemony over the entirety of the Middle East, the acquisition of a nuclear bomb being but one element important in its strategy of intimidation and domination of the region.
The economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the P5+1 nations to force it to negotiate an end to its nuclear weapons program have been effective in at least bringing the Iranian leadership to the negotiating table as it seeks relief from the economic stranglehold in which it finds itself.
Both sides have much to lose if an agreement does not emerge from these talks, but I do not believe that time is on the west’s side. If no agreement can be reached, even with an extension of the talks by a few days or weeks, the P5+1 coalition could unravel given Russia’s and China’s fading-away act.
The alternative to an agreement is dire whether it be Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon or a western military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities that sparks a wider war.
Western experts believe that should the US and its coalition partners initiate a military strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, not only would complete destruction be impossible, but military action won’t make a substantial difference. Iran’s current break-out time to produce a bomb of a few months would be delayed only two to four years, and then we’ll find ourselves back where we are now.
The military option is most probably not a real possibility anyway given the P5+1’s war weariness and reluctance to open another theater of violence in the Middle East.
That being said, let’s imagine for a moment the consequences of a military strike on Iran, should it occur.
Both Hezbollah and Hamas (Iranian proxies) could well join together in a coordinated counter-attack on the Jewish state. It is estimated that there are 100,000 Iranian supplied Hezbollah missiles sitting in launchers on the Lebanese border with far greater navigational accuracy than anything Hamas has had, and they are all pointed at Israel with the capacity to strike Kiryat Shemona, Haifa, Tiberius, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Petach Tikvah, Holon, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ariel and all the major contested settlements, as well as cities and towns leading up to and including Jerusalem. Though Israel’s Iron Dome would intersect and destroy many incoming missiles, many other missiles will find their mark and kill hundreds or thousands of Israelis. Israel would bomb the daylights out of southern Lebanon with a likely ground invasion, and many innocent Lebanese and Israeli soldiers would be killed.
Hezbollah’s tunnel system in the north is said to be far more extensive than anything Hamas built in the south, and we could expect an invasion into Israel itself with deadly results.
And so, a war involving Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas can be expected to be more destructive and costly than anything Israel has experienced before.
Contemplating a scenario like this with a full Israeli military response is a nightmare of epic proportions. Yet, the bottom line in negotiations has to be that there can be no agreement that directly or indirectly recognizes Iran moving towards nuclear military capability.
One has to consider whether some kind of P5+1 control over Iranian nuclear ambitions is better than no control at all, and that some agreement that achieves many of the goals of the western powers is better than no deal.
All this is why I find myself ambivalent about what is the right course should negotiations fail. On the one hand, it is almost always a mistake to allow our actions to be influenced inordinately by our fears. Yet on the other, our leaders are going to have to choose what the better course is between two bad choices – all-out war or a partial agreement.
In an effort to clarify the important issues involved, a document called “Public Statement on U.S. Policy toward the Iran Nuclear Negotiations” was recently published under the auspices of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The group assembled to discuss the Iran nuclear issue that produced this document included an impressive non-partisan group of American military, security, diplomatic, nuclear arms, and Middle East experts. The names of participants are listed. The 4-page document is worth reading and can be accessed here:
The politics driving the right and the left, unfortunately, have obfuscated many of the most important issues at stake. Most of us cannot claim to understand the physics of nuclear technology and weaponry and so we have to rely on the experts, and some of them disagree with each other.
For now, we will have to wait and see what transpires this week between the two parties and, if there is an extension of the talks, what will be the final outcome?