Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Will Washington Make Peace with Tehran, Stiffing Tel Aviv?

Have the multinational ruling classes who fear energy costs going out of control finally spoken? Washington's offer to Tehran has significantly improved.
The confidential diplomatic package backed by Washington and formally presented to Iran on Tuesday leaves open the possibility that Tehran will be able to enrich uranium on its own soil, U.S. and European officials said.

That concession, along with a promise of U.S. assistance for an Iranian civilian nuclear energy program, is conditioned on Tehran suspending its current nuclear work until the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency determines with confidence that the program is peaceful. U.S. officials said Iran would also need to satisfy the U.N. Security Council that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon, a benchmark that White House officials believe could take years, if not decades, to achieve.

But the Bush administration and its European allies have withdrawn their demand that Iran abandon any hope of enriching uranium for nuclear power, according to several European and U.S. officials with knowledge of the offer. The new position, which has not been acknowledged publicly by the White House, differs significantly from the Bush administration's stated determination to prevent Iran from mastering technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. (Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer, "Proposal Would Let Iran Enrich Uranium: Tehran Must Meet U.N. Guidelines," Washington Post, 7 June 2006, A01)
Tehran may be able to extract even more concessions, if Washington continues to fail to manufacture multinational ruling-class consensus. That will be a significant challenge to Tel Aviv, as Trita Parsi explained earlier this year:
Instead, the real danger a nuclear-capable Iran brings with it for Israel is twofold. First, an Iran that does not have nuclear weapons--but that can build them--will significantly damage Israel's ability to deter militant Palestinian and Lebanese organizations. It will damage the image of Israel as the sole nuclear-armed state in the region and undercut the myth of its invincibility. Gone would be the days when Israel's military supremacy would enable it to dictate the parameters of peace and pursue unilateral peace plans. "We cannot afford a nuclear bomb in the hands of our enemies, period. They don't have to use it; the fact that they have it is enough," Member of Knesset Ephraim Sneh explained to me.

This could force Israel to accept territorial compromises with its neighbors in order to deprive Iran of points of hostility that it could use against the Jewish state. Israel simply would not be able to afford a nuclear rivalry with Iran and continued territorial disputes with the Arabs at the same time. "I don't want the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to be held under the shadow of an Iranian nuclear bomb," Sneh continued.

Second, the deterrence and power Iran would gain by mastering the fuel cycle could compel Washington to cut a deal with Tehran in which Iran would be recognized as a regional power and gain strategic significance in the Middle East at the expense of Israel. This has been a major Israeli fear since the end of the Cold War, when Israel's strategic utility to Washington lost considerable justification due to the absence of a Soviet threat. Under these circumstances, US-Iran negotiations could damage Israel's strategic standing, since common interests shared by Iran and the US would overshadow Israel's concerns with Tehran and leave Israel alone in facing its Iranian rival. The Great Satan will eventually make up with the ayatollahs and forget about the Jewish state, Israeli officials fear.

A US-Iran breakthrough would alter the order of the Middle East in favor of Israel's strategic rival, Iran. Over the past 15 years, Israeli-Iranian tensions have peaked at every opportunity to reconfigure the Middle East's geopolitical map. The end of the Cold War and the launch of the peace process made Iran a front-line state against Israel, a position it had actively avoided during the first decade of the revolution. The tremors that shook the Middle East system after the 9/11 attacks, in turn, put Israel again in a position in which it risked becoming a burden rather than an asset to the US, while Iran's help in Afghanistan was sorely needed.

The recent plethora of leaks and hints of Israel's readiness to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities should be seen in light of Israel's fear of a US-Iran deal. The Israeli leaks have not coincided with major advances in Iran's nuclear program, but rather with hints of an American preparedness to strike a compromise with Tehran that would grant it the dreaded know-how and limit Israel's strategic maneuverability.

Since Israel itself is incapable of neutralizing Iran's program through air strikes, the veiled threats coming out of Tel Aviv are aimed at pressuring Washington not to moderate its stance, by warning it about the real consequences of an Israeli assault on Iran: a major escalation of the violence in the region that ultimately would fall into America's lap. Whether it liked it or not, Washington would get sucked into the ensuing mess. And whether Washington gave a green light to the assault or not, it would escape neither the blame nor the responsibility to restore order.

Using this as leverage against the US, Israel is playing hardball to prevent Washington from cutting a deal with Tehran that could benefit America, but deprive Israel of its military and strategic supremacy. (Trita Parsi, "A Challenge to Israel's Strategic Primacy,", Edition 1 Volume 4, 5 January 2006)
Will Washington make peace with Tehran, stiffing Tel Aviv? That's an interesting test case that allows us to evaluate if Washington still regards Tel Aviv as a strategic asset that must be protected at all costs or if influential members of the US power elite have come to believe it necessary to subordinate Tel Aviv's -- and its US supporters' (Carol Giacomo, "Pro-Israel Group Pushes Tough U.S. Policy on Iran," Reuters, 7 June 2006) -- interests to the multinational ruling classes'.

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