The most important news item for the world, the Middle East and Israel, was relegated to the bottom of the cue on Wednesday. It simply wasn't as prominently displayed as it should have been. It was certainly not a top headline — that premier spot was reserved for the State Comptroller's report on the 2010 Carmel forest fire and the ongoing rocket fire on communities in Israel's south coming from Gaza. The failure of the third round of nuclear talks between Iran and the six major world powers — the U.S., the U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany — was and remains an issue of the utmost strategic significance, even if it failed to spark much excitement or interest in the local media.
The message was uniform: no progress. Western speculation that Iran would show willingness to move toward a compromise proved baseless. Thus far, the Iranians are not only clinging to their original stance, they're toughening it. The talks are like a Persian bazaar.
Western diplomacy is distorted. Trying to reach an agreement with Iran before the upcoming U.S. presidential election and to prevent an oil price hike, U.S. President Barack Obama has offered compromise after compromise, concession after concession. If American diplomat Dennis Ross still represents the position of the U.S. administration, the U.S. is effectively offering Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the same deal it offered North Korea. Only North Korea violated its end of the agreement, and there is no reason to think that Iran will act any differently.
The Iranians arrived in Moscow, where the talks were held, arrogant, self assured and tougher than in the past. The third round of talks, which was widely described as the critical round, was held at the wrong time and in a state of flux. Europe wanted very much to avoid implementing the next stage of the declared sanctions — a boycott on Iranian oil starting July 1. This boycott is the crown jewel of the sanctions. In reality, the West should have already launched the latest sanctions and given the Iranians the mobile phone number of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in case they really wanted to talk. For now, Ashton is representing Europe in make-believe negotiations.
Only after two or three months of fiscal siege on Iran would it be appropriate to check in with them: Have you had enough? Has Tehran's stance softened? Is Iran ready to strike a real compromise, and not just chatter away with no other purpose than to buy more time to develop its first nuclear bomb?
These rounds of negotiations are being held both too early and too late. They should have begun three years ago, but once that train was missed, it would have been wise to wait for the planned sanctions to take effect on the ayatollahs before returning to the negotiation table.
The situation that has emerged requires more than just economic sanctions. It requires Israel to renew the credibility of its ability to stop Iran's nuclear project. The radio silence that the Israeli government has adopted — namely Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak — and doubts cast by former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan and former Israel Security Agency Chief Yuval Diskin, have softened Iran's fear of Israel. Perhaps this is because Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his flunkies have reached the conclusion that the U.S. fears an Israeli strike more than it fears 10,000 Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges.