The American administration clamored to deny an alarming report this weekend suggesting that the U.S. intends to unfreeze Iranian funds as a gesture toward the delegation from Tehran, as world powers try to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program. The denial is a good thing: If the U.S. were to begin scaling back the economic siege on Iran before the first agreement was reached on the nuclear issue, the entire sanctions effort would collapse without even a single centrifuge pausing.
Regardless, only the very naïve would believe that this report describing the American willingness to concede came out of nowhere. It wasn't simply invented by some reporter. At times of dire uncertainty, it is customary in the West, including Israel, for governments to release trial balloons. Such media reports serve the same purpose as polls. The response within the country, and in the world, serves as a gauge that guides governments in formulating policies, judging the level of support versus opposition, and knowing how much effort to invest in changing public opinion. In practice, these trial balloons are intended to determine whether the effort is worthwhile.
As far as Israel is concerned, this denied report surrounding Iranian funds indicates that although the U.S. administration has yet to decide, such sentiments exist in the White House. Therefore, the time to try to influence U.S. President Barack Obama's decision on the issue is now. The danger is there, but there is also a chance.
This American good will reflects a slipping into a multipronged Iranian honey trap. Meanwhile, let us suppose that Iran would be willing to limit uranium enrichment to only 3 percent fissile purity -- such an agreement would serve to appease and tempt the West, which only wants to avoid a military confrontation. Though it is too early to set aside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that Iran completely abandon uranium enrichment, obviously the West (and, unwillingly, also Israel) would agree to such a proposal if it were accompanied by the elimination of Iran's existing stockpiles of enriched uranium and the decommission of plutonium production. Alas, such a proposal does not exist.
The Iranians are clever. Their culture, which goes way back, has sweet talk down to an art. The only way to preserve Western sanctions at their current intensity is to restore the level of concern that existed in the West two or three years ago, and to add a military threat.
As of now, there are three possibilities, listed here from worst to best case scenario: The world will simply accept the manufacture of an Iranian nuclear bomb; the West will have to use military force to prevent the nuclearization of the ayatollah regime; or a serious, nerve-wracking diplomatic crisis will force the Iranians to agree to a compromise that the democratic world can somehow live with. Such a compromise would, at the very least, involve Iran turning back and distancing itself about two or three years from manufacturing a bomb. No more.
Under the current circumstances, it doesn't matter whether Netanyahu stands alone or is able to recruit allies. It doesn't matter whether he is regarded with positivity and sympathy or ridicule and hostility. He must continue forward with his current line of warning and deterring. In the event that the world steps up and forces Iran to stop and/or uses military force to that end and/or if Israel is forced to stop Iran on its own and/or if, heaven forbid, the Iranians manage to achieve their stated goal, Netanyahu will, at least, be able to stand in front the mirror of history and take comfort in the knowledge that he did the right thing.