U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, the person who more than anyone has President Barack Obama's ear on foreign policy matters, arrived in Israel on Wednesday to coordinate positions on the emerging agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. She was accompanied by Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who leads the American negotiating team in the Iran talks.
This coordination is important to the United States and to Israel, which considers Iran's nuclear efforts an existential threat. The Obama administration should also be interested in a modicum of coordination, because comprehensive Israeli objections to the deal could make it difficult to win the support of Congress. Regardless, a considerable portion of Congress already believes, in contrast to the administration, that the only way to block Iran's race to a nuclear bomb is to increase the pressure rather than alleviate it.
The Obama administration also wants to make sure that in any case Israel will not act unilaterally against Iran. Rice, Sherman and their teams arrived in Jerusalem about a week before the next round of nuclear talks, which will likely be one of the last and is expected to focus on formulating the primary clauses of the final agreement.
Israel does not object, in principle, to a compromise, and is not thrilled at the notion of acting militarily against Iran without U.S. support. But it is far from being convinced that the deal on the table will in fact put an end to Iran's nuclear program.
Rice and Sherman will certainly try convincing their Israeli counterparts that Washington is aware of deceptive Iranian maneuvering and that America and its Western allies will not concede even one of the tools at their disposal to act as required if need be, including the renewal and intensification of sanctions and the military option. However, not only would this probably be too little too late, but in light of America's policies of restraint in places like Syria, Libya and Ukraine, it is hard not to doubt the veracity of these promises and soothing words.
Israel's reservations, which the American team is sure to hear from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff, primarily revolve around the following issues: The fact that despite the Americans' sincere intentions to constrain Iran with hermetic oversight and routine inspections, experience has shown that this could be yet another instance of shutting the barn doors after the horses have already fled, or in other words, that, according to the proposed deal, Iran will perhaps be punished for violating it but not for developing the ability to acquire a nuclear bomb.
To the Iranians' "credit," it can be said they are not at all trying to hide their intentions. According to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, the chances of the agreement preventing his country from developing a nuclear weapon is "less than 50 percent" and that Iran is within its rights to nullify any aspect of the deal it sees fit. He also added that the 20,000 centrifuges and the enriched material his country already has is already enough to make five or six nuclear bombs. While the Obama administration objects, based on its public declarations and certainly according to what the American team is telling their Israeli counterparts in Jerusalem, to Iran becoming a "threshold nuclear state," various comments by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, its "moderate" President Hassan Rouhani and by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif make it clear that the Islamic republic has no intention of meeting the aforementioned American expectations. The only way they will be convinced, maybe, is if the economic and political price for violating the agreement is too steep.
To our great remorse, it appears that this is not where things are heading, and that the scenario of American firmness is not on the horizon. The Obama administration is interested in presenting a deal with Iran as a lofty diplomatic success and will therefore minimize the significance of its flaws. The administration is also encouraged by the current public support for the deal as it has been presented. At the beginning of his tenure, Obama repeatedly declared his objection to a policy of "containment" in regards to Iran's nuclear program, but it appears this could precisely be the real and negative result of the approach taken with Iran on the nuclear front.