Dec 07, 2007
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program was not well received in Israel to say the least. Though Israel recognizes the long-term benefit of a U.S.-Iranian meeting of minds for its own national security, it is not at all convinced that these negotiations are going to leave the neighborhood worry-free from a nuclear Iran. And so begins the spoiler process.
Israel has invited chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen to Israel for a one-day visit Dec. 9 with Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
This will not be a very pleasant meeting.
The Dec. 4 release of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has effectively blindsided Israeli policymakers. Whether you believe the NIE was the outcome of a nasty bureaucratic spat between the intelligence community and the Bush administration or a politicized realignment of U.S. policy designed to coax Iran into fruitful negotiations over Iraq (and Stratfor believes the latter), the implications are indisputable. Simply put, the United States no longer can make a viable case for military action against Iran. The United States is still pressing on the sanctions front to have a stick to use in negotiations, but Washington’s war-mongering campaign has lost its credibility.
As a result, U.S.-Iranian talks over Iraq have been kicked into high gear, and have a real chance of culminating in a solid deal. The Iranian Foreign Ministry recently announced that the fourth round of U.S.-Iranian public negotiations will be held in early January 2008. That announcement came against a backdrop of significant deal precursors taking place in Iraq. These include the Shiite-led Iraqi government’s work on a long-term bilateral pact with Washington likely to include plans for permanent military bases and on a plan to reintegrate Sunni patrols into the formal security apparatus.
Israel understands that a U.S.-Iranian meeting of the minds will be a step in the right direction as far as Israel’s ability to soothe its relations with Tehran, but Israel is not convinced these negotiations will result in a deal under which the Iranians would surrender their nuclear ambitions entirely in exchange for political concessions in Iraq. On the contrary, Iran aims to retain some level of an enrichment program as part of any deal it strikes on Iraq — something that simply hits too close to home for Israel to cope with.
Israel can, and likely will, play the spoiler card in Washington’s negotiations with Iran. When Israel presents its own assessment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the intent will be to reshape U.S. perceptions, particularly within defense circles, on the Iranian nuclear threat. And meeting Mullen, who falls in the anti-U.S.-Iranian war camp, is a logical place for Israel to start.
The more divisions that can be sown in Washington over how to deal with Iran, the greater Israel’s chances of scuttling the negotiation process and sustaining military pressure on Iran. At the same time, Israel can interfere with Washington’s Annapolis agenda for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute by dragging its feet in the negotiations and approving new settlement expansions to coincide with U.S. diplomatic visits to the region.