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"Why haven't they [the Iranians] done that? Because they realize that ... when it became clear to everyone that Iran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons, this would constitute definite proof that time is actually running out. This could generate either harsher sanctions or other action against them. They do not want that."
So, for those of you just now joining us, Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon 10 years ago. That is the unanimous judgment expressed by all U.S. intelligence agencies "with high confidence" in 2007, and has been revalidated every year since. Thus, Israel's aim can be seen as "regime change" in Tehran, not the halting of a nuclear weapons program that stopped 10 years ago. (It should be noted, too, that Israel possesses a sophisticated and undeclared nuclear arsenal that President Obama and other U.S. leaders have politely refused to acknowledge publicly.)
No one knows all this better than the Iranians themselves. But, for Israel, Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani poses a more subtle threat than the easier-to-demonize Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The more moderate and polished Rouhani -- IF he can calm those Iranians who consider Washington a Siamese twin to Tel Aviv -- may be able to enter renewed talks on the nuclear issue with concessions that the West would find difficult to refuse.
This would rattle the Israelis and the neocons in Washington who must be pining for the days when Ahmadinejad made it easier to mask the very real concessions made while he was president. Israeli and neocon hardliners have amply demonstrated that -- despite their public face -- they have little concern over Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons program. Quite simply, they would like to get the U.S. to do to Iran what it did to Iraq. Period.
Israel Riding High Again
Dealing with more moderate leaders in Iran remains one of Israel's major headaches, even as Israel has ridden a string of geopolitical successes over the past several weeks. First and foremost, the Israelis were able to persuade Washington to represent the military coup d'etat in Cairo as something other than a military coup, which enabled U.S. military and other aid to keep flowing to the Israel-friendly Egyptian military.
After shielding this blood-stained Egyptian military from geopolitical pressure, Israel was rewarded by the generals' decision to choke off Gaza's lifeline to the outside world via Egypt and thus further punish the Gazans for having the temerity to elect the more militant Hamas as their leadership.
With the Palestinians reeling -- as their international backers face internal and external pressures -- Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has found it timely to return to the bargaining table to discuss what undesirable land might be left for the Palestinians to live on as Netanyahu's government continues to approve expansions of Jewish settlements on the more appealing patches of Palestinian territory.
The Israeli position vis a vis its Muslim adversaries is also improved by the spreading of sectarian conflicts pitting Sunni vs. Shiite, a rift that was turned into a chasm -- and made much bloodier -- by the neocon-inspired U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now, similar divisions are shattering Syria in a chaotic civil war with the growing likelihood that the Obama administration will soon weigh in militarily against the Alawite-dominated regime of Bashar al-Assad, which is being challenged by a Sunni-led rebellion. Alawites stem from the Shiite branch of Islam and Assad is allied with Shiite-ruled Iran.
The more the Sunni and Shiite are fighting each other -- and thus expending their resources on internecine warfare -- the better for Israel, at least in the view of neocon hardliners like those who crafted Netanyahu's "clean-break" strategy in the 1990s. That strategy would see the snuffing out of the Syrian regime as a signature accomplishment.
Hardliners on Both Sides
As these regional pressures build, Westerners tend to forget that there is a hard-line equivalent in Tehran with whom Rouhani has to deal. The hardliners in Tehran believe, with ample justification, that many American officials have the virus that George Washington so pointedly warned against; i.e., a "passionate-attachment" to a country with priorities and interests that may differ from one's own country -- in this case, Israel.
The Iranian hawks do not trust the U.S. especially on the nuclear issue, and developments over recent years -- including statements like President Obama's cited above -- feed that distrust. So, President Rouhani faces tough sledding should he wish to offer the kinds of concessions Iran made in the fall of 2009 and spring of 2010, when Ahmadinejad's government offered to export much of its low-enriched uranium.
That promising beginning was sabotaged in October 2009 when, after Iran had agreed in principle to a deal involving the shipping of two-thirds to three-quarters of it low-enriched uranium out of country, a terrorist attack killed five generals of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, just before the talk to flesh out that deal. A similar deal was worked out with the help of Turkey and Brazil in early 2010 (with the written encouragement of President Obama) only to fall victim to Secretary of State Clinton and other hawks who preferred the route of sanctions.
As if the prospect of U.S. military involvement regarding Syria was not delicate enough, the hardliners in Tehran are bound to make hay out of two major stories recently playing in the U.S. media.
The first is a detailed account of precisely how the CIA and British Intelligence succeeded in 1953 in removing Iran's first democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and installing the Shah with his secret police. A detailed account was released responding to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive. Much had been already known about the coup, but the play-by-play is riveting and, presumably, highly offensive to Iranians.