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Iran's Nuclear Poker in Istanbul

President Ahmadinejad: 'Iran Won't Retreat One Millimeter At New Round Of Nuclear Talks'

IsraCast Assessment: Israel Will Be Watching Closely From the Sidelines To See If U.S. & Rest Of P5+1 Will Call Iran's Bluff

Iranian President Ahmadinejad

Who will win and who will lose at the diplomatic poker game in Istanbul? The stakes are extremely high for all concerned and the other silent players not at the table - first and foremost for Israel. Israeli leaders will be watching and waiting to see if U.S. President Barack Obama and the rest of the P5+1 are ready to call Iran's bluff. In the run-up, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared that Tehran 'will not retreat one millimeter and never give in to international pressure to halt its nuclear program'. Analyst David Essing is of the view that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have indicated they are hoping for the best but also preparing for the worst.

Some of the thick diplomatic fog enveloping Iran's nuclear weapons program may eventually clear at the new round of talks in Istanbul. However, there will be no accepted house rules at this Istanbul cassino when the players sit down at the table - everyone is coming with his own. After his carrot approach failed to impress Tehran, President Barack Obama is now relying on his big stick. How can Obama, in the midst of an election campaign, pressure the Iranians to halt their nuclear weapons program and thereby forestall a possible Israeli strike. His European allies will again be hoping the U.S. can pull their chestnuts out of the fire and prevent an inferno in the Gulf. Russia and China will champion their 'neutrality', as they do in Syria, while Iran will demand its right to run its nuclear program as it sees fit. Would these world players be matching their wits in Istanbul, if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had not threatened to take action against Iran? Not likely. The Israeli 'bluster' combined with the IAEA findings of last September has turned the tide. The IAEA finally dispelled any lingering doubts by the U.S. intelligence community that Iran was indeed developing The Bomb. There has now emerged an international consensus that Tehran must be stopped but just how this will be translated into future action remains to be seen.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The SWIFT embargo on Tehran's financial transactions and the EU's boycott on Iranian oil starting in July, although more severe than any previous sanctions, have still not halted Iran's nuclear weapons project. This is one clear fact in the murky war of shadows being conducted primarily between Tehran and Jerusalem with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states actually rooting for Israel. Back in Jerusalem, Netanyahu and Barak, will be anticipating a further escalation in the sanctions against Iran, if the Iranian regime backs Achmadinejad's vow not to retreat one millimeter. So far the Iranian president has retorted with his own bluster; he scoffed at the recent EU sanctions declaring Iran had sufficient foreign currency reserves to last for two or three years, without selling another barrel of oil to the Europeans. But the Iranians, who have conned Obama for over three years and the Europeans for a decade, obviously realize they will be expected to come up with some new moves in Istanbul in order to forestall stiffer sanctions. They can be expected to drive a wedge between Obama and Netanyahu. It won't be easy. The new underground uranium enrichment facility at Fordow near Qom and the IAEA suspicions about nuclear weapons research at the Parchin site beg international monitoring. Fordow could supply the enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon while Parchin could be working on a nuclear warhead for a missile.

Although the Iranian negotiators have proved resourceful in playing their international interlocutors in the past, this time everyone knows they will also have to pass Israel's litmus test. Jerusalem has apparently drawn its permanent line in the shifting sands of the Iranian nuclear crisis. Note Barak's telling message to the world via CNN - 'confronting a nuclear Iran in the future will be far costlier in lives and financial resources than it is today'. This was not bluster but the bottom line of a cost-benefit analysis of where Israel will stand, after the nuclear negotiators pick up their chips and walk away from the table. The defense minister has defined where Israel will stand, if the P5+1 waiver.

If the overall goal of the new round is to get at the crucial components such as uranium enrichment and nuclear weaponization work, that is what will be most resisted by the Iranians. They might try deflecting that attempt by raising the issue of nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. The Iranians know Israel would totally reject this approach and so they would have nothing to lose while gaining more time and shifting the focus of attention. Please note that on March 30 - IsraCast surmised: 'And if Obama is re-elected might he then repeat that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons but the way to stop it is by imposing nuclear non-proliferation on the entire Middle East including Israel? Admiittedly this is total conjecture at this point. But what will be the situation in another few months, if Netanyahu and Barak prove to be right and the nuclear talks fail to halt Iran's nuclear weapons project?'

On April 11, Haaretz front page headline: 'Secret Contacts On Israel's Participation At Conference On Regional Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons'. Israel was reportedly trying to coordinate its position with the U.S., which supports such a conference, for fear that its cancellation would provide a pretext for undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as eroding President Obama's vision of world free of nuclear weapons.

David Essing

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