Israeli Strike on Iran Stays on Hold, for Now


netanyahu-barakIsrael is unlikely to launch a strike on Iran as long as sanctions on Tehran intensify and diplomatic efforts continue, despite the failure of international talks in Moscow this week, Israeli officials and security experts said.

That puts Israeli leaders in a bind: While lack of progress on diplomatic attempts to curb Iran’s nuclear program bolsters Israel’s position that Tehran won’t compromise, it needs to wait for diplomacy and sanctions to be exhausted so it can better persuade others to join it in taking tougher measures, analysts said.

“As long as the international community is willing to continue, Israel won’t say, ‘Stop.’ That’s unthinkable,” an Israeli official said. “If the negotiations don’t bring Iran to concessions, at least there will be a clear-cut case showing that Iran does not want to cooperate.”

The failure of the Moscow negotiations with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany heightened pessimism in Washington about the prospects for diplomacy and fueled talk of military options.

A group of former U.S. and international officials testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the military threat against Iran is “at this point, underdeveloped” and must be reinforced through more intensive U.S. preparation and stronger messaging.

“We don’t think that Iran is sufficiently persuaded that military force really is in prospect should they fail to come to an acceptable agreement to the problem,” said Steven Rademaker, who served in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration.

The Obama administration, holding to a two-track strategy of pressure and diplomacy, pointed to a coming round of lower-level talks in Istanbul as the next milestone in attempts to persuade Iran to dial back its nuclear program.

“If following this July 3rd session, we are still not making progress, we’re going to continue to work together on what more pressure we can bring to bear, including on the sanctions track,” said Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman.

Some Israeli officials worry that Iran will eventually offer an 11th-hour compromise that will split the international negotiators, a group known as the P5+1.

Spokesmen for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the latest round of talks. Several weeks ago, Mr. Netanyahu expressed concern that negotiators might accept a compromise that would permit Iran to continue with low-grade uranium enrichment. No such deal appears to be on the agenda.

“My feeling is there’s a kind of relief on part of the Government of Israel” about the P5+1’s resistance to compromise, said Ephraim Kam, a fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, a Tel Aviv University think tank with close ties to Israel’s security establishment.

Israel isn’t likely to launch a strike in the immediate future, Mr. Kam said. “The military will be delayed for some time….The Americans and Europeans will tell Israel, ‘You have to wait,’ and we have to wait and see what the impact of the sanctions are.”

Iran’s rial lost value against the dollar and gold on Wednesday on the news of the failed talks and anticipation of U.S. sanctions on firms doing business with Iran’s central bank beginning June 28 and a European embargo on Iran’s oil exports set to take effect July 1. Iran, struggling with a growing budget deficit, is offering price reductions for its oil to retain customers.

Iranian Finance Minister Shamsedin Husseini denied a link between Iran’s economic woes and its approach in talks. “This is a ploy to make our economy look weak,” he said Wednesday. Iran denies accusations that it is pursuing development of a nuclear weapon.

Israeli experts are divided on what approach would prompt Iran to change course. Some say only a credible threat of military action by the West will work. “Sanctions are known to take a very long time to have an impact on the country you are targeting,” said Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations during Mr. Netanyahu’s first term in office. “Its important to put in place, but the clock is ticking.”

{Wall Street Journal/ Newscenter}