Netanyahu concerned as ever about Iran, but world powers will not allow strike in coming year

Amos Harel — Haaretz August 11, 2013

This Wednesday was Iran day on the prime minister’s schedule. In the morning, Benjamin Netanyahu received a report about the incident in which four soldiers from the Golani infantry brigade were wounded in the detonation of an explosive device near the fence separating Israel and Lebanon. He then toured the “training-base city” under construction in the Negev, met with a delegation of Republican congressmen from the American Midwest and was an hour late for a meeting with a senior official from the British Foreign Office. But everywhere he went, he spoke mainly about the Iranian nuclear threat.

The prime minister warned that, despite the victory by Hassan Rohani in the Iranian presidential election in June, Tehran is accelerating progress toward nuclear weapons capability. According to Netanyahu, Rohani − who is considered a relative moderate in the West − wants to exploit a resumption of Tehran’s talks with the big powers to gain time, even as his country continues with the nuclear project. Only an explicit military threat will stop the Iranians, said Netanyahu, whose remarks coincided with a series of recent leaks about that project.

New centrifuges, which enrich uranium quickly, were installed at the Fordow site and could allow the Iranians to take the world by surprise by producing the quantity of high-grade uranium needed for a bomb, without foreign intelligence agencies noticing this development in time. ‏(Netanyahu himself referred to this explicitly for the first time this week.‏) At the same time, Tehran is stepping up work on an alternative option − plutonium production − which, according to The Wall Street Journal, could allow the country to achieve full military nuclear capability by next summer.

Netanyahu’s concern is obvious. He believes that Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, is using the new president to set a honey trap for the West. Rohani’s sweet talk and moderate declarations will convince the Europeans and Americans that he is amenable to a compromise.

In practice, however, it is likely that the talks between the sides will drag on, while Iran continues to move ahead, and at the end of the process Tehran will present the world with a fait accompli: either the achievement of nuclear capability and a declaration to that effect, or being so close to that threshold that no one will dare threaten the country. However, in contrast to the past three autumns, this time it is probably wrong to interpret Netanyahu’s statements as an explicit military threat per se.

The atmosphere that was created after Rohani’s victory leaves zero tolerance in the international community for an Israeli attack, at least until the conclusion of the planned year-end talks between Tehran and the big powers. The timetable for an attack would thus be deferred until next spring, when the weather in the skies over Iran’s nuclear facilities improves. That target date also coincides with the nine-month deadline set by the Obama administration for a full-status agreement following the recent resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

By next spring, it will be clear whether anything fundamental has changed in either one or both of these channels.

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