If Washington is serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program, the report it really ought to pay attention to isn’t the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest, important though its information on Iran’s progress is. Rather, it’s the one issued last week by Iran’s own Intelligence Ministry, which advocates diplomatic negotiations to avert the threat of a “Zionist” attack.
As Haaretz Arab affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el wrote, this report is noteworthy for several reasons. One is that Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi is close to Iran’s supreme leader and decision-maker, Ali Khamenei, who even forced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to retain Moslehi when the president wanted to fire him last year. Another is that Khamenei posted the report on his own website and has shown it to Western leaders. In other words, there’s good reason to think this report reflects Khamenei’s own thinking.
That makes it worth paying attention to what it says–which is equally noteworthy. First, as Bar’el pointed out, the report advocates negotiations, not in response to economic sanctions, but due to the threat of military action. Second, this threat doesn’t come from America: The report doesn’t even mention the prospect of American military action, and in fact concludes that Washington doesn’t consider Iran’s nuclear program a threat. What concerns the ministry is the threat of Israeli military action.
Several conclusions follow from these points. First, just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed all along, the only way it might be possible to get Iran to give up its nuclear program is via a credible military threat.
Second, despite President Barack Obama’s lip service about keeping the military option on the table and his cheerleaders’ insistence that he isn’t bluffing and really will take military action against Iran if necessary, the Iranians themselves don’t believe it–and they’re the ones who matter.
Third, despite the enormous effort the administration has invested in trying to deter Israeli military action against Iran, the Iranians still think Israel might defy Washington and attack, and they also believe Israel is capable of inflicting enough damage that they’ve decided adopting “a political-diplomatic policy” and exploiting “the potential of international organizations” is a “necessary course of action” to avoid it. That’s an enormous achievement for Netanyahu: He has kept the Israeli military option credible in Iranian eyes despite the administration’s best efforts to undermine it.
Finally, however, there’s no indication that Iran is willing to actually make concessions on its nuclear program, as opposed to merely engaging in empty negotiations for the sake of forestalling a military attack. And that fact (which should be a warning to anyone who embarks on negotiations with it) may well be related to the fact that the regime considers an Israeli attack damaging but survivable.
Thus, while I’m all in favor of tougher sanctions, like those Congress is now considering, what the Iranian report shows is that if Washington really wants to end Iran’s nuclear program, the thing it needs most is a credible military option. For only if Tehran felt threatened by America’s far superior military might it actually consider abandoning this program.