Last week’s headlines proclaimed a breakthrough in US and Iranian relations. For the first time in over three decades, the leaders of the two countries spoke to each other. The new President Hassan Rouhani appeared to have come to the United Nations as a voice of reason and moderation. His message was that in a matter of months the problem of nuclear armaments could be settled. Obviously, international sanctions had made a difference in the Iranian viewpoint.
But what is really going on?
Real transparency or more trickery?
The issues is far from clear. When Rouhani returned to Iran, he was met at the airport where protestors pelted eggs and one individual threw a shoe. Security guards scrambled to shield the president while other protestors blocked the road. Hard-liners shouted, “Our people are awake and hate America.” Other groups applauded Rouhani’s efforts and hoped he was bringing significant change to their country. Which group will prevail? The question remains, “What is really going on?”
For Israel and Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, President Obama’s phone call was equally questioned and believed to show a lack of wisdom. Some Israelis believed Obama was the next Neville Chamberlain who wrongly appeased the Nazis in l938. Suspicion and paranoia reflected fears of the possibility of some variety of a secret deal between Iran and America that would leave Israel out in the cold.
The lack of a comprehensive American foreign policy has caused many Israeli analysts to view the Obama administration as having only a weak and wavering policy toward the Middle East. Because Iran has threatened to wipe Israel out, the issue for Israelis is not slip and slide negotiations but the possibility of life and death. If Rouhani is only hoodwinking the West to buy time for further development of The Bomb, then Obama is indeed as naive as Israel fears he might be.
The crunch will be whether Iran is truly open to the changes that will be demanded. The West is rightly concerned about a scientist named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh who is the father of Iranians nuclear development. The work in his laboratories has set the stage for Iran’s rapid development of nuclear energy. A decade ago, Iran had l64 centrifuges (devices to enrich plutonium to a weapon grade level). Today they have 18,000. The Israelis point to this data as evidence that Rouhani may be attempting to trick the West again.
The bottom line for the West and Israel will be the degree of validation that Iran is willing to allow to prove they are not pursuing weapons development. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry must insist that inspectors have total access to all aspects of the Iranian system as well as having limits imposed on future developments.
Will Iran do so or are they only kibitzing again?
The trump card that USA now holds is sanctions. If America is shrewd, then Iran will fold because sanctions have proven too expensive for them. If America falters, then the game will probably be over.