U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, whose relationship with President Obama dates back to Obama’s days in the Senate, made headlines this week with his statement, in an address to Israel’s bar association, that America’s military option against Iran is “not just available,” but “ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready,” see here. Commenting on these remarks, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today, see here,
“Let me just make clear that Ambassador Shapiro’s comments were designed to reflect completely what the President has said all along, which is that even as we move forward with the P5+1 discussions with Iran and hope that we can settle these issues through diplomacy, that we nonetheless take no option off the table.”
Against these remarks by Ambassador Shapiro and Ms. Nuland, we juxtapose one of the more striking pieces of commentary we have read since last month’s nuclear talks in Istanbul between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 countries—an article from Mehdi Mohammadi, published in Kayhan. Mohammadi has written important and insightful pieces in the past. We provide below an English translation, titled “What Did Not Take Place,” below. For the original text, see here.
Mohammadi’s analysis is especially interesting with regard to the U.S. military option against Iran. In the middle of his analysis, he also makes an arresting factual claim: that President Obama, “in a letter written to Iran this past winter, announced openly that the military option from his country’s perspective is not on the table.”
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett
What Did Not Take Place
By Mehdi Mohammadi, domestic political analyst and contributor to Kayhan
A useful way of truly understanding what took place in the Istanbul talks [in April] is to analyze these talks through the lens of “what did not take place.”
From about six months before these negotiations and with the memories of the Istanbul I talks still on the Westerner’s minds, the primary concern of the P5+1 was that of how to force Iran to end its perseverance and to adjust its strategic calculus.
First of all, the most immediate issue for the United States and Israel was to halt Iranian uranium enrichment from progressing any further than where it currently stood. Therefore, a wave of “semi-hard power” operations in the form of cyber attacks, assassinating nuclear scientists, restricting the imports of certain materials and components to Iran, and most important of all, the cutting off what the Americans call the “source of funding” for the nuclear program has been undertaken. However, if we use the criterion of the expansion of installations and the amount of nuclear materials produced by Iran as a measure for the acceleration or deceleration of Iran’s nuclear program, these operations have achieved none of their goals. Scientists have been assassinated, but this affair has only convinced other scientists that they must work harder and take revenge for their martyrs. Cyber attacks were carried out against nuclear facilities but the only result was that not only did Iranian specialists learn defensive technological skills, but they quickly became capable of carrying out widespread cyber attacks in enemy territory. The sanctions prompted Iranian producers to search for new methods and in a short time this lead to self-reliance in certain areas which prior to the sanctions were dependent on imports. The financial resource for Iran’s nuclear program has not been cut off, since the increased oil revenue due to the psychological effect of the sanctions – keep in mind that the oil sanctions neither from Europe nor America have been enacted so far and it is all talk until now — has been much greater than the effect of the tiny amount of reduction Iranian oil exports have experienced.
Therefore, Iran was supposed to enter the Istanbul 2 negotiations with its nuclear program on the verge of bankruptcy. However, Iran entered the negotiations with the Fordo [plant] on the verge of operations, it had produced more than 100 kilos of 20% enriched nuclear materials and a few thousand reserve kilos of 5% enriched uranium, it had loaded the domestically produced fuel into the Tehran reactor and tested it successfully, and the determination of new nuclear sites had been completed and programs for the increase in nuclear production had been announced.
Western “semi-soft power” operations neither stopped nor slowed Iran’s nuclear progress, instead they had only resulted in the deepening, quickening, and immunization of the program and this was the first pillar upon which Iran’s negotiation strategy in Istanbul was founded upon.
Secondly, before the Istanbul talks, all of the West’s efforts went into convincing Iran that if negotiations did not go forward as some of the P5+1 members wished, the military option was firmly on the table. Based on a division of labor between America and Israel, Israel was supposed to threaten Iran with military attacks if it did not relinquish its nuclear program, and America was supposed to back up these threats. The Israeli theory was that if America did not approve of the threats, Iran would not take them as being credible, and the threats would not be taken seriously. However, was it really intended for someone to attack Iran? It has in fact been revealed that such a plan was not in the works from the very beginning.
The objectives of the American and Israeli military threat project were twofold:
First, the analytical consensus for the Israelis and Americans was that Iran would only cease its nuclear program when it felt that the pressure on its program was morphing into a threat to the existence of the Islamic Republic. The result of this Israeli presumption was that in order for Iran to cease its nuclear program, Iran must foresee the threat to its own existence, which is not possible unless Iran feels that the West is willing to even go as far as militarily attacking Iran in order to prevent its nuclearization. The reason that Barack Obama stated in his speech at the last AIPAC conference that his government’s policies in regards to Iran was not one of containment or prevention but rather intended to stopping Iran’s nuclear program, was precisely to send the message to Iran that America saw the risks associated with military confrontation with Iran as being less than that of the risks associated with Iran’s nuclearization. In sum, Israel wanted America to explicitly announce that all options, especially the military one, were on the table and to make the criterion for the use of such options very clear to Iran.
Second, the Israelis believe that the world would not accept the tightening of sanctions against Iran unless it felt that resisting against these sanctions may lead to the ignition of a new war in the region. The threat of attack, in essence, is a tool to force countries such as members of the European Union to tighten sanctions, and thus the analysis of some Western strategists is completely accurate that the most extreme option America and Israel can take against Iran is sanctions. The evaluation is that an attack is basically not one of the possible options, it is strictly a tool through which to make effective the sanctions option, a tool which they imagine furthers the effects of sanctions on Iran and also forces various countries to take the enforcement of sanctions more seriously.
Very well, so what has become the fate of this grand project of psychological warfare, and have the Westerners been able to bake any bread out of this oven they have built for the Istanbul talks? The fate of this project to create a credible military threat is truly quite full of lessons. At the beginning the Americans accepted the argument that if Iran sees a credible military threat on the table — and from America, not Israel — it will have a reason to back down. Therefore, American officials began threatening Iran by stating that their military capability for confronting Iran’s nuclear facilities is sufficient, that their plans for attack were almost complete and that no option has been excluded. However, astonishingly, the effects of this rhetoric were not at all what America had envisioned nor what Israel had predicted.
First of all, Iran quickly responded and conducted special military operations which demonstrated that not only could it defend itself against any attack, but if necessary, that it could carry out preventive operations before the enemy takes action and at a stage when threats are still being made. Subsequently, the Americans saw that their activities which were intended to keep tensions with Iran at a controlled level, could quickly slip out of hand and at any moment there was a possibility that a self-confident Iran could move America towards a deadly, albeit unwanted, conflict. The reason why Barack Obama, in a letter written to Iran this past winter, announced openly that the military option from his country’s perspective is not on the table, was exactly because the Americans saw that Iran was not afraid but in fact was preparing for war!
Secondly, the repeated threats against Iran drove up the price of oil (and as a result Iran’s revenues) sharply, doubling the stagnation of the the half-alive world economy, and with the unprecedented rise in gasoline prices, brought about serious domestic political problems for America and European countries. Indeed, the Americans felt that this ridiculous rhetoric is producing an opposite effect, it has not actually harmed Iran but instead it might at any moment bring about their own downfall and it was for this reason that Barack Obama stated visibly this past Isfand month (March) that whomever talks of attacking Iran are nonsensical fools who are lying to the American people about the potential cost of such an act.
The delectable result is this: while the project for creating a “credible military threat” was meant to make Iran scared and passive, it has unexpectedly and in a short time revealed the secret that the biggest opponent of this option is the American government itself, meaning the same government which was supposed to make the threats seem credible by putting on a show! Not only was the military threat without credit, but it was taken off the table not by the Iranians but by the Americans with unprecedented clearness, and the American representatives came to Istanbul knowing that the threats of attacking Iran were regarded by Iran as nothing but a bad joke and it was for this reason that neither the Americans nor the other members of the P5+1 even came close to expressing such threats [during negotiations].
Up until this point I have only discussed two of the factors which were supposed to occur at Istanbul but did not. There are at least three other factors which can be discussed but there is not enough opportunity to do so at this point. When these three factors are discussed properly and the arguments as to why these factors that the Americans wanted did not come into being are reviewed, then can it be clearly understood why the P5+1 participated in the Istanbul II talks from a weak position.
We are grateful to Mohammad Sagha, a senior in political science and economics at DePaul University for this translation.