Time is Running Out

The New York Times reports on President Obama’s recent meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. The US has effectively announced the limits of their willingness to negotiate with Iran, and seeks negotiation by the end of the year.

As the Iranian election approaches, current policy with respect to the nation is clearly failing. The last US administration’s failure to engage with them on a sufficient timetable has left the incoming President with too few options. The situation is becoming grim.

Netanyahu may have extremely pleased to hear that President Obama would keep all options on the table, and not discount anything. Unfortunately, these are idle threats. The reality is that an Israeli or US attack on Iran would have no certainty of success whatsoever.

In 2007, the American National Intelligence Estimates reported on the erstwhile status of the Iranian nuclear program. They said:

“We assess with moderate confidence that Iran probably would use covert facilities rather than its declared nuclear sites—for the production of highly enriched uranium for weapon.”

As international pressure has increased, this confidence can be upgraded. It would be extremely foolish of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran not to mitigate against the threat of strike, especially after signals such as Israel’s aerial bombardment practice run in June 2008.

The sad reality: sanctions have completely failed to impact on their nuclear program. Recently, the revolution celebrated its anniversary with a new ballistic missile launch – which puts Israel and US military bases within Iran’s range.

Meanwhile, the bite of economic sanctions from the EU and US has in the last year been curbed by increased trade and investment from China and Russia – their help in confronting Iran in a timely manner is precluded respectively by a desire for energy security and an unwillingness to engage constructively with the US.

Those that are hoping for any drastic change in Iran’s policy will be disappointed after the election on June 12. Despite the sorry state of his country’s economy, Ahmadinejad will find it difficult to lose the election unless turn-out is extremely high.

Al Jazeera describes the implicit endorsement that the Ayatollah has offered to the incumbent. His opponents are not new or exciting, and have failed so far to stir support for change (hampered by their lack of coverage by the media).

Ahmadinejad has no reason to fear intervention. It is unclear what, if anything, he could be given to forego development, as long as the people of Iran still relish the thought of nuclear technology and support him (which is the case for the time being). The international community will just have to push the price of that goal beyond all reasonable limits, and soon. The alternative is too frightening to consider.

© The Free Marketeer 2009

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