Obama and Iranian hegemony

Published in Israel Hayom, May 22, 2012. Click for a printer-friendly copy.

Don’t underestimate Obama’s willingness to undercut current allies (including Israel and Saudi Arabia) in the process of cutting a deal with the Iranians. There is much more at stake here than the mere stymieing of Israeli attack plans.

The interim agreement with Iran that the P5+1 powers seem set to conclude with Iran in the Baghdad talks this week – involving the suspension of Iran’s 20 percent uranium enrichment – is dangerous on four levels.

Firstly, the deliberations over the exact details of this agreement are likely to drag out for months, into the fall, giving the Iranians time to surreptitiously enrich even more uranium and to continue their explosives testing work. Of course, this suits Obama’s election timetable just fine because Israel dares not strike Iran while supposedly “positive and successful” negotiations are under way.

Secondly, according to all reports, the emerging understanding with Iran would leave all its nuclear development facilities intact, including the Fordow underground center, instead of dismantling them. This allows the Iranians to continue refining their nuclear skills. Even at low levels of enrichment (3.5 and 5 percent, which is not useful for a bomb) this provides a framework with which Teheran can bypass Western restrictions and hoodwink Western inspectors.

After all, Iran has clandestinely crossed every “red line” set by the West over the past 20 years – putting nuclear plants online, building heavy water facilities, refining uranium, working on explosive triggers and warheads, and generally breaching all its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty – and has gotten away with it.

So any deal that scales back sanctions and allows Iran to keep operating its advanced nuclear development facilities even at a low-level – is a fatal bargain. So says a new study by Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute and Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general of the IAEA. Centrifuge technology is easy to hide, and reaching low-level enrichment is 75 percent of the work towards a bomb, they warn.

Worse still is the nagging suspicion that Obama’s emerging deal with the Iranians involves tacit recognition of their hegemony in the Gulf region – which is what Teheran is truly after. This was the implicit warning brought to Israel last week by one of America’s top experts on Iran, Dr. Amin Tarzi, director of Middle East studies at the Marine Corps University in Quantico. “Iran wants nuclear capacity and a warhead,” he says, “for imperial purposes, to prove that Iran is a special and great country, and to be able to dominate the Gulf region and the broader Middle East. Teheran is unlikely to use a nuclear warhead, but it wants to have one in order to achieve the status of a regional superpower, to be an equal partner with the US in dominating the Middle East.”

Could it be that Obama is prepared for a seismic shift in US alliances in the region, moving from partnership with the much-weakened princes of Saudi Arabia to a “grand civilizational bargain” with the ayatollahs of Iran? Might he quietly acquiesce in an Iranian leap to nuclear status in exchange for understandings with Tehran on division of power in the region? Keep the American withdrawal from Iraq in mind. Iraq controlled by the Shiites (and heavily influenced by Iran) could easily become a bigger oil exporter than Saudi Arabia.

Finally, could all this be a prelude to implementation of Obama’s grand (second-term) vision of nuclear thinning-out and global disarmament? Obama could yet turn to the Russians, Chinese, French, Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians, and yes – to Israel too, with the demand to disarm. Israel has understandings with the US about its nuclear policy, originally reached by Richard Nixon and Golda Meir and reportedly reaffirmed in 1998 (by Clinton and Netanyahu) and in 2009 (by Obama and Netanyahu). But in the context of grand bargain with the Iranians (and by extension, with much of the Moslem world), might Israel’s nuclear status also be targeted for troublesome attention?

I say: Beware Obama’s Baghdad understandings. Heed his long-term goals of resetting America’s relations with the Moslem world, and don’t underestimate his willingness to undercut current allies (including Israel and Saudi Arabia) in the process. There is much more in play than the mere stymieing of Israeli attack plans.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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