How the Recent Sabotage of an Iranian Nuclear Facility Relates to Negotiations with the U.S.

April 22, 2021 | Eran Lerman
About the author: Eran Lerman is vice-president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and teaches Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Shalem College.

According to recent reports, American nuclear negotiators in Vienna have expressed willingness to roll back significantly sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, a major power outage at the Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz—thought to have been caused by Israeli sabotage—has set back Tehran’s progress in producing the fuel necessary for an atomic bomb. Eran Lerman examines the relationship between these developments:

The main goal of the Iranian regime at present is to generate a sense of urgency in the West—specifically, the Biden administration. Senior American officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, already have quoted alarmist assessments as to Iran’s breakout time to justify a quick return to the [nuclear deal of] 2015; and only then to negotiate a “longer, stronger, broader” agreement. But with U.S. leverage frittered away following the easing of sanctions, what will motivate the Iranian regime to compromise? Should the U.S. succumb to arguments of urgency, which are manipulated by Iran, the prospects of achieving the goals President Biden himself has set will be next to nil.

This highlights the supreme importance of the serious damage inflicted upon the enrichment facility at Natanz. . . . If the battle is for time, then every moment is of the essence. Therefore, the U.S. should be appreciative of any significant delay in Iran’s ability to breakout towards a bomb, and certainly of a setback measured in months. The time gained should be used to sustain the pressure on Iran towards a better agreement—without the current “sunset clauses.”

Alas, European appeasement of Hitler is the historical analogy that comes to mind. [Britain’s Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain, who probably understood what sort of villain he was dealing with, wanted to gain time, and was tempted to believe that his concessions to Hitler in 1938 bought him a couple of crucial years. (They did not. War came within eleven months). . . . Once the wish to gain time drives a willingness to accept the demands of a ruthless, totalitarian regime hellbent on subversion and destruction—the tragic consequences are inevitable. It is this insight that should be imparted to friends in American politics and diplomacy.

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