It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day.
Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider
what might happen tomorrow.
IT APPEARS THAT — FOR NOW, AT LEAST — A CRISIS OVER IRAN perhaps has been delayed. Still, a number of things are not sitting right as we re-examine the situation. To review, the P-5+1 group (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China and Germany) set a Sept. 25 deadline for Iran to enter into serious negotiations over its nuclear program. Several days later, Israel — the country most threatened by a potentially nuclear-capable Iran — deliberately made public an agreement that it had cut with Washington: Either the West would get Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions by the end of September through diplomacy or "crippling sanctions," or Israel’s military option would be taken into serious consideration. For Israel, this deadline certainly meant something. In spite of Iran's attitude toward the deadline, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration announced Sept. 11 that it — along with the other P-5+1 powers — had accepted Tehran's offer for unconditional talks. But Iran treated this deadline like the many deadlines it has circumvented in the past. First, the Iranian regime rejected the very idea of a deadline being imposed upon it. Then, more conciliatory statements were issued expressing the government’s desire to talk. Finally, just a few days before the deadline, Iran ceremoniously presented a proposal that made a mockery of Western demands. Washington made it abundantly clear that the proposal — which spoke of global nuclear disarmament, United Nations reform and everything but Iran's nuclear program — was unsatisfactory. The Iranians evidently were not taking the deadline seriously. But a funny thing happened over the weekend. In spite of Iran's attitude toward the deadline, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration announced Sept. 11 that it — along with the other P-5+1 powers — had accepted Tehran’s offer for unconditional talks. A day later, Israel — which certainly is not blind to Iran's maneuvers — also endorsed the decision to proceed with negotiations. In an interview with Reuters, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who is also minister of intelligence and atomic energy, talked around the issue of the now-defunct deadline and said that "the time is now" for the world powers to respond to the Iranian nuclear threat. At the same time, Meridor emphasized that he was not referring to military action. On the surface, it appears that Iran has danced around yet another nuclear deadline. Since it likely will take more than two weeks to organize a meeting between the P-5+1 and Iran, the sanctions deadline has effectively been defused. It's not clear to us whether Iran actually made concessions behind the scenes to kill this deadline and stave off sanctions, but the speed with which Washington agreed to talk strikes us as odd, especially considering how much the deadline meant to Israel and the manner in which Iran appeared to have blown it off. Israel must be watched closely in the weeks ahead. Israel's patience for Iranian maneuvers has run out. Just as importantly, in contrast to the Obama administration, the Israelis know well that Russia is absolutely critical to any plans concerning Iran. Not only do the Russians retain the threat of selling strategic weapons to Tehran — which would complicate any future military operations against Iran's nuclear facilities — but they have the ability to blow apart the U.S.-led sanctions regime by supplying gasoline to Iran itself, or through former Soviet surrogates like Turkmenistan. Considering how sour relations have become between Russia and the United States, Israel can clearly see the potential for Moscow to up the ante with Washington by playing its Iran card. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably had all this in mind when he flew secretly to Moscow for a 14-hour visit Sept. 7, where he reportedly spoke frankly with Russia's core leadership. According to STRATFOR sources, Netanyahu was trying to get a read on Moscow's intentions toward Iran, but Russia's response was not exactly comforting. Russia's main dispute is with the United States and its apparent disregard for Moscow's influence in the former Soviet periphery. Netanyahu apparently was told that if he wants Russia to back off on Iran, Israel will have to stay out of Russia's way in places like Ukraine and Georgia (which have strong defense relationships with Israel) and also get Israel's allies in Washington to start taking Russian demands more seriously. Israel apparently got the message. Speaking on behalf of Netanyahu's cabinet, in accepting the P-5+1 talks with Iran, Meridor said, "I don't think Russia has an interest in a nuclear Iran. Maybe they want to be considered as a partner, not to be told what to do. I am not for or against the Russians. I am saying they are important elements. They have an important role in the world. Communism might be dead. Russia is not." This view starkly contrasts the message that has been put out by the Obama administration regarding Russian strength. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, in particular, enraged the Kremlin when he essentially wrote off Russia as a power too economically and demographically challenged to pose a real threat to the West any longer. It remains to be seen whether Israel can convince Washington of Russia's leverage over Iran. So, we are left with several disjointed realities. The Israelis understand Russian leverage concerning Iran, and they were promised crippling sanctions against Iran by Washington. Instead, Israel appears to be getting another diplomatic song and dance from Iran to buy time for its nuclear program. It would seem, then, that Israeli concerns over Iran's nuclear program are unlikely to be satisfied anytime soon, or by another round of diplomacy. There are a lot of moving parts that need to be tracked in this Iran saga, but in such uncertain times — and with so much at stake — potential military maneuvers will bear considerable watching amid the political rhetoric.