Back in 2007, during a similar outbreak of overheated rhetoric about war against Iran—at that time, Vice President Dick Cheney was pushing behind the scenes for a unilateral American strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities—a subversive report National Intelligence Estimate by the US intelligence community slammed the door on war by declaring that the spy agencies believed that Iran had halted its work on a nuclear bomb.
In 2012, Dennis Ross may have done the same thing. His op-ed in the New York Times today all but closes the door on the idea of war against Iran in 2012 by either the United States or Israel.
It’s a surprise from Ross, a hawkish, neoconservative-leaning Middle East expert who served for three years as President Obama’s top adviser on the region. Though not a neocon himself, Ross is affiliated with the neoconservative-dominated Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israel think tank founded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in the 1980s. Off and on, since then, Ross has been part of WINEP. But he’s also a liberal Democrat who makes no effort to hide his overtly pro-Israel sympathies. That’s why, coming from him, his Times op-ed is important.
Titled “Iran Is Ready to Talk,” Ross argues that there’s no need to consider bombing Iran since economic sanctions appear to be working. As a result, he says, Iran is ready for diplomacy.
More significantly, he suggests that part of a deal with Iran could include continuing enrichment of uranium by Iran. That, right there, is the key to a US-Iran deal, as I’ve been writing for many years now, especially since I visited Iran in 2008 and 2009. Ross says it’s not inconceivable that Iran is ready to “accept a deal that uses intrusive inspections and denies or limits uranium enrichment to halt any advances toward a nuclear weapons capability, while still permitting the development of civilian nuclear power.” Note the use of the crucial phrase, “limits uranium enrichment.” All along, the win-win scenario for US-Iran diplomacy is for the United States to persuade Iran to accept “intrusive inspections” by the IAEA while accepting Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Bingo.
By saying that it’s important to give Iran more time for sanctions to work, Ross knocks the pins out from under Israeli hawks who say that time is running out to strike Iran, because Iran is building an underground, mountain-shielded nuclear facility that will be far less vulnerable to Israel’s limited military capabilities. Ross is explicit on this point:
Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have consistently called for “crippling sanctions,” reflecting a belief that Iran’s behavior could be changed with sufficient pressure. The fact that crippling sanctions have finally been applied means that Israel is more likely to give these sanctions and the related diplomatic offensive a chance to work. And it should.
Let’s be clear. The Obama administration has no intention whatsoever—zero, zilch, nada—of going to war with Iran, and its sometimes overheated rhetoric is meant for domestic political consumption against a field of saber-rattling Republican candidates. Similarly, Israel, which continually portrays itself, intentionally, as ruled by madmen ready to fly off the handle, simply will not strike Iran without a green light from Washington, a green light that is never going to come. Now Ross is sending the signal that everyone ought to calm down.
That isn’t to say that war can’t happen. There are hawks on both sides, and war could result from a series of incidents that spin out of control, perhaps sparked by the tit-for-tat terrorist campaign that Israel and Iran are waging against each other.
But only last week, in an interview with Matt Lauer, Obama made it clear that he’s focused on diplomacy, not war, with Iran. Stressing sanctions, Obama said, “We are going to make sure we work in lock step and work to resolve this, hopefully diplomatically.” And he reassured listeners that Israel was not, repeat not, ready to strike Iran.