Did Israel Sabotage Negotiations With Iran?
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, April 14
The bold Israeli move to blow up the Iranian power station, Natanz, was preceded by a series of interconnected events. Last Saturday, Iran defiantly announced that it had turned on the centrifuges in Natanz, which would enable it to enrich uranium 50 times faster than the old ones. This was Tehran’s way of putting more pressure on the Biden administration and the Western negotiators in Vienna. On the same day, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on a prescheduled visit to reassure his Israeli counterparts, who are angry at the negotiations. The next day, a power outage struck the Natanz facility by what seems to have been planned sabotage. It is likely that the Israelis did update the Americans on their plan to attack ahead of time. And because the attack took place on the same day of the US defense secretary’s visit, it raised questions. Austin sealed his lips and did not comment on the incident, giving no indication on whether he was pleased or dissatisfied with it. It is clear that Israel shuffled the cards, regardless of what the American president and his defense secretary had in store. Two weeks ago, Iran had the upper hand, using its Natanz reactor as a bargaining chip. Its message was clear: It will expedite its uranium enrichment process unless its Western negotiators agree to return to the concessions provided to Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Now Iran has lost its card due to the attack and has found itself in a difficult position on whether to continue negotiating or withdraw from the Vienna talks. Biden’s negotiating team fought to reach a speedy deal with the current Iranian government that would provide Tehran with $15 billion in credit. But despite his concessions to the Iranians, he has so far failed to move one step further. What made the task even more difficult was the series of many sanctions that former President Donald Trump slapped on Iran. And it seems that the humiliating Israeli attack on Iran, too, will be a blow to negotiators in Vienna. Rouhani’s government only has two months left before elections. I expect that, despite the inherited obstacles and the Israeli attack, the US administration will insist on proceeding with negotiations, but it can no longer ignore Israel and the countries of the region that oppose the deal if it really wants its mission to succeed. –Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)