On Iran, mixed signals proliferate

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, seen here addressing a regional economic summit in Tehran in May 2011, says he is ‘optimistic’ that nuclear inspectors will not find anything amiss this week during their visit to the country.

By Ron Kampeas, JTA

have all gone deep into mixed-signals territory.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, left one prominent journalist

convinced that Israel will strike Iran by year’s end. Yet two weeks

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ago, Barak had said that any possible Israeli attack on Iran is

“far off.”

December that any military strike would only set Iran’s nuclear

program back a couple of years-a remark that some Israelis read as

conveying a sense of resignation to the idea that if Iran really

wants a nuclear weapon, eventually it will be able to get one. But

in a television interview broadcast Sunday, he vowed that the U.S.

would take “whatever steps are necessary” to stop Iran from

acquiring a nuclear weapon.

sanctions with a mix of threats to shut down the Strait of Hormuz

and efforts to placate Western concerns about its nuclear program

by allowing in inspectors and calling for new talks.

speculation: Will Israel strike Iran? And will the sanctions cause

Iran to bend?

much-discussed Sunday New York Times Magazine cover story by Ronen

Bergman, one of Israel’s best-connected security journalists. It

featured rare and extensive on-the-record interviews with top

Israeli officials, most prominently Barak.

significance of the second question.

said that Iran was ready to sit down for talks to discuss its

nuclear program. On Sunday, a team of inspectors from the

International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear

watchdog, arrived in Tehran.

includes two weapons experts and will visit an Iranian nuclear

facility near the religious city of Qom. President Barack Obama’s

revelation in 2009 of the until-then secret underground facility

helped the U.S. make the case to the world community for

intensified sanctions, leading to the recent international squeeze

on Iran’s economy and energy sector.

report in November concluded that Iran was engaged in

activities-particularly in the area of enhanced uranium enrichment

capabilities-that could have no other discernible purpose but

weaponization.

has strictly civilian purposes. Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign

minister, was quoted by various media on Monday as saying that he

was “optimistic” about the results of the inspectors’ three-day

visit, and that it could be extended “if necessary.”

“One shouldn’t get too carried away, but I assume they have

something to offer or they would not agree to schedule this visit,”

said Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council who

has written a book on U.S.-Iran relations titled “Bitter Friends,

Bosom Enemies.”

Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, noted that

the Iranians resisted setting a formal agenda for the inspectors’

visit, which suggested a lack of seriousness by the Iranians.

is under pressure, and then stalling so that the talks delay

punitive measures against it,” Adler said.

Iran is also sending mixed messages to the United States in the

region. In addition to its threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz in

response to mounting sanctions, Iran’s army chief warned a U.S.

aircraft carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf. But other

Iranian officials later seemed to backtrack, calling the entry of

another U.S. carrier into the gulf a routine event. Also this

month, Iran test-fired cruise missiles that could be used against

U.S. ships.

subject of speculation.

Bergman in his New York Times Magazine article concluded that an

Israeli strike before year’s end was all but inevitable.

strike Iran in 2012,” he wrote. “Perhaps in the small and

ever-diminishing window that is left, the United States will choose

to intervene after all, but here, from the Israeli perspective,

there is not much hope for that.”

conclusions, noting that his article included a wealth of Israelis

warning against such a strike—and even referred to Barak’s Jan. 18

statement that any decision to strike was “very far off.”

people he quoted who said that a strike was a bad idea,” Slavin

said.

will need to strike Iran stems from what he suggests is Prime

Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s belief that the U.S. will not attack

in its stead should Iran be on the verge of developing a nuclear

weapon.

recent weeks to emphasize their commitment to stopping Iran from

acquiring nuclear weapons. In an interview broadcast Sunday,

Panetta told the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” that the United

States would take “whatever steps are necessary” to prevent Iran

from developing a nuclear weapon, calling it a “red line” for both

Israelis and the United States.

Panetta responded that “there are no options that are off the

table.”

situation, suggesting that Iran would be able to develop a nuclear

weapon in approximately a year.

“The consensus is that if they decided to do it, it would probably

take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then

possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a

deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon,”

Panetta said.

able to develop a nuclear weapon in fairly short order, Panetta

seems to be on the same page as Israeli officials.

annual economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, Barak again sounded a

note of concern.

other leaders at the forum, Barak said, “we repeatedly emphasized

our stance that we must urgently intensify and broaden the

sanctions against Iran. The determination of world leaders is

critical in order to prevent the Iranians from advancing their

military nuclear program.

Iranians continue to advance [toward nuclear weapons], identifying

every crack and squeezing through. Time is urgently running

out.”