AS six Western powers resumed negotiations with Iran this week, Jerusalem looked on with foreboding.
The talks could not be taking place at a better time for Iran — hot on the heels of the speech that its President Hassan Rouhani gave at the United Nations, casting himself as a moderate and becoming the big talking point of the UN session. They come in the middle of what Jerusalem has called the Islamic Republic’s charm offensive.
The foreboding was evident from a special meeting that Israel’s security cabinet held on Tuesday, a few hours before the talks began in Geneva. Afterwards, it released a statement urging the international community to handle Iran with care and suspicion.
It urged against any compromise with Iran that would let it hold on to part of its nuclear capability. “An Iran with military nuclear capabilities would threaten world peace and stability as well as the security of countries across the Middle East, including Israel, which it threatens to annihilate,” it stated.
This addressed Israel’s concern regarding what could happen a few months down the line, but Israel also has a more pressing and immediate concern. It is worried that sweet-talking on the part of Iran will lead to a relaxation of sanctions by the West.
“These negotiations begin at a time when the Iranian regime is under great pressure because of the sanctions and is desperately trying to have them removed,” stated the security cabinet. “Sanctions must not be eased when they are so close to achieving their intended purpose.”
It went on to say that it “would be an historic mistake not to take full advantage of the sanctions, by making concessions before ensuring the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.”
Western powers are not about to let Iran off the hook regarding its nuclear exploits in this round of negotiations or the next one. However, there will be voices, especially from Russia, suggesting that sanctions should be relaxed to reward Iran for buying in to a diplomatic process.
It is unexpected that Israel, which has long been sceptical of the power of sanctions, has now become their biggest proponent. But for Israel, the continuation of sanctions is a vital way of the West showing Iran that until it actually dismantles its nuclear project, there are no carrots only sticks. The question is whether the West will stand firm on this.
Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, addresses the general debate of the sixty-eighth session of the General Assembly earlier this year.