Failed Talks, Few Options

The intransigence and belligerence that Iran has demonstrated since 2018, when the U.S. pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, were well in evidence last week, as the seventh set of talks on that deal ended in Vienna on Erev Shabbos with no apparent progress.

The Joint Commission of the powers still in the deal (Iran, the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia), along with U.S. representatives, will return to their capitals for further discussions, but it isn’t clear if a new round will begin this week.

Only disappointment was voiced on both sides as of the end of the week, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken informing reporters that “I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don’t give us a lot of cause for … optimism,” and Tehran’s top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, making continuation of the talks contingent on the lifting of all economic sanctions on Iran “at once,” which, of course, is out of the question.

While Mr. Blinken said, “it is not too late for Iran to reverse course and engage meaningfully,” the chances of that happening are, by all indications, nil.

Mr. Blinken also said that “what Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks. That will not happen. That’s also not our view alone. It’s very clearly the view of our European partners.”

And, as if to show its disdain for the world powers, Iran, according to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, began the process of enriching uranium to 60% purity — a short technical jump away from weapons-grade 90%, and far exceeding the cap set in the 2015 nuclear deal — using advanced centrifuges at its Fordow facility, buried deep inside a mountain. There is no civilian use for 90% enriched uranium.

In Israel, the prime target of Iranian belligerence, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged the American Secretary of State to terminate the talks, asserting that they are just a stalling maneuver to allow Iran to continue its violations of the original deal, technically still in effect with the other nations.

As to steps Israel may take, Mossad chief David Barnea promised Thursday that it will do “whatever it takes” to ensure that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon, “not in the coming years, never.”

But the means of achieving that goal are far from obvious. Senior Israeli officials have said in private meetings over past weeks that Israel has no practical option of taking independent military action that would foil Iran’s nuclear program, and the sheer number of nuclear research sites in Iran and the difficulty of reaching any — and certainly all — of them is formidable.

What is more, to strike anywhere in Iran by the shortest route, Israeli planes would have to pass over Iraq and Jordan and, laden with the maximal load of bombs and missiles, would have to refuel midair. And Israel does not possess bombs that could penetrate the Fordow facility.

More likely, Mr. Barnea was referring to the covert undermining of Iranian plans that has resulted in numerous setbacks to the rogue nation’s nuclear program, including cyberattacks on centrifuges and assassinations of nuclear scientists — most recently that of the head of Iran’s military nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

There indeed certainly are Israel-allied operatives in Iran, likely Iranians who disdain the current regime in their country — and discontent with the mullahs among a much broader swath of the populace has been publicly evident in recent weeks. But Iran has taken steps to secure its nuclear apparatuses, and whether Israel can use covert means to effectively prevent Iran’s program from reaching its goal is unknown.

The only way, practically speaking, of convincing Iran that continuing its quest to achieve nuclear weapon capability is not in its best interests would seem to lie in the European nations — and our own, which does possess armaments capable of destroying Fordow — coming together and making good on their declared determination to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Namely, by threatening Iran with joint military action.

But, despite Mr. Blinken’s declaration that Iran’s continued building of its nuclear program “will not happen,” from all other evidence, it would seem a very long shot to imagine that the administration, much less our European allies, will even broach the subject of military action against Iran.

We can still hope that it will and they will. And that Israel’s ability to disrupt Iran’s nuclear development infrastructure from within is greater than anyone suspects.

But the bottom line is that, as we read in Shabbos’ haftarah, “Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit, says Hashem.” (Zechariah 4:6). The success of any efforts to subvert Iran’s evil plans is ultimately dependent on siyatta diShmaya.

“On Whom is there for us to rely? Only on Avinu shebaShamayim” (Sotah 49a).