Next week, Iran and the group of nations known as the P5+1 will sit down and try to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle with respect to Iran and its nuclear bomb program.
The P5+1 — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany — have been holding fruitless meetings with Iranian representatives about reviving the 2015 nuclear accord — an agreement made obsolete when Donald Trump declared that the United States was free of it and Iran began enriching uranium to near-bomb grade level. Iran has also denied U.S. inspectors access to its nuclear sites.
Right now, Biden and the western powers are treading water hoping for a miracle. But Iran is making it very easy to go to war, and it appears that the only two viable options for the West are some kind of military action or surrender.
Biden was hoping for some kind of bailout from the Russians and Chinese, but Iran appears determined to get the bomb and wouldn’t listen to their erstwhile allies anyway.
With chances for a breakthrough at the talks in Vienna looking remote and Iran at odds with U.N. nuclear inspectors, U.S. and European officials face a grim set of choices — from ramped-up sanctions to potential military action — as Iran’s nuclear program advances into dangerous territory.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that the U.S. was “prepared to turn to other options” if the negotiations fail, and Israel has made it clear that it is ready to take military action if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Israel has been kind enough to give Joe Biden a chance to settle in before going to war with Iran. The Israelis don’t care what Biden thinks, but they have a certain sensitivity about American politics and know better than to paint Biden into a corner where he either has to support them or not.
But the Israelis are more than ready to take on Iran.
Israeli security chiefs ramped up their rhetoric against Iran on Tuesday, with the head of the Israel Defense Forces warning that the military was ramping up its preparations for a possible attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel will carry out operations that “haven’t been seen in the past” if regional war breaks out.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the army “is accelerating operational planning and preparedness to deal with Iran and the military nuclear threat. Thankfully, the budget that was approved [last week] makes it possible to contend with a variety of threats.”
The nuclear talks reconvening in Vienna this week are Biden’s last chance to avoid either a war or a humiliating walk-back. Biden has told the Israelis that Iran “will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch.” Suppose it’s already too late?
If the talks fail, the P5+1 are considering some options:
Persuading China to shut off oil imports from Iran.
Ramping up sanctions, including targeting oil sales to China.
Pursuing a less ambitious interim nuclear deal.
Launching covert operations to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.
Ordering military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities or supporting Israeli military action.
Israel has been very successful in slowing down the Iranian drive for a bomb with exquisite sabotage operations conducted against Iranian nuclear infrastructure. But these intelligence operations can’t rid Israel of the threat of a nuclear attack. For that, they are going to need to conduct air and land military operations that are likely to cost thousands of Iranian and Israeli lives.
Joe Biden, like every other American president since the existence of an Iranian nuclear program was discovered in the late 1990s, is being advised not to attack. And every other American president since then has declared that Iran would not get a nuclear bomb on his watch.
In this game of presidential passing the buck, Biden is going to get caught with the boobie prize.