Don't disturb the diplomats
Israel must continue preparations against Iran for a rainy day. But at the same time, it must not impair Obama's attempts to exhaust the diplomatic process.
Talks are to resume on October 1 between Iran and six major powers headed by the United States, with the focus on the future of Iran's nuclear program. From the American perspective, this will be the first test of the "dialogue approach" championed by President Barack Obama during his campaign and after he assumed office. Obama believes that appropriate engagement, backed by threats of more serious sanctions than in the past, can neutralize the developing nuclear threat in Iran.
Iran, as expected, is sticking to its position that it will not negotiate over its nuclear rights, and it continues to develop infrastructure for uranium enrichment and build a nuclear reactor to produce plutonium. It enjoys the backing of Russia and China, its main trading partners, who oppose harsher sanctions targeting the Iranian economy.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of talks between the six powers and Iran, which are meant to alleviate tensions and perhaps prevent a new war in the Middle East. But it is also difficult to be optimistic, in light of the parties' initial statements about their low expectations and the fact that diplomatic efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program have been treading water for years now. The six powers are showing no signs of urgency in dealing with Iran, despite the worried voices coming from Israel and the Gulf States and the increasing reports of Israel's ongoing preparations to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.
Skepticism over the success of the talks has its place. But for that very reason, Israel must not be seen as the party that is hampering the diplomatic process with ill-considered statements and threats of war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's measured response, merely expressing support for more severe sanctions, was appropriate; it is important that other Israeli officials also show restraint in their statements. It is also important to maintain relative calm in the territories and on our borders, so that the U.S. administration can focus on the Iranian issue.
Israel has an interest in the success of these talks - namely, in curbing the Iranian threat through diplomacy rather than the use of force, which could drag the region into prolonged war and severely harm both Israel's home front and its economy.
It must continue preparations for a rainy day. But at the same time, it must not impair Obama's attempts to exhaust the diplomatic process.