How Can We Negotiate in Good Faith with the Iranians When We Play Dumb About Israel’s Nukes?

Haaretz published a long piece by Aluf Benn today arguing that the nuclear proliferation is "the basis for understanding the diplomatic processes in today’s Middle East." I think that’s a nice way to frame regional peace primarily around the Iranian nuclear issue. But the article unintentionally raises an excellent question: What the hell does ‘nuclear ambiguity‘ even mean?

From what I can gather, all it means is that Israel and the United State won’t officially discuss Israel’s nukes, especially when it comes to international policy. As in, the only context where it matters. Really? We can publish endless newspaper articles and talk off record until our shit stops stinking, but no, that stuff is completely irrelevant whenever anyone might want to dish arms control for real? My brain is literally stroking out right now trying to figure out why policymaking is considered the proper place to play fucking pretend. Cause that’s all it is, since something can’t be ambiguous if everyone knows all about it.

How can there even be a debate whether Israel should "declare" its nuclear weapons? Yeah, that’d be a real god damn game changer. Everyone gonna want their own now that it’s out in the open (like it was already)! I bet Ayatollah Khameini would piss his long, flowing pants once he finds out Israel now knows that Iran knows that Israel has the nukes Iran already knows about! Maybe this line of thought help explain Iran’s, as well as the entire Arab world’s, apparent comfort with a policy of "ambiguity" when it comes to Israel’s right to exist. Sure, they know Israel knows they know Israel is there, but hey they just don’t want to talk about it on record.

Which leads us to a larger discussion: how can we possibly negotiate in good faith with the Iranians as long as we continue to play dumb about Israel? Aren’t we accusing Iran of following the precedent first set by Israel, well before India, Pakistan or even North Korea, where having nuclear weapons is okay as long as you’re reaaaallly quiet about making them. Does Israel get to grandfather their nukes as acceptable just because they got to the finish line before anyone caught on? Might that be why Iran would possibly want to become a de facto nuclear weapons state in the first place, as alleged by the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate?

Just because we don’t like them doesn’t mean Iran isn’t allowed to have legitimate security concerns. Remember that mind blowing Goldberg op-ed? I wonder how that played in the Farsi press? The snarky lede practically writes itself:

The leader of a country repeatedly invokes apocalyptic religious language and threatens to attack his country’s declared bête noire. Meanwhile, his own country is subject to longstanding international concern regarding its secret nuclear program. Of course, we’re discussing Benjamin Netanyahu and Iran.

Like what I did there? Why shouldn’t Iran feel threatened by that kind of rhetoric, as Israel does by Ahmadinejad? Does Israel get the sort of pass the United States liked to believe it had during the Cold War, when Reagan could saber rattle all he wanted about the Evil Empire because the Soviets, like, know for sure we would never strike first. Because we’re America, a free democracy, and thus the good guys. After the infamous 1983 NATO training exercise Able Archer, Reagan apparently changed his mind:

"Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians: Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did … During my first years in Washington, I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike … Well, if that was the case, I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us."

Robert Gates agreed with that assessment in his own memoir:

Information about the peculiar and remarkably skewed frame of mind of the Soviet leaders during those times that has emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union makes me think there is a good chance—with all of the other events in 1983—that they really felt a NATO attack was at least possible and that they took a number of measures to enhance their military readiness short of mobilization. After going through the experience at the time, then through the postmortems, and now through the documents, I don’t think the Soviets were crying wolf. They may not have believed a NATO attack was imminent in November 1983, but they did seem to believe that the situation was very dangerous. And US intelligence [SNIE 11-9-84 and SNIE 11-10-84] had failed to grasp the true extent of their anxiety.

Think the Iranian leadership might also be classified as a bit paranoid? They’re surrounded by other nuclear weapons states -Pakistan, Israel, the United States, Russia and India – and only maintain tension free relations with the last two. They’ve watched two American invasions seeking regime changes right on their border. I’m sure the Iranian leadership thought jokes about turning ‘left to Damascus or right to Tehran" after the fall of Baghdad were fucking hilarious. Finally, it’s nothing but stupid to pretend they’ve forgotten how practically the entire rest of the world either openly or covertly supported Iraq in their decade long war (That is, everyone except North Korea, the US in Iran-Contra, and, improbably, Israel). Especially the global silence on repeated Iraqi use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and civilians, leaving Iran only second to Japan as the country most afflicted by weapons of mass destruction. Most of those weapons were developed, by the way, with European assistance.

That’s even ignoring the obvious economic incentives Iran has for nuclear power; namely, a desire not to lose valuable potential oil and gas exports because of their rapidly growing domestic energy consumption, which is already straining their current grid. Now I know lots of people might nod their heads at that, but still say Iranian duplicity regarding its nuclear program means they’ve lost the right for domestic nuclear enrichment. Haaretz reports that the US is even considering refined petroleum sanctions, since Iran has limited refining capacity of its own. Maybe that’s the kind of threat to which the Iranians would respond. But I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that because that sort of threat (ie; an energy embargo) is even possible is precisely why Iran doesn’t trust "legally guaranteed" enriched uranium imports in return for ending its domestic program.

There is one obvious solution to this, and forgive my jargon, "diplomatic shitstorm." If the United States is really worried about Iran upsetting the established order because they might obtain nuclear weapons, I suggest a policy of "nuclear ambiguity". In return for Iran not openly discussing or brandishing nuclear weapons, the United States will not oppose an Iranian nuclear energy program. The rest of the world, Israel included, should continue on as if the status quo is maintained, and stop asking questions since the answers will only upset them more. Israel can even continue to pretend Iran knows about the nukes that Israel pretends not to have while pretending Iran has no nukes at all! Makes perfect sense, right?

Oh fuck Haaretz predicted that one two years ago.

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