The horrible optics of containing Iran’s nuclear program

Well, it appears that Jeffrey Goldberg’s warnings about Israel attacking Iran within the next year have been — for now —  overtaken by events:  The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Well, it appears that Jeffrey Goldberg's warnings about Israel attacking Iran within the next year have been -- for now --  overtaken by events

The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a “dash” for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials.

Well, it appears that Jeffrey Goldberg’s warnings about Israel attacking Iran within the next year have been — for now —  overtaken by events

The Obama administration, citing evidence of continued troubles inside Iran’s nuclear program, has persuaded Israel that it would take roughly a year — and perhaps longer — for Iran to complete what one senior official called a “dash” for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials.

Administration officials said they believe the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country’s nuclear facilities within the next year, as Israeli officials have suggested in thinly veiled threats.

As a general rule, a lack of bombing certainly seems like good news.  The question is, why?  What’s slowing down the Iranians? 

It is unclear whether the problems that Iran has had enriching uranium are the result of poor centrifuge design, difficulty obtaining components or accelerated Western efforts to sabotage the nuclear program….

Some of Iran’s enrichment problems appear to have external origins. Sanctions have made it more difficult for Iran to obtain precision parts and specialty metals. Moreover, the United States, Israel and Europe have for years engaged in covert attempts to disrupt the enrichment process by sabotaging the centrifuges.

The sanctions and the lack of technical competence are probably heloping, but if I had to guess, I’d wager that the covert attempts at sabotage are yielding the most promising results.  The thing is, no administration can publicly say, “hey, everyone should relax about Iran’s nuclear program, cause we’ve got covert operatives crawling all around Natanz, Bushehr, and Qom.”  So, the public face of U.S. foreign policy towards Iran’s nuclear program remains sanctions and a willingness to negotiate.  The optics of this policy posture don’t look good. 

Now, I don’t know this to be true — it’s possible that covert action has yielded little in the way of results.  Still, this might be a situation in which no news on Iran is actually good news. 

Developing….

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.