Finding the Line Between
By: Giora Eiland Translated from Yedioth Ahronoth (Israel).
The heated dispute between Israel and the United States over “red lines” for Iran blurs an important distinction between two concepts, which sound similar in English but are substantially different. One is a “red line,” and the other is a “deadline.” The United States is right when it refuses to declare a “deadline” and is very wrong in not defining a “red line.”
About This Article
The US refusal to set deadlines for Iran reflects its desire for flexibility of action, writes Giora Eiland, but US refusal to draw deterrent "red lines," whose crossing could provoke military action, is a mistake.Publisher: Yedioth Ahronoth (Israel)
The difference between a deadline and a red line
Author: Giora Eiland
First Published: September 12, 2012
Posted on: September 12 2012
Translated by: Al-Monitor
Determining a deadline means signaling a date by which, if something doesn’t happen, such and such will take place. Countries don’t like defining deadlines as a point in time that requires action for three reasons: First, no one knows what the circumstances will be at that point in time, and what other crises are liable to arise, and therefore it isn’t a good idea to commit in advance to action on a specific date in the future. Second, a state prefers to preserve some flexibility for itself — setting a date creates unwanted rigidity. Third, when a date is set, it is likely to result in a “self ultimatum.” The threat to act on a given date is likely to force a state to choose between two bad options: action at a certain time that is not convenient, or a loss in credibility due to a lack of action.
A red line is something else. In this context, it means a declaration that Iran must not carry out certain actions, and that if it does, the United States will consider a change in policy, including the use of military strength. What could those red lines be? Even if the United States is willing to concede and not require that Iran “go backwards” on what has already been done, it can determine what it cannot do in the future. The first such thing is declaring that enriching uranium beyond a level of 20 percent is unacceptable, regardless of any “civilian” explanation that the Iranians provide.
Another red line is the statement that if and when the United States identifies a renewal of “arming actions” (acts designed to turn nuclear material into a bomb, which took place in the past and was stopped in 2003) — this would be a “smoking gun.” The same should be true should it emerge that, in addition to the two known uranium enrichment facilities, Iran is secretly building a third facility. Another red line would be any Iranian move to expel UN inspectors or limit their activities.
In other words, Israel can expect from the United States to define a string of future Iranian violations that, if and when they occur, would constitute a reason to shift U.S. policy in the direction of a military strike. If such an American declaration were to take place, Iran would be likely to suspend such activities. Before some time, the Iranian president declared that his country would close the Strait of Hormuz. The United States made it clear that such an act would constitute a red line, and Iran quickly retreated. Iran can, therefore, be dissuaded, and not just partially, on the condition that the American threat of military force is perceived as credible.
Justification for such an Israeli demand is related to its alternative — a solution to the problem through diplomacy. If negotiations were taking place between Iran and world powers, it would be possible to claim that there is no need to make threats, since there is a chance of reaching an agreement through diplomacy. As is known, there are no real negotiations – not right now and not on the horizon — with Iran. Under such circumstances, if the United States doesn’t want Israel to act, and it doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, the minimum it can do is publicly declare the Iranian violations that would constitute a possible trigger for a military strike. I assume that under such a scenario, the Iranians would be the first to blink.
It is a shame that the practical discussion between Israel and the United States on the matter has turned into an exchange of public accusations, accompanied by personal blame. The mutual interests of both countries, to pressure Iran, are damaged under such circumstances. If a meeting is held between Obama and Netanyahu, the most important thing to be done is to bring the Israeli-American discussion, including legitimate disagreements, back to their proper course.
|Back to news list|