TEL AVIV, Israel — On Mar. 20, President Barack Obama will arrive in Israel on his first official visit.
One of the major topics which will be discussed during his visit will be Iran.
The question which some Israelis could ask themselves is: Can we trust him on Iran? Can we take him at his word that when it comes to Iran he has a “no containment policy”?
Judging by the goals, strategy and success of his Iran policy so far, the answer is: Yes, we can.
When it comes to defending Israel against the threats posed by the Iranian regime, Obama has much to be proud of.
In terms of Israel’s long-term security, the best option for the state of Israel is a negotiated settlement for the current Iranian nuclear challenge. This would be far more beneficial to Israel’s security in the long term than a military strike.
Obama’s continuous efforts to reach out to the government of Iran on numerous occasions have been in line with efforts to find a negotiated settlement. So far, we have seen that instead of welcoming Obama’s offers of unconditional bilateral negotiations, the regime has stonewalled them by placing preconditions before talks can take place.
There is an important reason why the Iranian supreme leader is doing this.
The regime in Iran is far more scared of peace with the United States than war. An important reason is because the 1979 revolution has failed to deliver a majority of its promises. Today's Iran is poorer, more corrupt, more isolated and more oppressive, if not more so, than in the days of the shah. Animosity toward the United States is one of the last vestiges of legitimacy the regime has left. This is why the Iranian regime thrived in being defined as a member of “Axis of Evil” and threatened with regime change during the Bush era. Such threats are an important part of the justification for its existence. Without them, the regime could lose what has until now been a very useful tool to divert attention from its colossal mismanagement of the country.
By stonewalling Obama’s requests for bilateral talks, Khamenei is trying to create as much distance between his regime and the prospects of rapprochement with the United States. The reason being that he views such a prospect as a threat to his regime's legitimacy and identity.
Despite the setbacks which such policies from Tehran have caused for the prospects of diplomacy, Obama has managed to use the policies of the Iranian regime to create new challenges for it.
For example, Ayatollah Khamenei’s refusal to accept Obama's October 2009 offer to transfer 75% of Iran's Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) abroad for conversion to nuclear fuel placed Russia and China firmly on the West's side, against Iran. Furthermore, after it was exposed that Iran was building a nuclear site near Fordow in central Iran without having informed the IAEA first, an act which for IAEA Secretary-General El Baradei declared as being “on the wrong side of the law,” China and Russia's position against Iran became more entrenched. So much so that these days both countries negotiate as part of the same P5+1 group, against Iran, despite repeated Iranian efforts to lure them away with lucrative energy deals.
Had president Obama not tried to reach out to Iran first, persuading Russia and China to join the P5+1 and to stay as a solid coalition against Iran in the talks would have been very difficult, if not impossible. Furthermore, Obama’s outreach to Iran and Tehran’s refusal was used by Obama to persuade the EU to impose its own sanctions against the Iranian regime.
The Islamic Republic could ultimately survive without its nuclear program. Bombing of Iran's nuclear installations will only be a military setback, one which the regime could ultimately recover from. However, the regime won't be able to survive without its economy. It's Iran's economy which keeps the regime's security forces functioning and loyal. Today, the Revolutionary Guard guards the revolution more because of the favorable economic deals it receives than Islamic ideology. Without money, their support for Khamenei’s nuclear policies could dwindle significantly, while bankruptcy could ultimately threaten the regime’s existence.
During his upcoming visit to Israel, Obama will be asked about his opinion on two red lines, his red line on nuclear Iran versus that of Israel.
However there are two other red lines, more important ones which should be looked at, but are not, and they are the Iranian regime’s red lines.
The regime’s red line for compromise is its survival, which depends greatly on its economy, while its clearest red line for building a nuclear weapon is being attacked preemptively.
Obama has proved himself to be the master of pushing Iran towards its compromise red line through sanctions while pulling it away from its red line to make a nuclear bomb by offering negotiations and not excessively relying on the military option. It is such recognition of Iran that makes Obama a trusted and powerful ally against the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions.
Actions speak louder than words. Judging by the results of Obama’s actions to date, when it comes to Iran, we in Israel can trust Obama’s policies.
Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst. He teaches the Contemporary Iranian Politics course at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya.