Who would want to be Benjamin Netanyahu? As the prime minister of Israel he has a dreadful calculus to make: Is Barack Obama sufficiently serious about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons?
The latest development would seem to be reassuring. According to the Financial Times:
The Obama administration said that seven more economies would be exempt from its Iran-related sanctions that come into force at the end of the month, but left open the prospect that China could still face sanctions.
The state department announced Monday that Turkey, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, South Africa and Sri Lanka had all reduced purchases of Iranian oil by a large enough amount to be given a six-month exemption from the sanctions, which come into operation on June 28.
In an earlier announcement, Japan and 10 European countries had already been awarded an exemption.
A balancing act is evidently in progress here, with the U.S. encouraging various powers (India and South Korea are Iran’s second- and fourth-largest oil buyers, according to Reuters) to reduce their oil purchases from the mullahs a significant amount, but not too much. Too much could have a negative impact on the precarious global economy and possibly even Obama’s reelection chances.
But the chosen six-month exemption time frame gives these discussions a window wide enough to get past our elections, a fact undoubtedly not lost on Netanyahu and the Iranians.
Equally undoubtedly, both parties made note of President Obama’s overheard remarks to Russian Prime Minister Medvedev, urging him to be patient and implying that after the election things would be different. He, Obama, would have more freedom of action.
So delay, delay, delay. This is good news for the Iranians. Patience is the name of the game for them. They love to wait things out. Indeed, they are masters of it, talking, not talking, walking and talking, talking and not walking, walking and not talking, all the while taking the opportunity to advance their nuclear ambitions.
Those in the administration who are more serious about the Iranian threat probably tell themselves that this time the sanctions (although limited in the manner described above) will really hurt the Iranian regime, that the scalawags genuinely fear the financial repercussions. This time they will work.
It’s hard to believe that sitting here in Los Angeles, even less likely sitting in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The mullahs’ heady brew of religion and power madness almost certainly makes them immune to these forms of economic pressure, the more so since they mainly affect the already-battered Iranian public.
If the mullahs cared about their people, things would have been different a long time ago. And, unfortunately, that Iranian public seems less to be relied upon, the Green Revolution fading into a sad and, increasingly distant, memory. (I may be wrong about this, but watching the horrifying results of the demonstrations in Egypt and Syria cannot be encouraging to the remaining Greens and their sympathizers.)
So where does this leave Mr. Netanyahu? Not in place to be envied, despite his electoral popularity.
He is staring at an American election that must give him fits. Were Barack Obama – the man who said those “flattering” things about him to ex-French President Sarkozy – to be reelected in November, the Israeli PM’s hands might be tied in a myriad of ways with a myriad of threats.
His window to act is now. One can only wish him luck. (And maybe some high-tech wizardry we have never seen before.)