Once again, Iran playing its Western counterparts like a fiddle in nuclear negotiations | Opinion

Years before he became the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman wrote a piece about the Obama administration’s negotiations leading to the Iran nuclear deal of 2015. He called them the “Persian bazaar,” where “everything is up for grabs … and there is not even a pretext of honesty, integrity or good faith. . . .

“The Mullahs repeatedly spoke out of both sides of their mouths, professing, simultaneously, a desire for world peace and for death to America and Israel, making supposed concessions and then taking them back, refusing to consider new issues and then adding new conditions of their own.

“What would you expect? They are Persians playing a game they invented. And the United States was badly outplayed.”

Friedman was right then, and his colorful description can easily apply to current negotiations in Vienna, where Western buyers are desperately trying to strike a deal with the Iranian merchants, who, they know perfectly well, are cheating them with a straight face. Indeed, in May 2018, President Trump declared that the United States would pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which he called “decaying and rotten,” and would unleash more severe sanctions on Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu, then prime minister of Israel, praised Trump’s decision, calling it “an historic move.”

It was indeed, because Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani responded by saying that Iran would restart its uranium enrichment, key for making a nuclear bomb — and that is exactly what Iran has been doing since. So from a bad deal, which at least had some means of curbing Iran’s nuclear program for 15 years — an eternity in our region — we were thrown into a worse situation, where the Iranians were free to push their race for the bomb.

And while there was a lot of talk about the collapse of the Iranian economy, Trump’s harsh sanctions failed to do the job, because the Revolutionary Guards couldn’t care less about the plight of the Iranian people. Recently, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called Trump-Netanyahu’s pulling out of the deal “an historic mistake.”

What remains if the Vienna talks fail the other mantra, “All options are on the table” — meaning a military action aimed at knocking out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure? This is a very ambitious goal, and not only because the Iranians were smart enough to bury their most sensitive nuclear facilities deep under the mountains, but because of the possible post-attack scenario: If the Iranians are destabilizing the Middle East already, just think about the mayhem they might be going to launch with their sinister regional allies, once fully attacked.

In fact, this is what is really happening in Vienna right now: Amid the brouhaha of the “Persian bazaar,” Tehran is testing Washington’s resilience. China and Russia are Iran’s friends anyway, and the European Union has always been attentive to the European corporations, which are eager to resume trade with Iran. The Iranians now are unabashedly demanding that sanctions be lifted as a prerequisite to returning to any deal. In the meantime, they are enriching uranium to their hearts’ content. In doing so, they are practically calling the bluff of “all options” mantra voiced by more than one American president.

Unfortunately, Israeli leaders, who tend to forget that our small nation is not necessarily the center of the world, insisted on pushing Israel into the forefront of this mega conflict. Netanyahu went as far as rubbing it in the face of President Obama, when he addressed the U.S. Congress, imploring it to retract the Iran deal. Ten years ago he made some noises insinuating that Israel might attack Iran alone, but did nothing of the sort. Recently, the incoming commander of the Israeli Air Force, Gen. Tomer Bar, promised that Israel has the capability to successfully strike Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, And the Mossad chief David Barnea made a strange public pledge: “Iran will not have nuclear weapons — not in the coming years, not ever.

“This is my personal commitment: This is the Mossad’s commitment.”

Surely he is not familiar with President Teddy Roosevelt’s suggestion to, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Barnea later went to the United States to discuss options with his American colleagues. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan arrived in Israel to be on the same page with Israeli leaders if the Vienna talks fail.

This is the way things should be handled — behind closed doors, with quiet and solid cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem, and cool assessment of what can, and what can’t, be done.

Uri Dromi was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments from 1992-1996.