Has Israel backed down?

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s recent comments indicating that Israel has delayed its attack-Iran timeline by 8-10 months is causing a stir among Iran watchers. From the Daily Telegraph:

Earlier this year, however, Iran delayed the arrival of that moment. Tehran has amassed 189kg of uranium enriched to 20 per cent purity, a vital step towards weapons-grade material. In August, the country’s experts took 38 per cent of this stockpile and converted it into fuel rods for a civilian research reactor, thus putting off the moment when they would be able to make uranium of sufficient purity for a nuclear bomb.

Mr Barak said this decision “allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by eight to 10 months”. As for why Iran had drawn back, the minister said: “There could be at least three explanations. One is the public discourse about a possible Israeli or American operation deterred them from trying to come closer. It could probably be a diplomatic gambit that they have launched in order to avoid this issue culminating before the American election, just to gain some time. It could be a way of telling the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] ‘oh we comply with our commitments’.”

Mr Barak added: “Maybe it’s a combination of all these three elements. I cannot tell you for sure.”

The Arms Control Association has been pointing out the importance of Iran’s use of the 20% enriched material for TRR fuel plates ever since the August IAEA report.

But US-Iran relations expert Trita Parsi argues that Israel hasn’t backed down. In fact, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has gotten everything he’s campaigned for so far:

The choreography around Israel’s threats to attack—unless the U.S. and the EU further sanctioned Iran, did not strike a deal, and committed to take military action at some point—was elaborate, relentless and quite convincing. A never-ending stream of dramatic verbiage created the impression that this time around is different from the many threats Israel issued in the past. Israel cries wolf over and over again, yet escapes being held to account thanks to the fear in the West that Israel might just be serious this time around.

But whether the bizarre, open debate in Israel recently about bombing Iran—with cabinet ministers airing their opinions and former intelligence officers publicly attacking Netanyahu for his “messianic” tendencies—has been deliberate or accidental, Netanyahu and his team have been bluffing, not threatening.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.