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Israel wise to heed American pressure

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TEL-AVIV -- On the eve of the resumption of talks between the West and Iran over Iran's nuclear capabilities, the U.S. has resumed pressure on Israel to give diplomacy a chance.

On the weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama dispatched National Security Advisor Tom Donilon for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his more-combative defence minister, Ehud Barak.

Barak believes Iran is close to achieving a "zone of immunity" in which Israel will be unable to inflict a crippling blow on its nuclear program.

Netanyahu is reported to be more hesitant.

He believes Iran is still far from achieving a "zone of immunity" and he therefore decided to delay any decision about a possible unilateral attack on Iran until after his meeting with Obama in Washington early next month.

This new development is a result of a sudden Iranian request to resume negotiations with the West.

Iran is aware, of course, of the regional developments that compel such a change.

Contrary to Iran's early expectation, the Bashar Assad regime in Syria is failing and Iran could lose its only ally in the Arab world. Such a development could have a far-reaching effect on Iran.

Economic sanctions, meanwhile, are beginning to hurt Iran and are likely to hurt even more. Thus, Iran finds itself regionally isolated and in economic pain.

In such a bind, it would be stupid not to give negotiations a chance.

Donilon's visit to Israel took place while Netanyahu's inner cabinet remains divided on the issue of a military strike against Iran. Deputy prime minister and former chief of general staff, Moshe Ya'alon, and the minister of intelligence affairs, Dan Meridor, are reported to be opposed to Barak's combative position.

They are reported to argue that while Israel should continue preparing for eventual war with Iran, Israel should also explore other options. Meridor and Ya'alon did not state their position publicly, but no one in Israel doubts where they stand.

America's position, backed by Germany, France and Great Britain, is paralleled by an apparent P.R. effort to underline the military difficulties Israel would face should it decide to go alone.

Netanyahu's hesitation is also fuelled by the weakness Iran has shown in its recent anti-Israel terrorist effort in three countries.

Planning was poor, teams were ill-prepared and the capture of two Iranian terrorists in Bangkok had openly exposed Iran as a "terrorism exporter."

The new Iranian terrorist effort came in response to the campaign that eliminated five Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran.

The campaign began in January 2010, when three Iranian scientists were killed. In July 2011, a fourth scientist was killed and the fifth more recently.

Although all attacks were carried out inside Tehran, none of the killers was caught.

Iran could not have remained silent. In co-operation with Lebanon's Hezbollah, the commander of "El Quds" force, which is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Qassem Suleimani decided to strike back at Israeli targets in Asia and the former Soviet Union.

The instructions were to kill a "substantial target" -- an ambassador or a senior officer. The effort has failed, so far.

In three separate attacks, planning was poor and, worse, the planners were caught with enough evidence to prove their Iranian identity.

This is not surprising. In the last four years, "El-Quds" has tried to mount about 30 operations against Israeli, American and other western targets and all have failed.

The 11-month insurrection in Syria, meanwhile, has aggravated the situation of the Revolutionary Guards.

Last February, immediately after the outbreak of the unrest in Syria, the commander of the Iranian "El-Quds" went to Damascus and promised President Assad all the assistance he might need to quell the insurrection. This assistance proved to be totally lacking.

Because of all these developments, Obama appears prepared to give diplomacy in Iran another chance. It would be unwise for Israel to ignore this American request.

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free

Press Middle East correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 21, 2012 A14

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About Samuel Segev

Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in the Middle East. He is based in Tel Aviv.

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