Iran Nuclear Talks: Why Israel Should Play Softball With Iran

As a new round of nuclear talks with Iran begins, one important player has been left out of the bargaining table. Israel has not been invited to take part in the talks between Iran and the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany.

There is a bright spot for Israel, however: its close ties with the U.S. means its interests will not be forgotten during the negotiations.

Israel's main goal is in preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, although as a longer term goal, it seems Israel also wants to prevent Iran from building nuclear power plants for peaceful purposes. This is evidenced by the fact that Israel, and in particular Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is clearly disturbed by the simple enrichment of uranium, a process necessary both for the building of a nuclear weapon and for the creation of a nuclear power plant.

The main tool used to prevent Iran from building nuclear devices has thus far been sanctions, although it is unclear whether the sanctions will ever work. A recent New York Times article reports that "Iran’s leaders believe that the effects of Western sanctions have been manageable," and have no plans of stopping their nuclear power program.

The other parties at the negotiating table are prepared to offer Iran sanctions relief if Iran halts its nuclear-enrichment program, but the Iranian leadership appears to have no intention of doing so.

The fact that sanctions have been in place for so long is a black mark for the government of Iran, but also for the powers imposing the sanctions. Although sanctions seem to have little effect on Iranian elites, they are clearly devastating to the Iranian people, and it is very unlikely they will improve Western powers' standing in the region. The indifference of the Iranian government to the sanctions shows that Iran is more interested in pursuing geopolitical goals than in providing for its people. Israel, for its part, has said the sanctions are "Not painful enough."

Israel's concern over a nuclear-powered Iran stems from Israel's close proximity to Iran. A nuclear-armed Iran could easily launch a strike on Israel. Doing so, however, would certainly be disastrous for Iran as it would doubtless provoke an overwhelming military response from Israel's allies.

Israel must also balance its interest in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran with its other interests in the region. For instance, a recent strike on Syria resulted in threats of military action from the Iranian government.

Unless Israel is actually hoping for war with Iran, a scenario that would take a heavy toll on both nations, its interests will not be served by antagonizing Iran just as a new round of talks are beginning. It should instead try to offer Iran positive incentives for demonstrating it is not developing a nuclear weapon, such as initiating new trade agreements or even aid packages, contingent on Iran allowing nuclear inspections. It should also make clear that it is not against Iran developing a nuclear power plant but is instead solely interested in preventing Iran from gaining access to a nuclear weapon.

Israel has thus far only offered the stick in negotiations with Iran. It's time to try the carrot.