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Despite setback, can’t let chance for Iranian nuclear deal slip away



Carmi Gillformer Israeli security official talks with Sun-Times editorial board. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Carmi Gillon, former Israeli security official, talks with the Sun-Times editorial board. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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Updated: December 11, 2013 6:44AM

Iran has been scheming for years to develop a nuclear program, an alarming prospect for the Middle East and the world, and so a coalition of Western nations led by the United States has imposed tough economic sanctions.

The sanctions have worked. They have brought Iran to the negotiating table. In Geneva this weekend, an interim deal came close to being cut, though ultimately it was not, to begin to freeze Iran’s nuclear program in return for some sanctions relief.

Regardless of Saturday’s disappointing outcome, we believe it would be a mistake of historic proportions for the West and Israel to let this opportunity slip away. It is in the best interest of all sides that the talks are resumed quickly, perhaps as early as in a week or 10 days. Purely tactical solutions to the threat of Iran — a bombing run here, a computer hacking there, the ratcheting up of sanctions — are no substitute for a clear-headed, pragmatic, strategic solution.

“We live from one day to another and that’s a problem,” Carmi Gillon, a former Israeli security chief, told the Sun-Times Editorial Board on Friday, explaining why he was prepared to support the Geneva accord. While Israeli leaders should “be very careful, be suspicious,” he said, it’s time for them to “move on” from sanctions, drop all-or-nothing demands to which they know Iran will never agree, and “behave like leaders.”

Already, before any deal has been sealed, hardl-iners in the U.S. and Israel — beginning with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — are all but condemning it. They warn of a naive and weak-willed give-away to Iran.

On the contrary, we see the United States and its allies negotiating from a position of strength, with Iran finally coming around because of the crippling sanctions and the threat of a military attack. And we continue to be optimistic that a deal can be reached that is good for the security of Israel, even if it is not to Netanyahu’s liking.

Moreover, if ultimately no accord is reached because of an Israeli insistence on conditions the Iranian negotiators could never sell back home — such as Iran completely abandoning its uranium-enrichment ability — we fear Israel would be blamed for the impasse. Our European partners in imposing sanctions might well drop out.

“We are getting ‘yes’ for an answer” from the Iranians, said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a pro-Israel political action committee, defending the Geneva talks and the concessions being offered. “What do we give them?”

During his visit to Chicago on Friday, Gillon stressed the importance of pragmatic compromise. His beloved Israel, he said, must resort less to short-term tactics such as military strikes and more boldly pursue strategic solutions. It’s a message that he and five other former heads of the Israeli anti-terrorist agency Shin Bet drive home forcefully when talking about the Palestinian conflict in a remarkable 2012 documentary “The Gatekeepers.”

“We win every battle, but we lose the war,” says Ami Ayalon, one of the Shin Bet chiefs, summing up their common view.

“It’s about time for people to speak out for what they feel,” Gillon said Friday. “You can fight for 100 years and for what?”

Prospects for an agreement with Iran failed this weekend, but good-faith talks must continue.

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