Seemingly, we just got some good news. The agreement announced Wednesday by the United States and North Korea, whereby Pyongyang will halt its uranium enrichment, nuclear tests and missiles in exchange for food and fuel, not only lifts the threat above South Korea and Japan - it may also serve as a model for imitation in the Iranian context.
The announcement can also be viewed as an impressive achievement for American diplomacy and for sanctions imposed by the United Nations, as North Korea agreed to let IAEA inspectors operate in its territory. However, past experience calls for a cautious, apprehensive attitude on the West's part.
North Korea has already announced several times in the past that it was suspending its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for food and fuel. Yet in each case, after receiving the food and fuel shipments that saved its population from mass starvation and after UN sanctions were lifted, Pyongyang went back to its old ways. It continued to develop nuke devices and even held two underground experiments (that were apparently only partly successful.)
Nonetheless, in the short term at least, the agreement with North Korea constitutes a diplomatic achievement that the US and Western community can try to leverage in the Iranian context.
There is almost no doubt that Iran's provocative policy in the nuclear context is influenced by the North Korean model. Theoretically at least, this principle may now work the other way; that is, Iran may follow North Korea and agree to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of the paralyzing sanctions imposed by the US, European states and Australia – at least while negotiations take place between Tehran and EU states.
Israel wants tougher sanctions
Should this happen, IAEA experts will monitor the suspension, as is the case with North Korea. Such move does not guarantee an end to Iran's nuclear program, yet it could delay the process of accumulating enriched uranium in Iran – and after all, this is precisely what a military strike on Tehran's nuclear sites is supposed to achieve.
Hence, there is almost no doubt that senior US Administration officials will use the North Korean argument when they plead with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to show restraint and not rush to decide on a pre-emptive strike in Iran.
US officials will also argue that Iran is much more sensitive to global public opinion than the closed-off and isolated North Korea. Hence, Tehran is also more vulnerable to the economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on it.
However, it is quite likely that Barak and Netanyahu will tell their American interlocutors that the oil-rich Iran is capable of sustaining the bite of the sanctions until it completes its preparations to cross the nuclear threshold, and possibly even go ahead with it. If North Korea, whose citizens are starving to death, has done so, why should Iran be deterred?
This is why Israeli officials believe that time is running out quickly, and if the US and Europe wish to prevent an Israeli strike on Iran's nuke sites, they should tighten and aggravate the sanctions here and now - without hesitation, and without letting the Iranians buy more time.