Published in Israel Hayom, November 24, 2013. Print-friendly copy
From Israel’s perspective, the accord is a strategic defeat for the West, since it legitimizes Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state. As a result, almost nothing American leaders can say will now allay Israeli, or Arab, fears. The residual, ritual American incantations of the diplomatic formula that “all options remain on the table” including a military strike — ring totally hollow.
US and Israeli perspectives on the accord signed in Geneva last night could not be more different. The sharp divergence between Washington and Jerusalem on this “temporary” (six-months-long) accord sets the two governments up for an even bigger clash over the next round of negotiations on a longer-lasting accord.
From the American perspective, the P5+1 agreement with Iran is a “victory” for the West since it “temporarily freezes” Tehran’s nuclear program. The Iranians have agreed convert or dilute their fuel stocks that are closest to weapons grade. This “enlarges the breakout time” that Iran would need to develop fissile material for a nuclear device. Secretary of State John Kerry says that it “puts time on the clock.”
Furthermore, says Kerry, the accord does not recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium, even though the accord allows the Iranians to continue to enrich uranium at low levels and does not require them to dismantle any centrifuges or other components of their bomb-making apparatus. Finally, the Americans declare, this accord lays the foundation for a more sweeping deal with Iran, which is Washington’s strategic goal.
From Israel’s perspective, the accord is a strategic defeat for the West, since it legitimizes Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state. The Iranian’s themselves are trumpeting the fact that, in practice, the West has accepted their “right” to enrich uranium, and officials in Washington have commented on record to the effect that it is not “realistic” to expect, even in a further accord, that Iran will agree to zero enrichment. Israel’s position is that Iran should not be allowed to enrich even one more gram of uranium, and that its enrichment capabilities must be dismantled – as numerous UNSC resolutions have demanded.
Israel further comments critically that this accord will, in practice, bring about a complete collapse of the sanctions regime against Iran, stripping the West of any ability to effectively pressure Iran when it comes to negotiating a further accord. As such, this accord increases, not decreases, the likelihood and necessity of military action.
In terms of the accord’s details, Israel points to significant lacunae. The Iranians, says Jerusalem, are giving up nothing, while getting sanctions relief. The Iranian commitment not to enrich uranium to 20 percent for the next six months is no Iranian concession since the Iranians have already been careful not to cross Netanyahu’s red line of 220 kilos of such uranium. The Iranian commitment not to operate the heavy water reactor in Arak for the next six months is similarly “a joke,” Israel says, since Iran anyway can’t do so. The reactor is still under construction, and will be so for at least another 12 months.
Israel is similarly dismissive of the agreement on supposedly more “intrusive” UN nuclear inspections in Iran. The UN has missed every major Iranian nuclear advancement over the past twenty years, and been very slow to recognize and call-out the Iranians when it did find evidence of Iranian misdoing.
To Israel, it is clear that Iran is following the North Korean model. Over the past 24 years, Pyongyang has shown Tehran how to cheat its way to a nuclear bomb, signing accord after accord with the West, each hailed as “historic and transformative” by Washington, only to violate the accords within months and move forward with its nuclear bomb program without any real repercussions. It is not lost on Israel that the administration official who negotiated several of these sham accords with North Korea is none other than Wendy Sherman, today’s US under secretary of state for political affairs, in charge of the talks with Iran.
Behind the scenes, there lurks an even deeper disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem.
The Obama administration sees the election of Iranian President Rouhani as a historic turning point; a transformative, not-to-be-missed opportunity to strike a grand civilizational deal between American and Iran after more than 30 years of intense hostility. The administration seeks not only (or perhaps, not mainly) to block Iran’s incipient weaponization, but rather to mend fences and strike a strategic partnership with Iran.
The columnist Tom Friedman of The New York Times, widely viewed as a spokesman for Obama’s views, made this strategy plain last week. America has “more important” and comprehensive goals in mind, he wrote, that “just” halting the Iranian nuclear program; and a complete halt is neither a realistic goal nor the main goal. A grand American deal with Iran is “worth” some acceptance of Iran’s nuclear status.
Israel, on the other hand, views the election of Rouhani and the current negotiations as nothing more than yet another round of “Iranian deception.” It views the American outreach to Iran as willful “self-delusion.” Israel senses that Obama is planning to use his politically-invulnerable last three years in office to ram through transformative policies that will yank America’s place in the world and Israel’s place in the Middle East from their current foundations, and accord the theologically-motivated, revolutionary regime in Iran legitimacy and unprecedented sway in the Persian Gulf and beyond.
It is incredible to Israeli officials that none of the American-Iranian talks until now have focused on Iran’s “bad” behavior in the region, from supporting Hezbollah and Syria’s Assad, to its subversive activities in Egypt and Jordan, to its genocidal statements with regard to Israel. It seems to Israel that everything is being swept under the carpet in a dangerously-enthusiastic rush to craft a new deal with Iran; a deal that may last long enough for Obama to serve-out his presidential tenure without having to confront the Iranians.
In this context, Israel now clearly understands that the Obama administration has no intentions of striking the Iranian nuclear military complex, ever, under any circumstances. The residual, ritual American incantations of the diplomatic formula that “all options remain on the table” – to wit military action could still be contemplated if the Iranians don’t follow-though on their new commitments – ring totally hollow. Far too many administration spokesmen have explained over and over again in recent weeks that war with Iran is not an acceptable option.
This leads to a full-blown crisis of confidence in US-Israel relations. The credibility of Obama and Kerry on the Iranian file is shot through so badly in Israeli eyes that, alas, almost nothing either of these American leaders can say will allay Israeli fears (and one gets the sense, the fears of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries too).