Since the interim framework deal between the US led 5+1 and Iran was announced in April, Israel has come out strongly against what it views as a “bad deal,” one that grants international legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear program. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked time and again, Israel is not against a diplomatic solution. In his speech in March to Congress, Netanyahu noted that “the alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal” and that “no country has a greater stake than Israel in a good deal that peacefully removes this threat.” Rather, Israel sees in the emerging deal a capitulation to Iranian bargaining tactics when the US position was at its strongest, and a grave misunderstanding of the Iranian regime’s intentions.
Despite his best efforts, Netanyahu was not successful in convincing the US to regroup and return with a more aggressive agenda aimed at dismantling Iran’s very capability to produce a nuclear weapon. Although the June 30 deadline has passed, an agreement is expected within the course of the next month. The details of the impending deal are mostly familiar by now.
As retired Israeli general Mike Herzog noted in the Financial Times, “The choice [now] is not between a good deal and a bad deal. A good deal – permanently rolling back Iran’s nuclear capacity… is no longer possible.” Herzog and others go on to say that what is left is the choice between an “acceptable” deal and an outright “bad deal.”
To be fair, the American negotiators were more determined and sober than most critics expected.
Despite its flaws, the emerging deal does have some positive elements, which include a far-reaching verification and inspection regime, removal of most of Iran’s enriched uranium with a limit on future enrichment (at least for the next decade), a freeze on roughly half of Iran’s 10,000 working centrifuges (20,000 total) and the neutralization of Iran’s nascent plutonium track in Arak. Moreover, US President Barack Obama made clear he will “snap back” sanctions if Iran is found to be violating its end.
At this point, it is far too late in the game for Israel to influence the outcome of the agreement. To be sure, insiders involved in Israel’s efforts against Iran’s nuclear program over the past decade believe the US folded too soon to Iran’s bluff. However, given the lack of resolve in Washington, Israel would be wise to make the most of the current situation and take the bird in the hand rather than look for that elusive second bird in the bush. This means working closely with the US to help maintain a broad and galvanized coalition to enforce the agreement over the next 10-15 years. Easier said than done.
So what will this include?
Obama talked a tough game regarding the inspection regime, but as those of us who’ve done this professionally know, it’s really hard, and the Iranians will inevitably cheat. The US, UK, France, Canada, Germany, Israel and others, who worked to build the pressure on Iran, must stay the course as far as inspections and continue to produce detailed intelligence to expose Iranian foul play.
Stand strong with sanctions
The carefully crafted linchpin of the Obama-led soft war to pressure Iran to the table is the only leverage left (military action being off the table). The US must insist sanctions only be lifted pending real cooperation and progress by Iran in fulfilling its part of the deal.
“Snapping back” sanctions will be much harder than it sounds. The US should devise a process now, together with allies, to be able to put sanctions back in place on three levels should Iran be caught cheating: the unilateral US level, which were the most biting; the multi-lateral level led by America’s key allies around the world, also highly effective; and the UNSC level, which gave legitimacy for the other two levels.
This will be difficult to achieve with China and Russia involved.
The US must rebuild a credible military deterrence, eroded by President Obama’s own policies and rhetoric. If the US isn’t willing to consider a strike, Israel should convince the US to float its own military option, a “good-cop/ bad-cop” routine used with great utility by previous US administrations.
Re-build US-Israel relations
Relations between the two countries were severely damaged on a strategic level by both sides. Israel serves as a natural balance against Iranian aggression in the region and Israel was crucial over the years to helping the US prevent Iran from producing a bomb. If the two countries have any daylight between them, Israel loses influence over US policy and the US loses a crucial ally that supplies significant intelligence, interception capability and creative ideas adopted by the US over the years to counter Iran. If Israel works on these levels with the US, the current Iran deal, which may never be two birds, can at least be a bird in the hand and not just a few tail feathers.
Originally posted in The Jerusalem Post