The focus of the nuclear program negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers has been on whether Iran would clandestinely breach a deal, should it be made, by obtaining nuclear weapons.
A wide-ranging session on Tuesday at the Herzliya Conference on a simulated scenario where Iran and the P5+1 sign a deal in September 2014, delved into what would or would not constrain aggressive Iranian actions in the region post deal.
In other words, without taking a stance on if the deal is good or bad, the session discussed the implications of any deal. Would it free up Iran to act more aggressively? And would a deal allow Iran to use the status of a threshold nuclear- weapons state as a shield from resistance? Also, if Iran did act more aggressively, would the US or Israel be afraid to confront it for fear of the impact on the deal? And how would the deal impact other major powers’ perspectives – such as Russia and China – on Iranian assertiveness? Gary Samore, a former top White House official on nuclear- weapons issues, said that even if the Obama administration signed a deal, there would be significant push-back from the US Congress.
This push-back, which would need to be overcome for the deal to be final, could in turn be used by the Obama administration to sway Iran on other regional issues that might otherwise have been too delicate to approach.
Also, Samore said that he expects that any deal would include tough provisions regarding enforcement against Iranian “cheating” on its obligations, and that these provisions could be a launching point for discussions with allies on readiness to use economic sanctions and military force.
If the US managed to properly predict Iranian reactions and consequences to its interference, it could better maneuver around Iranian aggression in the region outside of the nuclear issue.
Former US deputy secretary of state James Steinberg said any US response would require a better understanding of Iran’s broader intentions.
For example, if Iran planned to become a regional hegemon even small interferences in the Syrian or Iraqi civil wars would need to be confronted by the US with a broad coalition of partners, including Israel, the EU and the UN.
Former Israeli ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval said that the “facts that Iran establishes on the ground in Israel’s neighborhood,” are no less worrying than Iran cheating on the simulated deal.
Shoval said that if it was clear that Iran was trying to alter the balance in the region, for example by giving weapons to Syria that were of concern to Israel, then Israel would lean on the US to step in.
Ronen Bergman, a reporter for Yediot Aharonot and one of the leading authors on Iran, said that though generally speaking a deal might make Israeli strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites or against other Iranian activities less likely, transfers of Iranian weapons could be an exception.
Bergman said that he was convinced that since Israel has (according to foreign reports) aggressively and successfully attacked weapons transfers to Syria, and through it, to Hezbollah, in recent years, that if the US did not step in, it would be ready to militarily push back against Iranian actions perceived as endangering its borders.
To prove his point, he cited Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s “aggressive approach to any security threat” in a speech just before the simulation, and Israel’s strike against a Syrian nuclear site in 2007 when the US refused to act.
Sergey Karaganov – an academic, intermittent top foreign policy adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin who is given credit for articulating Russia’s doctrine of intervening on behalf of ethnic Russians abroad – said that Russia would not be overly worried by a nuclear Iran or an assertive Iran.
He implied that while Russia preferred not to have a nuclear Iran and had more sympathy for Israel’s security concerns than it had historically, Iranian aggressiveness would not be directed at Russia.
Karaganov said that “much will depend on relations with the US.”
The Russian foreign policy expert, who does not beat around the bush about Russian stances – such as opposition to Ukraine’s joining NATO and Russia’s right to intervene in Ukraine – said that if US relations were still poor, “then everything that is bad for the US is good for Russia.”
Highlighting the difficulties the West might have with constraining Iran, Prof. Wang Suolo, of Peking University, bluntly ignored most of the non-nuclear security issues and said that China would welcome a deal and that its focus was to reestablish trade with Iran.