Iran talks in Geneva November 20 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
The interim nuclear deal that the P5+1 have reached with Iran in Geneva is a
temporary one with an official shelf life of six months, at the end of which the
objective is to reach a long-term comprehensive deal. The key questions for
Israel are: Where will the interim deal lead, and what should Israel’s strategy
be over the next six months? Right now, even before negotiations have commenced,
the Netanyahu government opposes one of the key parameters of a comprehensive
deal set in Geneva, namely that Iran will be allowed to enrich
Netanyahu argues out correctly that previous UN Security Council
resolutions mandated Iran to cease enrichment and that by permitting this, the
interim agreement contains a dangerous element of capitulation, which could lead
the Iranians to believe that the West lacks the resolve to prevent Iran from
Indeed, had the US been willing to threaten air strikes
earlier on, this dangerous situation whereby Iran is close to a nuclear breakout
could have been avoided.
However, this does not mean that a comprehensive
deal allowing Iran to enrich a limited amount of uranium for civilian purposes
is necessarily bad. The key issue is not enrichment per se, but rather whether a
deal leads to the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program.
comprehensive agreement is grounded on the principle of clearly verifiable
dismantlement in exchange for the fig leaf of civilian enrichment, this would
represent a good outcome. Equally, if Iran does not agree to dismantlement, then
from Israel’s perspective, the clearer that rejection, the better. For a clear
rejection will legitimize ratcheting up sanctions. Moreover, if Iran were to
unfreeze its program after six months, this could also provide legitimacy for a
The problem is that the Iranians are no doubt aware of
this logic, and consequently they will seek to avoid such an outcome. One can
therefore posit that the Iranians will push more interim
Through “salami tactics,” they will attempt to undermine the
sanctions regime slice by slice, while making concessions that can be easily
reversed once the sanctions regime has eroded to a point where it cannot easily
Given the clear reluctance to use force so far, it seems
likely that the West would prefer an interim agreement that set back Iran’s
nuclear program somewhat, rather than face down the Iranians over dismantlement,
something it has not been willing to do up to now.
What can Israel do to
prevent such a scenario? First, it must continue to play the role of “bad cop”
publicly. Strong Israeli criticism of the interim accord seems to have improved
the terms of that deal. A resolute Israel strengthens the hand of the West in
negotiations, because it makes both sides in the talks have to factor in the
possibility of an Israeli military strike in the event that a deal concedes more
than Israel thinks it can gain by striking.
Second, while Israel should
continue to insist on full dismantlement, its campaign should not focus on the
goal of zero uranium enrichment.
Instead, it should seek to lay out the
elements of the nuclear program that must be dismantled for an agreement to have
real meaning – including, but not only, the Fordow facility and the partly built
Arak plutonium plant.
Because these two are relatively difficult to
destroy militarily, dismantling them would not only set the nuclear program
back, but also increase the credibility of a possible military strike in the
event of Iranian backsliding. The credibility of such strikes is critical to the
chances of reaching a desirable diplomatic endgame.
Third, Israel should
not only support the congressional initiative to impose new sanctions if no deal
is reached in six months, but also lobby for imposing those sanctions if the
parties reach another interim deal in which critical elements of the nuclear
program are not dismantled.
Finally, Israel must redouble its
intelligence efforts to expose any Iranian cheating or reveal any previously
hidden elements of their program. A blatant example of Iranian bad faith could
yet shift US policy regarding a military strike. American public opinion clearly
favors a deal with Iran, but equally clearly it supports the use of force to
stop Iran going nuclear if diplomacy fails.
Critics of the Obama
administration are right point to its failure to confront Iran with the credible
threat of force (the same can be said of the Bush administration).
despite the heavy damage to US credibility dealt by its failure to respond
promptly to Syrian use of chemical weapons, eventually American planes were
readied to strike, and it was that which finally forced the Assad regime to give
up its weapons.
Theodore Roosevelt’s recipe for successful diplomacy was
to “speak softly, and carry a big stick.”
The West is already speaking
softly to Iran, but for diplomacy to achieve the dismantling of the Iranian
nuclear program, the threat of the “big stick” in the background must be