Most serious agreements take weeks or months to negotiate - particularly when shipments of uranium are involved, and nuclear facilities in Iran must be placed under inspection again to make sure that they are not cheating. And if this turns out to be a serious agreement, there will have to be much more "substance" than what we have seen so far.
If we actually do have evidence showing that Teheran is meeting the requirements for complete verification of all of its nuclear-related facilities, then this is important for Israel. It will make it much harder for Iran to complete nuclear weapons development and would set its efforts back a number of years. But we should not be carried away by what is essentially a newspaper announcement.
Mohamed ElBaradei finishes his third term as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency on November 30. His legacy is the complete failure to prevent Iran from violating all of its commitments and proceeding with the development of nuclear weapons.
ElBaradei was responsible for delaying publication of the evidence regarding Iran's nuclear program as he tried to prevent the inevitable confrontation. Now, he wants to end his term in office with at least the appearance of a success. ElBaradei's place in the history books is, in my opinion, the main impetus for the headlines and the announcement of an agreement. Therefore, I would be very skeptical of the claims that he is making.
But if the deal is real and goes through, it could significantly delay the Iranian bomb, and buy time for internal political changes and other developments. However, this movement in uranium around the world is not a simple process. It needs to be verified, because if 5 to 10 percent goes missing on each shipment, that would be enough to build some weapons.
There are also questions of what happens to the uranium and how it will be safeguarded when it gets shipped back to Iran. If these safeguards are minimal, we might only be able to delay Iran from achieving a weapons capability by a year and a half. This is important in terms of slowing the process, but under this type of framework, the Iranians would still have the facilities and materials should they at some point choose to violate the agreement, which would always be a temptation.
If the agreement is seen as serious, if the United States signs on, and if in fact the other significant players agree that this a historic moment in which Iran has accepted its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is not proceeding with the development of nuclear weapons, this would make it more difficult to justify an Israeli attack on Iran. To justify a military strike and avoid major tensions with the US and Europe, Israel would have to demonstrate that there was no other choice. If this framework turns into a serious agreement that is endorsed by the Obama administration, the British and French governments and other major players, this will be more difficult.
Gerald Steinberg is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the executive director of NGO Monitor.
He spoke with Jamie Romm and Jacob Kanter.â€¢
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