Officially, Israel continues to criticize the talks and the pending nuclear agreement between the world powers and Iran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, each in his own way, keep bashing the negotiations. On Wednesday, during a meeting with journalists, Ya’alon reiterated Israel’s position, calling the agreement a “bad deal,” detailing its weaknesses one by one.
It will take three more months to flesh out the full details of a final and comprehensive agreement in which Iran’s nuclear program will be further reduced and rolled back to what many say is only one year from assembling a bomb. In return the West and the UN’s sanctions will be gradually lifted over 10 years.
The details have been significantly repeated – the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to keep, their models and quality, the quantity of low-enriched uranium to be shipped outside Iran, the reconfiguration and redesign of the Arak nuclear reactor, which would be capable of producing plutonium, the future of the underground heavily fortified nuclear enrichment site in Fordow and the longevity of the inspection and how intrusive it will be.
Most Israeli experts, and certainly its leaders, have argued without hesitation that the current deal is dangerous to the country’s interests.
But is it really? The blatant reality is that even before the deal Iran was already a nuclear threshold state. And if it really wants to, it can run off and produce nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, Israel is the strongest nation in the region. According to foreign reports, the only democracy in the Middle East boasts both a significant nuclear arsenal and submarines that are capable of executing second-strikes, the capability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation.
Four Arab states – Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen – are disintegrating. As a result, Israel’s strategic posture has improved, as many of the serious military threats facing Israel have dissipated.
Israel would have preferred that there be no negotiations on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that sanctions would be in place forever. But that won’t happen.
Without admitting it, Israel is preparing itself for the “day after,” adjusting its position to the reality at the end of the negotiations.
The world will never hear an official admission but deep in their heart Israeli leaders understand they failed to orchestrate an international campaign against the talks and certainly any deal.
It was an unnecessary campaign. Israel paid a heavy price in its confrontation with the US administration, and it caused great animosity between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. Frankly, Israel had very little influence, if at all, on the talks.
The only tangible result was that Netanyahu won the election after convincing the public that only he knows how to deal with the threat of Iran becoming a nuclear state.
But now, with election season over and the deal with Iran being shaped, Israel has started clandestine diplomatic and intelligence initiatives to understandings and define redlines on how to deal with the upcoming reality.
Israeli bodies – the Defense Ministry, the air force, Military Intelligence and the Mossad – are already involved in discreet contacts with their American counterparts, as well as with EU countries, on how to prepare for various scenarios in the event Iran violates the deal.
Even more interesting however, are Israel’s encounters with countries in the region that share the same concerns about Iran’s asperations and intentions.
The best-case scenario is that Iran will adhere to the agreement.
But anyone who follows Iran’s nuclear history and its relations with international bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency knows that it is unlikely to happen.
Most probably Iran will try to dishonor its obligations through deceptions and lies.
Israel, with its counterparts, is trying to define the possible responses needed if and when Iran’s deceptions are exposed.
In the past, international media reported that Mossad chiefs met with their Saudi counterparts to coordinate joint efforts to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs. In these reports it said Saudi Arabia agreed that the Israel Air Force would use its airspace for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
It doesn’t mean that Israel is already coordinating a detailed military option with all those who are against the deal. These exchanges are more about reaching a basic understanding should Iran seriously violate the deal.
Indeed, one should not hastily reach the conclusion that Israel is expediting its preparations to strike Iran. For now, Israel is still relying on the Americans.
Ya’alon made it clear this week that Obama had promised that he would not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.
But it is also clear that Israel will not tolerate a situation where Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear bombs. In such a worst-case scenario, it is most probable that any Israeli prime minister would make the same decision as previous leaders – Menachem Begin in 1981 and Ehud Olmert in 2007, who ordered the destruction of Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors, respectively. Even though it has been reported that Israel has nuclear weapons, it can not allow Iran, which advocates the destruction of the Jewish state, to have it’s own nuclear weapons.