Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons for most of the last three decades.
The quest began at the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988 when the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, famously “drank from the poisoned chalice” and accepted UN Security Council Resolution 598, which put an end to that eight-year, blood-drenched war. Never again, Khomeini vowed, would Iran drink such poison, and the country’s race for nuclear arms – something that would have precluded the need for what Khomeini viewed as a capitulation – was on.
During the last nearly 30 years, the world – with varying degrees of seriousness and intensity – has tried to block that path.
The strategy during much of that time period has been to kick the can down the road, delay the Iranians, place impediments in their way in the hope that in the interim something would happen: either there would be regime change in Iran, or the Iranian rulers – of their own accord or because of popular unrest – would come to realize that the price of a nuclear bomb was too high and that if they wanted to save the country’s economy they would have to scuttle the bomb.
So, during this period, viruses were sent to infect the Iranian computers, some Iranian nuclear scientists and engineers were assassinated or mysteriously disappeared, and straw companies were set up around the world selling faulty material to the mullahs so that when they spun their centrifuges, the centrifuges would blow up.
The accord on the verge of being agreed upon in Vienna, the one Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has railed against endlessly, buys the Iranians more time.
Ten years of it.
During this period, the Iranians will be hard-pressed to assemble a nuclear bomb.
But then the sun will set on the agreement and all bets will be off.
Then, the Iranians, according to Israel’s reading of the deal, will not have to sneak around to assemble a bomb. They will be able to do so in broad daylight.
And therein is one of Israel’s key complaints.
At a time when the Iranians came to the talks because their economy was being devastated, the world powers had the opportunity not to just kick the can down the road, but rather to kick it over the fence, deep, deep into one of the neighbor’s bushes.
Or, to use a boxing metaphor, two years ago the world powers had Iran on the ropes – its economy badly limping, oil prices falling, its legitimacy at a low point.
But instead of ratcheting up the sanctions and delivering a knockout blow, the powers let Iran slither off the ropes to come back and fight another round.
And fight they did. As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was reported to have said over the weekend, “Twenty-two months of negotiation means we have managed to charm the world, and it’s an art.”
That was then. Now the reality has changed. So, now what? The agreement has pretty much put to an end to any option of a preemptive Israeli military strike. Few seriously believe Israel would launch a preemptive attack on Iran to push back the program after that country reached an agreement with the world powers, including the US.
It is also equally unrealistic to think Netanyahu – who has fought the Iranian nuclear program for years – will now suddenly roll over, play dead and say, “Okay, you win, I guess now we will just have to accept a nuclear Iran.”
Netanyahu – who has charged that this is a “very bad agreement,” and that what happened in Vienna was a foolish “march of concessions” that amounted to a near total capitulation to Tehran – will not now throw up his arms in surrender.
Rather, now his arguments against the accord will move to Congress, the last place where changes in the agreement might possibly still be made. If then ambassador Michael Oren – as he writes in his recent memoir – was given instructions to call congressmen in 2011 and say “Israel felt abandoned” after US President Barack Obama delivered a speech adopting an Israeli-Palestinian deal based on the 1967 lines with land swaps, then one can only imagine what Oren’s successor, Ron Dermer, will tell the congressmen when he calls about this agreement.
And that type of campaigning in Congress against a policy that Obama sees as his foreign policy “legacy,” and which US Secretary of State John Kerry views as his possible Nobel Prize winning ticket, is not bound to win Netanyahu any points in the White House, where his credit is already depleted.
The final year of the Obama-Netanyahu era, therefore, most likely will be more fraught than even the seven years that came before.
But Netanyahu will go ahead – feeling duty-bound as a son of the Jewish people so soon after the Holocaust and as the prime minister of the world’s only Jewish state – to do whatever he can to try and override the agreement. If not to stop it, at least to change it so that when the history books are written it will be noted that he – alone among the world’s leaders – fought until the very end an accord that ultimately may place the world’s most lethal weapons into the hands of one of the world’s most extreme regimes.