WITH THE signing of the nuclear deal with Iran in mid-July, the public dispute between Israel and the US reached new heights. Some see in it an expression of the personal antipathy between the leaders; others an argument that stems from a genuine clash of interests.In my view, both approaches are mistaken.I am convinced that the two leaders see eye to eye on the overarching strategic goal. The differences between them are over the best way of achieving it.
Soon after the signing of the deal in Vienna, US President Barack Obama declared that it would enhance Israel’s security. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, was quick to dismiss it as a “historic mistake” that would have detrimental implications for Israel and the West.Both men have a case. Obama was referring in the narrowest sense to Iran’s nuclear potential which the agreement restricts; Netanyahu was thinking more in terms of the Iranian regime’s hegemonic regional aims and conduct, and its capacity to achieve those goals, which, it could be argued, the agreement reinforces.It is common knowledge that the official policy of the Iranian regime calls for “death to the US and to Israel.” This is not simply propaganda for domestic consumption.Iran is deeply implicated in terror against Israel in virtually every conceivable way from financial support and the supply of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles to Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, through terrorist acts against Jews across the world, to its backing for Bashar Assad’s criminal regime in Syria, which has killed over 300,000 of its own citizens in the past four years.The Iranian “Republic” doesn’t only support terror. It actively foments instability in the Middle East and is involved in every regional conflict. This aggression is meant to serve one of its chief strategic goals: exporting the Shi’ite revolution to the Muslim world, especially the Arab world, which is largely Sunni.Already, by violent means, it has gained major footholds in Lebanon through the Shi’ite Hezbollah militia, in Syria through its support of Assad’s Alawite regime, in Yemen through the Houthis, and that’s not the end of the story. That explains why the Israeli government’s position against the deal is virtually identical to that of the moderate Arab Sunni states. Both see in Iran the chief source of regional instability and both take a dim view of the lifting of economic sanctions – which they believe will only help Iran make more serious mischief.Israel accepts the American distinction between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people, who, for the most part, want to return to the family of nations, free of religious coercion, political suppression, human rights abuse and general intolerance.But, unlike the US, Israel does not see how the fruits of a reinvigorated Iranian economy can reach the people without significantly enhancing the regime’s aggressive power.In Israel’s view, the huge sums of money that flow into the Iranian economy once sanctions are lifted will help the regime achieve its nefarious regional goals and enable it to increase its involvement in terror and subversion. Indeed, Obama himself acknowledges this.The UN Security Council sanctions were justifiably imposed on Iran because of its subversive activities and its nuclear weapons’ drive, both in gross violation of international conventions and treaties to which it is party. These Iranian policies run deep. The regime of the Ayatollahs has long held the view that without nuclear weapons it will not be able achieve its criminal designs against the US, Israel and the Western world as a whole. It believes that possession of such weapons would afford it immunity from retaliation.This is not only my opinion. It is what the revolution’s revered first leader Ayatollah Khomeini himself explicitly stated in his “poisoned chalice” speech in 1988, at the conclusion the eight-year long Iraq-Iran war. Khomeini insisted that Iran had to agree to end the war with Iraq (drink the poisoned chalice) because “army officers, including members of the Revolutionary Guards, military commanders and experts on war openly admit that the Islamic army will not be able to achieve victory soon.”HE WENT on to elaborate on what would be needed first to defeat Iraq and then the West with America at the forefront.“There will be no victory in the next five years,” he declared, “unless… the Islamic Republic has 350 infantry brigades, 2,500 tanks, 300 fighter planes, 300 helicopters, and the capacity to manufacture a significant number of laser and atomic weapons that would be essential for war then.” “America,” he continued, “would have to be ejected from the Persian Gulf… and the most important ingredient for success will be timely budgets and resources.”In the wake of that speech, a project was launched with a precise timetable, well-defined budgets and purpose-built administration for the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. This is the project whose offshoots we are contending with today.In the regime’s view, therefore, nuclear weaponry is a necessary means for realizing its strategic ends: death to the Great Satan (America) and death to the Small Satan (Israel). For the Israeli government, the root of the problem is not the means but the policy itself. And the Vienna deal does not touch on that at all.Obama is right in saying that the deal is good from the nuclear perspective. If Iran abides by it, it is likely to delay the Iranian bomb by more than a decade. It imposes tight supervision on all known installations involved in the fissile material production chain. That includes uranium mines, factories producing centrifuges, conversion and enrichment plants, reactors and stringent limitations on the levels and amounts of enriched uranium that can be stockpiled.Still, we cannot overlook the fact that the Iranians have in the past been caught red-handed several times in nuclear enrichment activities, in clear violation of international conventions to which they are party. We would be well advised to proceed on the assumption that they will try to cheat this time too. They might try to exploit lacunae in the agreement, especially with regard to visits to unlisted military installations, which may become suspect at some future date.Nevertheless, the fact is that, despite everything, the agreement has already been signed. The horses, so to speak, have already bolted after the Security Council decision to lift the sanctions.Even if by some miracle Congress manages to override the anticipated presidential veto of its vote against the deal, the US would find itself totally isolated, facing a triumphalist Iran on its own.Russia, China, Europe and the rest of the world would all go ahead with moves to lift their economic sanctions.Therefore, to minimize the dangers inherent in the agreement, Israel should stop fighting it and announce its readiness to cooperate with the US and the rest of the Western world in meeting what remains a very serious Iranian threat. This will entail contributing intelligence, helping to expose Iranian violations, waging an uncompromising struggle against direct and indirect Iranian terror, which could intensify, and taking steps to restore regional stability.For this type of coordinated action to be effective, cooperation with the moderate Sunni Arab states is essential. Here the US could play a leading role in developing and consolidating interests common to Israel, the moderate Sunni states and the Western world, and forge a joint plan of action to meet and minimize the Iranian threat. Only this kind of global and regional cooperation will be able to stop the Iranians in their tracks.This, of course, without the Israeli government waiving its inherent right and duty to do everything necessary, if and when the lives of its citizens are placed in real danger. Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a former Kadima Knesset Member and an expert on ballistic and cyber warfare, heads the Security Studies program at Tel Aviv University and is chairman of the Israel Space Agency