Kerry and Zarif shake hands in Geneva 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
The nuclear agreement signed in Geneva between the P5+1 and Iran over the
weekend is a “bad deal” from Israel’s perspective.
Simply put, the deal
does not roll back the vast majority of technological advances Iran has made in
the past five years that have drastically shortened what nuclear experts call
its “dash time” — the minimum time it would take to build a nuclear weapon if
Iran’s supreme leader or military decided to pursue such as path.
centrifuges, which numbered a few thousand in 2009 when US President Barack
Obama took office and have grown to 18,000, will not be dismantled and will
continue to spin. What’s more, according to the deal, those that break down can
be replaced with the same type of centrifuges so that Iran’s ability to “dash”
for the bomb remains intact at its present level.
Iran has agreed not to
enrich uranium beyond 5 percent and must either convert or dilute fuel stocks
that are closest to the 20% weapons grade, But since its centrifuges will remain
in operation, Iran will retain the capability to produce more of this
weapon-grade fuel if it so chooses.
And it could do this clandestinely:
There is no provision in the agreement to allow the monitoring of underground
sites where the CIA, Europe and Israel believe — but have no clear-cut evidence
— that Iran is conducting enrichment. Also, a heavy water reactor outside the
city of Arak – which has the sole purpose of producing a nuclear weapon — will
not be dismantled.
And all of this nuclear weapon activity will be
allowed to continue as the P5+1 relinquishes aspects of the sanction regime that
have been put together meticulously for several years. The EU, the UN and the US
all agreed not to put in place any new sanctions (if Congress votes for more
sanctions after Thanksgiving break, Obama will have to veto the motion). And the
US and the EU have agreed to suspend sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports;
its auto industry; its gold and precious metals trade. The P5+1 has agreed to
establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade for Iran’s
domestic needs using oil revenues held abroad. Included under “humanitarian
trade” are tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students
It is difficult to gauge the economic significance of
all these concessions — but even if the positive impact of these concessions is
quite modest (the White House estimates they are worth about $7 billion) the
psychological impact is clear: if the Islamic Republic’s mullah regime had been
concerned that the deteriorating economic situation might lead to dissent,
discontent and political upheaval, the mullahs now have some breathing
Also, while it is easy to roll back sanctions, it will be much
more difficult to reinstate them should the Iranians renege on their part of the
deal. And cracks in the sanction regime combined with the tremendous pressures
of business interests to resume “business as usual” with Iran might result in
more economic relief than intended.
Understandably, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu and others in the government such as Foreign Minister Avigdor
Liberman, Intelligence, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister
Yuval Steinitz and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni are calling it a bad deal.
Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” and reiterated Israel’s right to stop
Iran with military means if necessary.
“Today the world has become a much
more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a
significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world,”
But Israel is not the only one critical of the deal. The
Saudis, wary of seeing neighboring Iran with the bomb, might spark a nuclear
arms race by turning to Pakistan, which developed its own nuclear weapons with
And Obama will face stiff opposition at home as
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R –Virginia) expressed concern
that the deal did not meet the demands of the UN Security Council resolutions
which call for the full suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities. And a similar
point was made in a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry signed by Senator
Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
At its best, the deal signed in
Geneva might temporarily slow Iran’s progress toward nuclear arms capability.
More likely it will provide the US and other western nations with a false
impression that headway has been made while providing cover for the Iranians as
they plod forward toward nuclear capability. Under the circumstances, there
seems little cause for celebration.