On Iran nuclear deal - A tightrope to walk, with no easy steps

Report by leading think tank recommends a parallel deal to restrict Iran’s ballistic missile testing and its military adventures in the Middle East.

An inflatable mushroom cloud stands among demonstrators during a rally opposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square (photo credit: REUTERS)
An inflatable mushroom cloud stands among demonstrators during a rally opposing the nuclear deal with Iran in Times Square
(photo credit: REUTERS)
No one really has a clue yet what to do about the Iran nuclear deal or Iran’s new presence on Israel’s northern border in terms of suggestions which are likely to be implemented.
Not that there are no proposed solutions. And to the extent there are proposed solutions, from Monday’s briefings, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) annual report comprehensively covers the solutions and is frank about the complexity of the challenges.
Like in publications that INSS head and former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, INSS fellow and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon and other experts from the think tank have published over the last year, the report suggests cooperation with allies and a balance of deterrence and restraint on both fronts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Iran threat at Jerusalem Post"s 2017 Diplomatic Conference, December 6, 2017
Regarding the Iran nuclear deal, the report contradicts Israel’s current government policy of “fix it or nix it.” Rather, than fixing or nixing the deal, the report recommends a parallel deal to restrict Iran’s ballistic missile testing and its military adventures in the Middle East.
In short, the report suggests restricting Iran’s problematic behavior which was left out of the nuclear deal. A range of top security and intelligence officials in the US and Israel support this kind of approach.
But this is not just different from the policy of the Israeli government. Despite some entreaties by US diplomats, Europe does not seem interested in a parallel deal so far.
Or if they might have been, they are ultra-cautious because of a gap in trust with the Trump administration or because they are concerned that Iran will walk away from the nuclear deal more than they are afraid of Trump’s threat to walk away.
Russia and China have no interest in such a parallel deal whatsoever and certainly will not consider it without Europe pushing for it in unison with the US.
Even the US Congress to date has failed to pass any new legislation to complement the nuclear deal or address any of these issues.
There is some optimism among Iran deal supporters that a bill to address these parallel Iran issues or to relieve Trump of needing to certify the deal so that it can be removed from his desk, may yet pass.
But the bottom line is that around 75 days after Trump “decertified” the deal, there still are not even really the beginnings of having achieved anything new and concrete in confronting Iran on this front.
Most importantly, Israel has almost no impact on any of these developments in its current isolation on the issue. And as long as Iran is given a check mark from the IAEA and the deal’s sunset is many years away, an Israeli threat of force to get the Iranians to negotiate likely will not be taken seriously.
Many would view the INSS advice on this issue as sound strategy, but it is unclear who can advance it.
Likewise, on the northern border, the INSS report sums up the potential for facing a multi-front military threat from Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime emanating from Syria and Lebanon.
It notes the United States’ general exit from the playing field as a negative, while positively emphasizing that Israel at least has an audience with both the US and Russia regarding its security interests in the North.
Hear it more closely echoes government policy of continuing to walk the tightrope between using force in a targeted and calibrated manner to deter the northern threat and being careful not to use too much force which could escalate into the very war Israel wants to avoid.
In short, the IDF continues to pick select points where it executes precision strikes on attempts to transfer game-changing weaponry into the area or to establish a more organized Iranian presence in the area.
The obvious problem is that, as Yadlin has told The Jerusalem Post in the past, intelligence about intentions, as opposed to intelligence about capabilities, is an art, and one rife with uncertainty.
Put differently, intelligence estimates about how far Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime can be pushed with IDF air strikes before they opt for war are at best an educated guess.
How will the IDF manage to strike just the right balance? And if the IDF holds its fire too many times worrying that it may have exhausted its adversaries’ patience, how many Israelis may die from game-changing or precision weapons when the next northern war finally does come around?
But no think tank or even government intelligence agency can truly predict a future which is sometimes decided by eminently human and unforeseeable variables. Few foresaw the end of the Cold War, the global US war against terror or the lightning rise and fall of ISIS.
But in an age of divisive debates on almost every issue under the sun, many would say that the report at least provides serious recommendations for middle-of-the-road policies to address the Iranian nuclear and northern front challenges.