Yediot Aharonoth article by Chuck Freilich (translated by the author)
July 15, 2015
Israel’s leaders, along with most of its pundits, have been repeating the same mantra for months; the agreement with Iran is bad for Israel and will endanger it. In reality, it is a compromise agreement that postpones an existential threat to Israel, opens the possibility for a strategic change in the Middle East and strengthens Israel’s security.
There is no doubt that the agreement does not address all of our concerns and that it has deep flaws, chiefly that Iran will be able to keep most of its nuclear infrastructure intact and that most of its provisions are limited to 10-15 years. Moreover, it is clear that Iran has not given up its long-term nuclear aspirations and that it will take advantage of every loophole and ambiguous word in the agreement to achieve its ends. When the agreement expires, Iran will even be recognized as a state like all others and will be able, so the critics claim, to promote its nuclear program as much as it wishes.
Conversely, the agreement’s critics have to explain what could have been done differently and especially what the alternatives they suggest are. The claim that the US could have conducted the negotiations more resolutely, and that a better agreement could have been negotiated, is probably correct. Given the choice, however, between that which is desirable and that which is extant, this is the agreement the Americans believed that they could actually reach, not the agreement that they wanted, but the one that was feasible. The only alternative from the administration’s point of view, after it took to be military option off the table, was to return to sanctions. The sanctions brought the Iranians to the table, but it is doubtful whether they would have led to the complete capitulation that Israel sought, especially given the weakened sanctions regime likely to exist after a collapse of negotiations.
In the absence of an agreement, Israel would have been left with the sole option of a military attack, an option which we may still have to resort to in the future. It is abundantly clear, however, that this is an option that Israel’s decision-makers were not avid to adopt, and that they had good reasons for this. An Israeli strike would have entailed severe military and political ramifications, especially in the absence of American support, and could have postponed the Iranian program by a few years at most. The agreement, on the other hand, provides Israel with a 10-to 15 year respite.
In practice, the agreement creates a situation in which Israel will not have to face an existential threat for many years and in which it will be able to divert precious resources to the immediate threats of Hezbollah, Hamas and ISIS, as well as to pressing domestic needs. In Israeli strategic thinking, a gain of a decade or more was always considered to be an important achievement.
The question is whether there is some practical military measure that we can take today, that we will not be to take in another decade. The answer is not entirely clear, but what is clear is that the US will be able to act militarily at any time. In the meantime, the agreement’s intrusive inspections mechanisms ensure that Iran will not be able to breakout to a nuclear capability, without it becoming known, with high confidence.
The nuclear threat has not been completely removed, but it has been postponed for a lengthy period, and we are really speaking about another stage in the ongoing struggle to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Benjamin Netanyahu should have accepted American policy long ago, rather than positioning himself as the primary and maybe sole opponent among US allies. The defamation campaign now expected against the agreement in the Congress is destined to fail, and even if the totally unexpected occurs, it will be the Israeli Prime Minister will have personally blocked the primary foreign policy initiative of the Obama presidency. Given Israel’s dependence on the US, indeed, the question whether we can even survive without US today, this will not be a victory.