Efraim Halevy on the Iran Deal

Before Making a Rush at Washington

Oped by Efraim Halevy
Published July 19, 2015 in Yedioth Ahronoth, p. 28 (Hebrew edition), translation by Israel News Today (INT)

The importance of the agreement drawn up in Vienna does not lie only in the detailed arrangements that are designed to block Iran’s path to a military nuclear [weapon] in the coming decade, but also—and no less importantly—in the fact that Russia and China have signed the document.  This is a rare moment in the complex relationship between the US and Tehran’s two close friends and its main arms suppliers.  It was not only Iran that made concessions in the tough negotiations that were conducted until the last moment.  Moscow and Beijing also committed themselves [to the agreement].

Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to assemble the necessary majority in Congress against the agreement.  President Obama has already announced that he will veto such a decision, which would spell the collapse of the agreement and erasure of all the concessions Iran has made.  Without an agreement, Iran will be free to act as it wishes, whereas the sanctions regime against it will crumble in any case, since many countries around the world will hurry to Tehran to sign profitable contracts.  In such a case, the US will lose its influence over what is due to take place in the 18 months remaining until the end of Obama’s term, its leadership will be emasculated and humiliated, whereas Israel will remain only with the independent military option.  This is what British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond meant when he said that Netanyahu did not want any agreement with Iran, regardless of its content.

That impression gains more credence given the considerable changes that have unfolded recently in Israeli strategy.  First came Israel’s version that the nuclear threat was a unique existential threat, which should be dealt with separately from all other matters.  It was for this purpose alone that the entire international community rallied, and this is the sole purpose for which the crippling sanctions were imposed on Iran.  Israel was lucky enough to have its work done by others.  After all, it is not Israeli sanctions that forced Iran to go to negotiations.  Israel wanted others to do what needed to be done, and they did so.

The talking points of the government spokespersons overturn the previous Israeli strategy by doing away with the uniqueness of the nuclear issue.  The attempt to change the rules of the game and to include further demands from Iran in the agreement, such as recognition of Israel and stopping support for terrorism, shows that Netanyahu has no interest in any agreement whatsoever.  For if the nuclear issue is of cardinal existential importance, what is the point of canceling an agreement that distances Iran from the bomb in order to try to include in it clauses that pertain to terrorism, which certainly does not pose an existential threat to Israel?  Other economic and financial sanctions were established in response to terrorism, and they will remain in place.

The declaration that Israel will not be bound by the agreement is unnecessary, and in many people’s opinion it is also ridiculous.  Israel was never a party to the negotiations, and in any case it is not bound by their results.  Iran made concessions on a long series of critical issues—the detailed discussion on its nuclear programs was distasteful to it, and severe restrictions for the next 10 to 15 years were imposed on it.  In the Middle East, a decade is an eternity.  Iran was also forced to agree to an invasive and unique monitoring regime, which is unparalleled around the world.  The agreement enables inspections to be held even in sites in which the supreme leader, Khamenei, declared that he would not permit inspectors to enter, and a procedure was established—a complicated but clear procedure—that enables a forum in which the West has a clear majority to reinstate the sanctions even without the consent of Russia and China.  And that is just a partial list of the concessions.

   A moment before we make a rush at Capitol Hill, led by the ambassador to Washington, it is important to hold an incisive discussion in Israel on the question whether the absence of an agreement is preferable to an agreement that includes vital elements for Israel’s security.  There will not be a different agreement and there will not be further negotiations.  Between the agreement that was signed and no agreement—what is preferable?

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