July 1, 2022 | Israel Hayom

Iran’s nuclear aspirations cannot be legitimized

Senior Israeli officials who endorse a nuclear deal with Iran are undermining Israel's interests. Without an agreement, Iran's efforts to become a nuclear threshold state will be from a position of weakness, while Israel and the US will have legitimacy, urgency, and targets with which to inflict critical harm.
July 1, 2022 | Israel Hayom

Iran’s nuclear aspirations cannot be legitimized

Senior Israeli officials who endorse a nuclear deal with Iran are undermining Israel's interests. Without an agreement, Iran's efforts to become a nuclear threshold state will be from a position of weakness, while Israel and the US will have legitimacy, urgency, and targets with which to inflict critical harm.

US President Joe Biden is expected to visit Israel in mid-July as indirect talks between Washington and Tehran take place in Qatar with the aim of renewing the terrible nuclear deal inked in 2015. So far, the negotiations have proven futile, but neither side had declared them deadlocked.

Israel must prepare for Biden’s visit, during which it must make sure to advance its main goals, with an emphasis on clarifying the dangers of going back to the same accord – regardless of what Washington wants, as stated by US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley. It is important to promote activities that would increase Israel-US cooperation on developing technologies critical for both nations while not deviating from the MOU that is in place until 2027, and it is especially important not to seek special financial support for the development of advanced systems, and certainly not for the Iron Beam tactical laser, so as not to “taint” it with American identity.

Russian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Mikhail Ulyanov said once that the Iranians are about to get a better deal than they had hoped for, and the deal-in-progress was dubbed “Putin’s deal.” The agreement has not been signed, but the fact that the bad agreement was led by the Russian president hasn’t changed.

Iran is aiding Russia in its attacks against Ukraine by giving the Kremlin advice on how to bypass sanctions and alleviate the economic sanctions, and the US is aligning itself with Russia in the negotiations with Iran. This absurdity has not been sufficiently underscored and Israel must press the issue.

What makes reviving the 2015 nuclear deal such a serious mistake and to what extent is it detrimental to national security that former senior officials are backing it? What damage does Israel sustain over media leaks by Military Intelligence, Planning Directorate, and Political-Military Bureau officials who allegedly support reinstating the deal? To answer these questions, it is important to understand the threat the deal poses and outline steps Israel would have to take if it is signed – and if it is not.

What is currently on the table is a nuclear deal based on the bad Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with additional concessions. The draft makes no mention of the time elapsed or how soon the restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear program will expire, nor does it make any mention of the violations discovered by the IAEA or new findings derived from the nuclear archives.

The agreement will allow Iran to achieve certain nuclear threshold status and eventually a bomb, leading to an extensive arms race in the Middle East. There are no measures or leverage in the deal to force the Iranians to negotiate a “longer and stronger” agreement before the 2015 one expires, as Biden promised.

The sunset clause outlined in the original deal, by which the snapback mechanism that subjects Iran to renewed sanctions, is set to expire in 2025. This means the West will have no leverage over Iran, which is set to get its hands on assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars. These funds would enable Tehran to revive the economy, augment its conventional and nonconventional research and procurement, and increase its support for global terrorism by way of supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and the Houthis in Yemen.

The deal fails to address oversight of Iranian weapons systems and much like the concessions in 2015, it says nothing about the IAEA’s investigation into the possible military dimensions if Iran’s nuclear program, meaning the future of these probes is unclear. Iran has no answers to offer and it’s important to it to maintain ambiguity under the guise of the nuclear talks, despite all signs pointing to the fact they have no intention of reaching a deal.

It is quite possible that the Iranians are again “playing for time.” Any concession on the open investigations would weaken the IAEA and eventually render it irrelevant.

It is probably convenient for Biden to forge ahead with the talks, even without progress, at least until the mid-November elections. Signing a humiliating agreement will spark opposition in the Senate and in Congress, which would hurt the Democratic Party. If the US returns to the deal, no one, except Israel will bother with a nuclear Iran and IAEA won’t have any leverage left. No one will undermine the agreement, no matter what they find in Iran.

Those advocating for a new deal admit it is a very bad one, but claim it is the least worst alternative and that it is needed to buy the West time to better prepare for any potential future action.

This is a fundamentally wrong argument if you do not address the operational aspects – which should not be discussed in public – of whether Israel needs more time to prepare, although more time is always preferred to allow for better readiness.

Any time we “buy” will come at a hefty cost. Under the agreement Iran will most likely reach a point where the capabilities developed will be irrelevant. This can be compared to someone trying to “gain time” to develop a cure for a disease that will kill them within a year, with an investment that will take three years – a classic case of a “potentially successful surgery that kills the patient.” Moreover, when push comes to shove, there is no telling what the global state would look like and who will support Israel’s action.

As far as the alternatives go, it is clear why those supporting the deal are wrong.

In a bad deal, the Iranians will surely reach industrial-level uranium enrichment capability and covert evasion capabilities, based on their advanced centrifuges and underground facilities, and they will accumulate enough fissile material for a bomb. Reaching a nuclear-threshold state status and a bomb will be pursued at a slower pace, but Iran will get there and arrive stronger, as an “obedient” country that has adhered to agreements. Under an agreement, even if Iran makes nuclear strides, it will be very difficult for Israel to exercise the capabilities it developed during the time it “gained” following the enactment of the deal.

Without an agreement, Iran will try to reach nuclear-threshold state status and a bomb faster, but from a position of weakness and without legitimacy. Israel and the United States, however, will have legitimacy, urgency, and targets with which to inflict painful and critical harm.

Former senior officials, and especially incumbent ones, must understand the enormous damage their statements cause to national security, and the weapons they give elements such as J-STREET, Malley, and others. Assuming the leaks are accurate and the chief of staff, Mossad director, Shin Bet head, and the political echelon oppose the re-establishment of the agreement, it is impossible for lower-level officials to publicly state otherwise. In a democracy, they can say what they need to say behind closed doors.

Israel must “close ranks”, clarify its position and get Biden to promise full freedom of action and cooperation in the fight against Iran across the board. Israel must continue its campaign to delegitimize and weaken Iran in every way – economically, diplomatically, militarily, cyber, kinetic tools, legal measures, etc.

Iran’s leaders must also be made to understand that the era in which they are immune to the consequences of using proxies to do their bidding is over. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu introduced this important conceptual change in his 2018 security doctrine and since then the change has been taking place.

Israel must prepare a plan for a strategic media campaign that highlights Iran’s regional conduct and the dangers a nuclear Iran will pose to the world, as well as builds the legitimacy for increasing the campaign between the wars.

We cannot return to a bad agreement nor to futile negotiations, during which it is more difficult to act. We must resume maximum economic pressure and build a credible American and Israeli military threat.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Professor Jacob Nagel is a former national security adviser to the prime minister and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy. 

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