Tel Aviv Diary: Why I Am for the Iran Nuke Deal

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Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter shake hands before their meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on July 21. Israel warned during Carter's visit on Monday it feared a deal on curbing Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief would translate into more money for Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese militia group, and others hostile to Israel. Menahem Kahana/Pool/Reuters

I live in Tel Aviv, within shouting distance from Israel’s army headquarters and what would no doubt be ground zero for any nuclear attack on Israel. As such, maintaining a secure Israel is, without question, imperative to me. I have always been a strong supporter of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), believing the Jewish state requires a strong lobby and understanding how the organization came about—i.e., in 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower forced Israel to make concessions that were at the time against Israel’s national interest.

I have also always been a critic of J Street. While I believe there needs to be a strong left-wing Zionist organization in the U.S., I do not feel that group must be a Washington lobby.

I have long been uneasy with Jewish organizations whose members do not live in Israel criticizing its security policies. Moreover, I believe that J Street played a counterproductive role during the Iran nuclear deal negotiations—by pushing for the swift conclusion of an agreement, thus giving Teheran extra leverage.

To my surprise, the events of the past few days have forced me to re-examine my position. While I doubt I will ever be a staunch supporter of J Street and its enthusiasm for a less than perfect deal is unsettling, at this moment they seem to be one of the few Jewish organization playing the role of “the responsible adult.”

I was amazed (but not shocked) that Israeli politicians—who had not read the text of the agreement—worked to outdo each other, claiming, “It is a dark day,” or “It [meaning, the deal with Iran] is worse than the Munich Agreement.” 

After reading the full text of the agreement, I believe it to be far from perfect and certainly not the agreement I would have composed, but it is unquestionably a reasonable outcome given the balance of forces at work in Vienna.

Many fail to grasp that when you enter negotiations, you are unlikely to end up with your optimal solution. You hope to achieve a resolution you can live with. This agreement is exactly that—far from optimal—but one that everyone (except for the poor Syrian people) should be able to live with.

Under the dictates of the new deal, the Iranians will not have sufficient uranium to build a bomb for 15 years (unless they cheat). As a result, for the next 15 years they will not be able to annihilate anyone.

Critics ask, what will happen at the end of the 15 years? This agreement never affords Iranians the right to build a bomb. In fact, the agreement maintains an intrusive inspection regime, in perpetuity, to forestall such an outcome. Critics of the deal are correct in that after 15 years Iran will be able to produce enough uranium to quickly build a bomb—i.e. if it chooses to ignore its obligations.

Surely no one really thought the Iranians were going to agree to a deal that would forbid them from enriching uranium indefinitely. The truth is, I have full confidence the Israeli Defense Forces have the means to stop any Iranian missile from reaching Israel and even greater confidence that in 15 years those means will be even better.

Other critics insist (rightly so), that the Iranians will likely try to deceive the inspectors. Here, my reply to those who condemn the deal is, yes, Iran may cheat. However, they would be able to cheat on any agreement. Then, critics contend that the lack of an “anytime, anywhere” inspection regime is alarming. On that point, I absolutely agree. A swifter means of implementing inspections would definitely be preferred. However, it was not a deal breaker.

A prime concern is that the Iranians will build a secret nuclear weapons facility. It is impossible to hide a nuclear plant in 25 days. Even if you are able to move all of the fissionable material, radioactive material leaves traces that cannot be erased. Therefore, the 25 days it takes to inspect a site will not protect Iran from discovery.

Detractors then fall back on the claim that the Russians or the Chinese can block any inspection. Making this allegation only highlights the fact they have not read the agreement—as based on the agreement, the U.S. needs support from its European allies to force an inspection.

Then, continuing their protests, denouncers of the deal usually contend that Iran is a terror-supporting state that is about to receive billions of dollars as a result of the agreement. These allegations are all true. Iran has a terror-supporting, anti-American, anti-Israel regime that supports some of the worst terror groups in the world.

However, what the prophets of doom conveniently forget is that these funds are not foreign aid to Iran, these billions of dollars belong to Iran. This is money that the world impounded as part of the sanctions regime. Did anyone really think there could be an agreement with Iran in which they would not get their money back?

Finally, critics respond that the arms embargo against Iran should not have been lifted. Here, again, I agree with critics. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to blame for caving in on this issue. Lifting the Iranian arms embargo should have been tied to Iran stopping its support for Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Nevertheless, this is not a good enough reason to throw out all the gains that were achieved in the deal.

So, why did so many Israeli politicians violently object to the announcement of the Iranian agreement? Why, instead of attacking President Obama and the agreement, couldn't Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say, “This is not a perfect agreement. However, we thank you for your hard work. We look forward to working with you to ensuring Israel’s future regime and ensuring the agreement is fully implemented by Teheran?”

Why did the majority of Israeli politicians also attack this U.S. brokered agreement? Netanyahu’s responses have become almost Pavlovian: If Obama agreed, the deal must be bad; if the agreement does not include effective regime change, then the agreement is completely worthless.

As for politicians in the Knesset’s opposition, I can only believe some are afraid of being called “soft” on Iran (keeping their eyes on the next election), while others believe that if they said it was a good agreement Netanyahu would somehow get some credit for hanging tough.

This brings me back to AIPAC and J Street. I was disappointed when I heard that both the Israeli government and the opposition were going to fight the agreement in the U.S. Congress. However, when I heard that AIPAC and many other Jewish organizations were following Netanyahu’s lead in opposing the agreement, I asked myself, Did anyone actually game out the results of a fight with the American administration in the U.S. Congress? 

As far as I can see, there are only two possible outcomes to this strategy of trying to derail the Iranian agreement:

1. Obama wins, and Congress fails to override his veto. In this scenario, all of those who opposed the agreement are weakened. AIPAC will be exposed as considerably less powerful than it purports to be, and the agreement remains in force. 

2. The agreement is successfully voted down and the U.S. does not implement the agreement. By the time that happens, the Europeans will have already removed some of their sanctions, as will have the U.N. In this scenario, we will be left with a situation where the Iranians will be receiving most of their money but will not be bound by the agreement. Thus there will be no sanctions, and there will be an Iranian bomb.

In either outcome, we will have a very angry U.S. president and Democratic Party that at best will have negative feelings toward Israel. How does this scenario serve the interests of the state of Israel or the Jewish community?

Let me make clear. I believe the current deal with Iran is not a perfect agreement. However, it is the only agreement that we have. You can criticize the Obama administration and claim it could have negotiated a better agreement. Whether that proves to be the case will have to be decided by future historians.

We are faced with today’s reality—and today, the only realistic solution is to support the agreement and press to make sure it is meticulously enforced. Any other position is self-defeating.

Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com.