Why Israel Should Accept a New - Better - Iran Deal | Opinion

The many people anxiously waiting to hear whether -- or really, how --- the Biden Administration plans to reenter the Iran Deal, scrapped by President Trump, got a hint last Wednesday from Secretary of State Anthony Blinken: The Biden administration would seek to build a "longer and stronger agreement" with Iran that would deal with other "deeply problematic issues" if Iran "comes back into full compliance," Blinken told reporters.

Perhaps no one is watching this as anxiously as the Israelis. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fiercely opposed the Iran Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and made every attempt to initially block it during the Obama Administration.

But it would be a mistake to repeat this move. Responsible Israelis should support Biden's return to a substantially improved Iran nuclear deal. For starters, Israel cannot prevent this step. But it would also be a mistake to try. Blunt criticism of Washington's moves will make rebuilding Israel's relationship with the Democratic administration even harder. Enough damage has been done to the Israeli-American bond by Prime Minister Netanyahu's behavior towards the Obama administration, as well as by his intimate political partnership with former President Trump.

But this does not mean Israel should remain silent. The opposite: Israel should accept a renegotiated Iran deal. But it should do so on four conditions.

Demand Realism

The first is for the administration's Iran team to undertake a realistic, sober examination of the Iranian regime, its strategic objectives and the methods it is taking to obtain them. This means no naïve illusions about the "victory of the moderates" in Teheran nor about "not changing the regime, changing its behavior." U.S. policy-makers must understand that this regime is based on religious ideology: the extremist interpretation of the Islamic religion. Its strategic vision is regional hegemony, with subsequent hopes of becoming a global power leading the entire Muslim world population.

Teheran's approach is very pragmatic when it pursues these goals: It takes over state after state in the region by empowering local militias. Iran fully supports them, militarily and financially, and they are becoming a dominant political force, in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Gaza. And though it despises Sunni Islam, it supports Sunni militias as long as these organizations fight against United States, Israel and Sunni governments.

You can see this pragmatism at work when Iran signed the nuclear agreement in 2015, Teheran postponed the realization of its nuclear objective in order to attain the international legitimacy it badly needed and to get its hands on the funds necessary to finance regional subversion and continue its military buildup.

But western democracies must oppose both Iran's global and its regional aspirations. Iran achieving regional hegemony would mean that many millions of people in the Middle East would live in hopeless poverty and in cultural obscurity. Western democracies cannot allow this without abandoning their most important values.

Demand Recognition

Israel's acceptance of a renegotiated Iran deal should be conditioned on the Biden administration legitimizing Israelis' fears, rather than ignoring them. Our concerns are based on our distant and recent history; in living memory, our grandparents and parents experienced unimaginable calamity, which succeeded through a combination of hatred, ideology and military might. More than half a century later, in 2006, thousands of rockets were launched from Lebanon at Israel's towns and villages, and dozens of Israelis killed. This was done at Iran's behest. And the thousands of rockets and missiles fired into Israel from Gaza since the Islamist takeover in 2007 were also supplied by Iran, directly or indirectly.

These attacks were also levied thanks to a lethal combination of hatred, ideology, and military might. In his book Palestine, Ali Khamenei, the Iranian spiritual leader, explains how Israel will be wiped out. It will be encircled by territories that will serve as mega launching pads of rockets and missiles aimed at the civilian population centers, and under this massive barrage, the Mullahs believe Israeli society to implode.

This is not an empty threat. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has 150,000 missiles and rockets ready to be fired upon us. From Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have more than 10,000 aimed at the heart of Israel. All are supplied by Iran. Many can reach Tel Aviv. And Iran is now seriously at work cultivating its third launching platform – Syria.

To understand our fears, Americans should imagine that four million rockets are aimed at New York and Los Angeles from bases in Canada and Mexico.

Don't Keep Allies in the Dark

That President Biden is a true friend of Israel prompts a third condition: Don't leave Israelis in the dark while negotiating with Iran. Consult with us and with your allies in the Gulf. I became instantly less worried when Blinken, then Secretary-designate, said in his confirmation hearings that such consultations are "vitally important." The United States and Israel sharing intelligence benefits both sides enormously.

Benjamin Netanyahu in Congress
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by members of Congress in 2015 after warning them against a nuclear deal with Iran. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In Case of Failure, Back Israel's Response

In case diplomacy fails, and Iran gets close to acquiring a nuclear weapon or poses a direct and imminent conventional weapons threat to Israel, a fourth condition is required: U.S. diplomatic backing of Israel for the measures any responsible government will be forced to take, on its own, to remove the threat.

We Israelis don't want a single American soldier to risk his or her life for us. Instead, we need the kind of partnership and communication that let us know we are listened to and diplomatically supported by our friends in the international community. We should be able to accomplish the needed mission to defend ourselves by ourselves.

But there is also something the Biden administration must ask of Israel: Stop the threat of annexation. For some Israeli politicians, the West Bank settlements are more important even than thwarting Iran's ambitions. The Biden administration must not silently appease them in the mistaken belief that this will serve as a quid pro quo -- the U.S. not opposing creeping annexation in exchange for Israel not opposing an American dialogue with Iran.

The West Bank, as well as Gaza, are time bombs at our doorstep. The Biden administration must support a two-state solution, and convey zero tolerance for any annexation measures which would stave off an agreed solution and may detonate the time bombs.

Dr. Ephraim Sneh, a retired Israeli general and former deputy defense minister, is chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue, Netanya Academic College.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.