Consequences of an Iranian Nuclear Deal on U.S.-Israel Relations
Whoa! Halt! Hold your horses. John Kerry seemed eager this week to damp down speculation that a nuclear deal with Iran was almost completed. Kerry insisted that a deal was not imminent. There were still significant gaps. But in Geneva this past weekend, the U.S. energy chiefs joined the talks, including U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) and a former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, also joined the Iran nuclear negotiations on 21 February, clear signs that the differences had boiled down to a crucial few but very important issues requiring high level intervention. It helps that Salehi was educated at MIT.t was on that image believe the total number of the centrifuges had been settled and are to be reduced from 19,000 to 6,500. Perhaps the mixture of the original R-1 centrifuges and the more advanced centrifuges still had to be settled, but the information I have is that this issue had also been determined at about 50% of each kind. There were minor issues, such as the inventory and use of the tailings, but neither of these required a high level of input from either side. Another major issue was whether IAEA would be allowed full inspection of the Parchin facility to deal with the issue of militarization of nuclear weapons, but Salehi and Moniz were not the right senior personnel to sort out this issue. I, therefore, concluded that the restrictions on the production of plutonium at the Arak reactor had not yet been finalized. This was both a very technical as well as high level political issue. The two sides might also have been in contention over the period of limitation on the number of centrifuges. If the period was to be ten years, how many additional centrifuges after the termination of that restrictive period? 3,500 as rumoured and these over a further five or ten years?
However important the outstanding items, the parties were within striking distance of a deal. There were also the issues of the waiving or lifting of sanctions which Secretary of State, John Kerry, and the Iranian foreign affairs minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, were trying to finalize. Kerry did not want to lose leverage and bargaining power with the suggestion that such a deal was imminent for that alone might have undercut the momentum. And it had become important, if possible, to make the deal before Netanyahu’s scheduled 3 March speech before both houses of Congress to take the wind totally out of his sails. That tight deadline was the real challenge now. For Iran now had the tremendous incentive of seeing the widening gulf between the U.S. and Israel increased and reified. A rare accomplishment for an avowed enemy of both the U.S. and Israel.
Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Bennett were all in a panic mode. What if the major security issue for the right, the bogeyman of a nuclear Iran, was suddenly removed as a major issue in the Israeli elections? All three had run on a platform of the prime importance of security. Netanyahu was still considered best positioned to defend Israel. However, if the security issue was cut down to size, most Israeli voters preferred the Zionist unity group led by Herzog and Livni to take care of the important domestic social and economic issues. The rumours of an impending deal did not mean that Israel was no longer threatened by Iran. Iran would remain a supporter of terrorism. Iran would grow as a regional power. But the removal of the nuclear option suddenly revealed Netanyahu to be an emperor without any clothes. For it was he that had done the most to cast Iran as a nuclear enemy and not as the country most determined to wipe Israel off the map. As he repeatedly stated, “there is no doubt that the greatest challenge to our security is the attempt by Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons.” Well if Iran no longer can produce nuclear weapons, what happens to the major thrust of Israeli foreign policy? It was on that image of Iran as a nuclear threat to the whole world and not just to Israel that Netanyahu had placed his total bet. Once removed, the absence of the image of Iran as a nuclear military power left him not only naked but hoisted with his own petard.
But the problem is made far worse by Netanyahu repeatedly reinforcing his own self portrait as a person not only in hyperbole but in outright lies. He kept insisting that the impending nuclear agreement with Iran “leaves Iran the ability to produce the necessary material for a nuclear bomb within a few months and afterwards, to produce dozens of nuclear bombs.” Utter nonsense! The agreement not only prevents such a possibility, but the release of the Mossad memo as well as the reports of the IAEA clearly show both that Iran was still far from being within a few months of producing a bomb and, perhaps, even more importantly, Netanyahu had been informed of this by his own highly respected intelligence agency. Netanyahu’s shrill rhetoric has not only undermined his own credibility, it has seriously damaged Israel’s. What is even far worse, his entire failed effort to paint Iran as this huge nuclear threat has strengthened Iran, and distracted genuine criticism from Iran as a supporter of terrorism, as a rising and dangerous military power in the Middle East and, most importantly, as Israel’s main enemy as Iran has not retracted its goal of eliminating Israel. For Israel, Netanyahu’s policies could not have resulted in a more perverse result.
Netanyahu, by placing all his efforts at demonization of Iran by the nuclear imagery, had, in effect, damaged Israel. That image would now boomerang back on his own small country as the only nation in the Middle East with a nuclear arsenal. Netanyahu’s portraiture of Iran would henceforth harm the country that he led, not Iran. The effort to brand Iran as a threatening nuclear power now would turn against Israel as the sole nuclear power in the Middle East, but one without the rationale of a competing nuclear threat. The number and size of Iran’s nuclear production facilities were to be fully transparent as would its dedication solely to peaceful purposes for all to see. And Iran had never been shown to have engaged in underground testing even before the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) of November 2013. Israel’s own intelligence agency, Mossad, had informed the political leadership in Israel that Iran had no operational plan, only research, on how to weaponize its nuclear arsenal.
That Mossad report was probably even more damaging than even the prospective nuclear deal with Iran. For all the claims of the right that Iran was on the verge of becoming a nuclear power had been revealed as so much malarkey. Israel’s own intelligence service had said as much. The misused expression “on the verge” had been used to obscure and mislead, for Iran evidently had no capacity to become a nuclear power within a year let alone 3-6 months. Rather, the petard intended to blow a significant hole in Iran’s foreign and military policy had rebounded against Israel. Successive revelations within only one week had revealed the Israeli right wing leadership as tricksters if not outright liars. What they had said no longer would be perceived as coming from thinking or even sincere belief, but as emanating from their own rear ends.
A worst case scenario had developed, not of Iran emerging as a nuclear power, but of the portrait of Iran as a nuclear power self-destructing. The destruction of that image had blown a huge breach in the unity of the most powerful nation on earth with Israel. Israel had been literally hoisted upon its own petard. Rouhani could now playfully ruminate like Hamlet: “tis the sport to have the engineer Hoist with his owne petar.” Engineers in the sixteenth century were the constructors of military devices. That device was now blowing up, not only in the faces of the right wing leadership in Israel, but in the face of the plotting and scheming of the Republican leadership in the United States. We have yet to see how badly wounded the twin messengers of doom, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, will be as they try to flee as fast as possible from the explosion, but since they will almost surely dodge and dart in their retreat, they may not be as badly hurt as if they simply retreat backwards from the backblast in the most direct route possible. Yet Obama may smirk and think to himself how most sweet it is when two craft headed towards you are forced to veer off course and end up crashing into one another.
Unfortunately, Israel will be the real victim as its relations with the United States will suffer enormously. The withholding of strategic intelligence from Israel will be the least of Israel’s worries. With the sidelining of Iran as a nuclear bogeyman, the search for a final resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict may return to the limelight. Even if the United States does not go so far as reversing itself in its opposition to a Middle East Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (MENWFZ), the White House in future may be expected to adopt some if not almost all of the following new initiatives even as it continues to reiterate that the U.S. remains committed to Israel’s genuine security requirements and the right to defend itself.
- Prioritizing the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security
- Denounce many of the myriad of efforts by Israel to develop a one-state future for the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean with Palestinians only having “autonomy”
- Cease expending diplomatic capital to protect Israel from international actions against Israeli policies with which the U.S. disagrees
- Explicitly begin depicting any expansion of West Bank settlements outside of the areas already agreed to be traded when a two state solution is agreed upon as not simply “illegitimate” but as “illegal” and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention
- Abstain from, or even support, a UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion
- Support a UN Security Council resolution setting forth a framework for a two-state final status agreement that include a basic set of principles
- If not 4 above, the U.S. may independently put forth a framework for a final status agreement including fundamental principles as the basis for such an agreement
- Provide indirect and even overt support for the Arab Peace Initiative and explore and move towards recognizing the Palestinian Authority as the government of an independent state
- Provide a myriad of indirect forms of support for the “peace” parties in Israel
- Move to deny tax-exempt status to American organizations that use tax-deductible funds to support west bank settlements.
Israel is now on the most dangerous swamp since the end of the Six Day War. Netanyahu, the man most Israelis believe was best equipped to defend Israel’s security interests, has emerged as the leader who has most endangered those interests. The Israeli ship of state is now surrounded by shoals and needs a highly skilled captain to avoid crashing on the rocks. If Netanyahu is re-elected, as seems likely, the danger will increase enormously. Iran will remain as Israel’s most threatening enemy with a leader least capable of countering the threat.