The Threat of a Non-Military Nuclear Iran

The Threat of a Non-Military Nuclear Iran


Howard Adelman

In anticipation of and preparation for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the joint special session of Congress, I want to make it clear that, like Bibi, I also regard Iran after a deal is signed as more dangerous than before, but for radically different reasons than he does or, for that matter, than the opinions of two columnists, David Brooks of The New York Times or Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post, whose columns I have attached to this blog for comparison.

Iran without nuclear weapons may be far more dangerous than an Iran attempting to produce nuclear weapons. The following are the reasons:

  1. Enormous sums can be saved by Iran from what is ultimately a useless program with only symbolic value since nuclear arms are only useful if they are never used.
  2. Those sums saved can be used to invest even more funds in conventional arms.
  3. Iran already has a formidable navy currently on sea trials and showing the flag in Asia.
  4. Iran has a formidable missile arsenal and recently tested a new missile in a naval drill.
  5. To a considerable extent, Iran has become self-sufficient in its military needs, producing mortars, tanks, torpedoes, jet fighters and light submarines.
  6. In making a deal with the P5+1, Iran drove a huge wedge between Israel and the U.S.
  7. The extremists in Iran, who alienate so many countries from Iran, will have suffered an enormous strategic defeat which will in turn strengthen the current Iranian regime both domestically and internationally.
  8. In being allowed to keep one-third of its centrifuges and some of its uranium in a significantly reduced purity, Saudi Arabia has been moved to distrust its reliance upon America and to open up the possibility of a rapprochement with Iran.
  9. Benjamin Netanyahu’s strident opposition to the nuclear negotiations of the P5+1 has isolated Israel in a central plank of its foreign policy from it natural allies in an absolutely unprecedented way, not only from Europe but from the United States.
  10. The political elite in Israel is more divided than ever before on foreign policy, not simply between the left and the right, between Herzog/Livni versus the Likud and its partners, but between the intelligence services – Mossad, the military and Shin Bet – and the government also in an absolutely unprecedented situation.
  11. A former head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, Meir Dagan, who stepped down as chief even before the notorious Mossad October 2012 memo showing how the intelligence services did not believe that Iran was on the threshold of becoming a nuclear power, has been accusing the prime minister of endangering the country’s security with his stance on the Iranian nuclear programme.
  12. In the one area in which left and right are united, opposition to even a de-nuclearized Iran that has not been defanged from its support of terrorism and its rise as a regional power, Netanyahu’s main rival for the premiership has shot himself in the foot, for in supporting Netanyahu on this quest, though not Bibi’s appeal to a divided America and Netanyahu’s willingness to shimmy up to the Republicans, he is as divided from the Obama policy as Netanyahu has been, but then comes across as weak-kneed and hypocritical, unwilling to stand up for what he truly believes. (See Isaac Herzog’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, “Dividing the U.S. on Israel”.)
  13. Issac Herzog’s insistence on linking the ogre of a nuclear Iran with Iran as an existential threat to Israel, fails to recognize how a de-nuclearized Iran is an even greater threat to Israel in good part because of how both he and Netanyahu, in very different ways, have mishandled the issue; with the political leadership in Israel and the U.S. both divided, and only united in being misguided, Iran is enormously strengthened.
  14. Turkey is falling apart politically, Syria has deconstructed and Iraq may be recovering, but it has a very long and very difficult road ahead, so Iran is left without any formidable rivals.
  15. In the meanwhile, Israeli voters, in the lead up to the March election, are distracted from the core issues of the economy, social justice, the Palestinians and the real threat of a denuclearized but more powerful enemy, Iran, so that the alleged “mudslinging” has damaged the opposition even more than Netanyahu.

Let me clarify this argument by taking on two very respected columnists clearly opposed to my position though also critical of Netanyahu, but each of them for very different reasons. Let me take up the points made by David Brooks of The New York Times first.

    1. Iran has been driven by ideology, not pragmatism.
    2. I agree, but ideology and pragmatism need not be polar opposites; the current regime is driven by a more pragmatic ideology than the previous one.
    3. Current American foreign policy is governed by the principle that prudent statecraft can trump megalomania.
    4. Though also a gamble and a risk, I believe that current American foreign policy is based on the principle that prudent statecraft is a better option than either war or economic containment through sanctions, for however powerful the latter has been in bringing Iran to the negotiating table, those sanctions would not have prevented Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; a de-nuclearized more pragmatic megalomaniacal-led enemy is much to be preferred to an imprudent  ideologically driven nuclear-armed megalomaniacal-led Iran.
    5. The Obama regime is betting that Iran can evolve into a fundamentally normal regime which prioritizes economics over ideology and religion.
    6. Some members of the Obama administration, though significant but still a minority, believe that this is a likely outcome; most members are more skeptical, but still believe a) the risk is worth taking, and b) the downside is better than any of the alternatives.
    7. The Iran nuclear negotiations are not just about centrifuges; they are about the future of the Middle East.
    8. The Iran nuclear negotiations are and have been since the Joint Plan of Action was signed in November 2013, just about centrifuges (and enriched uranium and the ability to produce plutonium) and are not about the future of the Middle East; this may be a mistake or clever diplomacy, but whichever, it is best not to mischaracterize the negotiations.
    9. Obama seeks to wean Iran away from the radicalism of the revolution and bind it into the international economic and diplomatic system.
    10. Correct.
    11. By reaching an agreement on nukes and lifting the sanctions, Iran would re-emerge as America’s natural partner in the region.
    12. By reaching an agreement on nukes and lifting the sanctions, Iran could re-emerge as one of America’s partners in the region. (There is no such entity as a “natural” partner, especially in the Middle East, and that includes Israel, a point which Israelis do well not to forget.)
    13. Once tamed, Iran would abandon its support for terrorists and terrorist regimes.
    14. A faint hope, but a possibility.
    15. Obama has made a series of stunning sacrifices in order to get a nuclear agreement with Iran.
    16. Obama has made a number of concessions (hardly accurately depicted as sacrifices), as promised in the JPA, in return for Iran giving up its nuclear weapons program.
    17. In 2012, the president vowed that he would not permit Iran to maintain a nuclear program.
    18. In his debate with Mitt Romney, Obama said that, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.” Not program, weapon. Obama has so often been misquoted on this promise that in a Google search, the misinterpretation and misquote pops up more frequently than the actual words, but noticeably without quotation marks.
    19. If reports of the proposed nuclear deal with Iran are correct, Obama has abandoned this non-nuclear Iran policy.
    20. Since it never was his policy to de-nuclearize Iran altogether, it is not one he could have abandoned. Further, the negotiations and the deal made did not constitute an abandoning of a denuclearized Iran, even if one makes the mistake of assuming there was one; for the JPA did that.
    21. The deal will not make any restrictions on Iran’s missile program.
    22. It was not intended to accomplish this – see the JPA. This is the real gamble in the JPA.
  1. Monitoring and enforcement will rely on an inspection regime that has been good, but leaky.
  2. The inspection regime was totally inadequate prior to the JPA. Since then, except for any inspection of Iran’s missile program at Parchin, it has been revolutionized and greatly improved, though not yet perfect.
  3. The United States has offended its erstwhile allies, like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
  4. True.
  5. Iran’s leaders really believe what they say, that they are as apocalyptically motivated, paranoid and dogmatically anti-American as their pronouncements suggest they are, and, hence, will be as destabilizing and hegemonically inclined as all its recent actions suggest.
  6. I would bet on it. That is precisely why a de-nuclearized weapons regime is preferable to one with nuclear weapons or the potential to produce nuclear weapons within months.
  7. Do we really want a nuclear-capable Iran in the midst of all that?
  8. Wrong question. Do we really want a nuclear-weapons capable Iran in the midst of all that?

In the case of Caroline Glick, rants are usually not worthy of comment, but since she makes David Brooks look like the epitome of accuracy and moderation, I will make only a few points.

  1. Glick portrays Netanyahu as having behaved like a pragmatist in many of his policies but she evaluates this as a betrayal of the principles of a vision of a Greater Israel, whereas I interpret his latest moves as intended to secure his right wing base in the face of rivals and as a reversion to his strong right wing propensities and evaluate the turn as a betrayal of his pragmatic side.
  2. Glick portrays Obama as having “delegitimized Israel’s very existence” whereas I view Obama as ardently opposed to a vision of a Greater Israel but very determined to protect and secure Israel’s actual existence and security.
  3. Glick accuses Obama of embracing the jihadist lie that Israel’s existence is the product of post-Holocaust European guilt, but, unfortunately, jihadists have no monopoly on this false portrayal. Rather it is the dominant, though incorrect view of mainstream historians and Israeli and Western education.
  4. The thesis is not false because Israel is a product of 4,000 years of Jewish history, a factor that played a part in the resurrection of modern Israel, but, as I have argued many times before, there is NO evidence that countries that supported the re-establishment of the Israeli state did so because of any guilt over the Holocaust, which was barely discussed in the immediate period after WWII in the context of Israel, but were in good part motivated by the need to resettle the 200,000 remnant of Jewish refugees that no country wanted.
  5. Senior Obama administration officials have never threatened that Israel will become illegitimate if it refuses to surrender to Palestinian demands, but have insisted that hostility to Israel, including the extreme form that seeks to delegitimize Israel, will increase unless Israel accommodates (not surrender s to) Palestinian legitimate claims. I am even more skeptical, because I think the hostile forces will persist and even grow even if Israel makes a deal based on a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Accommodation of the Palestinians should be supported because it is both just and prudent even if it does not ward off increasing hostility towards Israel.
  6.  Obama did not try to coerce Israel into making a ceasefire agreement with Hamas (see my series of blogs on the Gaza War), never demanded the free flow of goods into Gaza, and did not cut off traffic to Ben Gurion Airport “under specious and grossly prejudicial terms in an open act of economic warfare against Israel;” the misguided action was taken for only a few days independently by the Federal Aviation Board for security reasons.
  7. Obama did not launch an arms embargo against Israel during the Gaza War. Almost all the citations supporting such as thesis are Glick’s own previous columns. Obama did, at the end of the war, make clear to Israel that the U.S. could review its arms exports to Israel and that America’s support was not unconditional irrespective of how Israel behaved.
  8. Obama has not repeatedly tried to slash funding for Israel’s Iron Dome but on 4 August 2014 signed an emergency aid bill providing $225 million in emergency aid to Israel for its Iron Dome system.
  9. Glick celebrates a reborn Netanyahu with his obstinate, unbending, and unaccommodating stance against a nuclear deal with Iran while I deplore it.
  10. Netanyahu has never wavered from his position that he would never accept an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. But neither has Obama. To repeat, the issue is whether opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapons program should be linked with Iran’s missile program, its support for terrorism, its status as a rising regional power and its objective of exterminating Israel.

I think I have said enough. Since one cannot argue with pundits who pontificate but ignore any evidence that might falsify their assertions, and write in a mode that marries heroism with victimhood. I have had to close my eyes and ears to her repetitive columns. One reads Glick only to long for the erroneous but at least cool and rational Brooks.


  1. David Brooks of The New York Times

Converting the Ayatollahs

February 27, 2015

Over the past centuries, Western diplomats have continually projected pragmatism onto their ideological opponents. They have often assumed that our enemies are driven by the same sort of national interest calculations that motivate most regimes. They have assumed that economic interests would trump ideology and religion — that prudent calculation and statecraft would trump megalomania.

They assumed that the world leaders before 1914 would not be stupid enough to allow nationalist passion to plunge them into a World War; that Hitler would not be crazy enough to start a second one; that Islamic radicals could not really want to send their region back into the 12th century; that Sunnis and Shiites would never let their sectarian feud turn into a cataclysmic confrontation in places like Iraq.

The Obama administration is making a similar projection today. It is betting that Iran can turn into a fundamentally normal regime, which can be counted upon to put G.D.P. over ideology and religion and do the pragmatic thing.

The Iran nuclear negotiations are not just about centrifuges; they are about the future of the Middle East. Through a series of statements over the last few years, President Obama has made it reasonably clear how he envisions that future.

He seeks to wean Iran away from the radicalism of the revolution and bind it into the international economic and diplomatic system. By reaching an agreement on nukes and lifting the sanctions, Iran would re-emerge as America’s natural partner in the region. It has an educated middle class that is interested in prosperity and is not terribly anti-American. Global integration would strengthen Iranian moderates and reinforce democratic tendencies.

Once enmeshed in the global system, Iran would work to tame Hezbollah and Hamas and would cooperate to find solutions in Gaza, Iraq and Syria. There would be a more stable balance of power between the major powers. In exchange for good global citizenship, Iran would be richer and more influential.

To pursue this détente, Obama has to have a nuclear agreement. He has made a series of stunning sacrifices in order to get it. In 2012, the president vowed that he would not permit Iran to maintain a nuclear program. Six United Nations Security Council resolutions buttressed that principle. But, if reports of the proposed deal are correct, Obama has abandoned this policy.

Under the reported framework, Iran would have thousands of centrifuges. All restrictions on its nuclear program would be temporary and would be phased out over a decade or so. According to some reports, there will be no limits on Iran’s ballistic missiles, no resolution of Iran’s weaponizing activities. Monitoring and enforcement would rely on an inspection regime that has been good, but leaky.

Meanwhile, the United States has offended its erstwhile allies, like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, without being sure that Iran is really willing to supplement them. There is a chance that Iran’s regional rivals would feel the need to have their own nuclear programs and we would descend into a spiral of proliferation.

All of this might be defensible if Iran is really willing to switch teams, if religion and ideology played no role in the regime’s thinking. But it could be that Iran has been willing to be an international pariah for the past generation for a reason. It could be that Iran finances terrorist groups and destabilizes regimes like Yemen’s and Morocco’s for a reason. It could be that Iran’s leaders really believe what they say. It could be that Iranian leaders are as apocalyptically motivated, paranoid and dogmatically anti-American as their pronouncements suggest they are. It could be that Iran will be as destabilizing and hegemonically inclined as all its recent actions suggest. Iran may be especially radical if the whole region gets further inflamed by Sunni-Shia rivalry or descends into greater and greater Islamic State-style fanaticism.

Do we really want a nuclear-capable Iran in the midst of all that?

If the Iranian leaders believe what they say, then United States policy should be exactly the opposite of the one now being pursued. Instead of embracing and enriching Iran, sanctions should be toughened to further isolate and weaken it. Instead of accepting a nuclear capacity, eliminating that capacity should be restored as the centerpiece of American policy. Instead of a condominium with Iran that offends traditional allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, the U.S. should build a regional strategy around strengthening relations with those historic pillars.

It’s hard to know what’s going on in the souls of Iran’s leadership class, but a giant bet is being placed on one interpretation. March could be a ruinous month for the Middle East. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel could weaken U.S.-Israeli relations, especially on the Democratic left. The world might accept an Iranian nuclear capacity. Efforts designed to palliate a rogue regime may end up enriching and emboldening it.

  1. Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post

In Israel’s hour of need Friday, February 27, 2015 It is hard to get your arms around the stubborn determination of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. For most of the nine years he has served as Israel’s leader, first from 1996 to 1999 and now since 2009, Netanyahu shied away from confrontations or buckled under pressure. He signed deals with the Palestinians he knew the Palestinians would never uphold in the hopes of winning the support of hostile US administrations and a fair shake from the pathologically hateful Israeli media. In recent years he released terrorist murderers from prison. He abrogated Jewish property rights in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. He agreed to support the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. He agreed to keep giving the Palestinians of Gaza free electricity while they waged war against Israel. He did all of these things in a bid to accommodate US President Barack Obama and win over the media, while keeping the leftist parties in his coalitions happy. For his part, for the past six years Obama has undermined Israel’s national security. He has publicly humiliated Netanyahu repeatedly. He has delegitimized Israel’s very existence, embracing the jihadist lie that Israel’s existence is the product of post-Holocaust European guilt rather than 4,000 years of Jewish history. He and his representatives have given a backwind to the forces that seek to wage economic warfare against Israel, repeatedly indicating that the application of economic sanctions against Israel – illegal under the World Trade Organization treaties – are a natural response to Israel’s unwillingness to bow to every Palestinian demand. The same goes for the movement to deny the legitimacy of Israel’s very existence. Senior administration officials have threatened that Israel will become illegitimate if it refuses to surrender to Palestinian demands. Last summer, Obama openly colluded with Hamas’s terrorist war against Israel. He tried to coerce Israel into accepting ceasefire terms that would have amounted to an unconditional surrender to Hamas’s demands for open borders and the free flow of funds to the terrorist group. He enacted a partial arms embargo on Israel in the midst of war. He cut off air traffic to Ben-Gurion International Airport under specious and grossly prejudicial terms in an open act of economic warfare against Israel. And yet, despite Obama’s scandalous treatment of Israel, Netanyahu has continued to paper over differences in public and thank Obama for the little his has done on Israel’s behalf. He always makes a point of thanking Obama for agreeing to Congress’s demand to continue funding the Iron Dome missile defense system (although Obama has sought repeatedly to slash funding for the project). Obama’s policies that are hostile to Israel are not limited to his unconditional support for the Palestinians in their campaign against Israel. Obama shocked the entire Israeli defense community when he supported the overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, despite Mubarak’s dependability as a US ally in the war on Islamist terrorism, and as the guardian of both Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and the safety and freedom of maritime traffic in the Suez Canal. Obama supported Mubarak’s overthrow despite the fact that the only political force in Egypt capable of replacing him was the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks the destruction of Israel and is the ideological home and spawning ground of jihadist terrorist groups, including al-Qaida and Hamas. Obama then supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime even as then-president Mohamed Morsi took concrete steps to transform Egypt into an Islamist, jihadist state and end Egypt’s peace with Israel. Israelis were united in our opposition to Obama’s behavior. But Netanyahu said nothing publicly in criticism of Obama’s destructive, dangerous policy. He held his tongue in the hopes of winning Obama over through quiet diplomacy. He held his tongue, because he believed that the damage Obama was causing Israel was not irreversible in most cases. And it was better to maintain the guise of good relations, in the hopes of actually achieving them, than to expose the fractures in US-Israel ties caused by Obama’s enormous hostility toward Israel and by his strategic myopia that endangered both Israel and the US’s other regional allies. And yet, today Netanyahu, the serial accommodator, is putting everything on the line. He will not accommodate. He will not be bullied. He will not be threatened, even as all the powers that have grown used to bringing him to his knees – the Obama administration, the American Jewish Left, the Israeli media, and the Labor party grow ever more shrill and threatening in their attacks against him. As he has made clear in daily statements, Netanyahu is convinced that we have reached a juncture in our relations with the Obama administration where accommodation is no longer possible. Obama’s one policy that Netanyahu has never acquiesced to either publicly or privately is his policy of accommodating Iran. Since Obama’s earliest days in office, Netanyahu has warned openly and behind closed doors that Obama’s plan to forge a nuclear deal with Iran is dangerous. And as the years have passed, and the lengths Obama is willing to go to appease Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been left their marks on the region, Netanyahu’s warnings have grown stronger and more urgent. Netanyahu has been clear since his first tenure in office in the 1990s, that Iran’s nuclear program – as well as its ballistic missile program – constitutes a threat to Israel’s very existence. He has never wavered from his position that Israel cannot accept an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. Until Obama entered office, and to an ever escalating degree until his reelection in 2012, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons has been such an obvious imperative among both Israelis and Americans that Netanyahu’s forthright rejection of any nuclear deal in which Iran would be permitted to maintain the components of its nuclear program was uncontroversial. In some Israeli circles, his trenchant opposition to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear capabilities was the object of derision, with critics insisting that he was standing strong on something uncontroversial while buckling on issues like negotiations with the Palestinians, where he should have stood strong. But now we are seeing that far from being an opportunist, Netanyahu is a leader of historical dimensions. For the past two years, in the interest of reaching a deal, Obama has enabled Iran to take over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. For the first time since 1974, due to Obama’s policies, the Golan Heights is an active front in the war against Israel, with Iranian military personnel commanding Syrian and Hezbollah forces along the border. Iran’s single-minded dedication to its goal of becoming a regional hegemon and its commitment to its ultimate goal of destroying the US is being enabled by Obama’s policies of accommodation. An Iran in possession of a nuclear arsenal is an Iran that can not only destroy Israel with just one or two warheads. It can make it impossible for Israel to respond to conventional aggression carried out by terrorist forces and others operating under an Iranian nuclear umbrella. Whereas Israel can survive Obama on the Palestinian front by stalling, waiting him out and placating him where possible, and can even survive his support for Hamas by making common cause with the Egyptian military and the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the damage Obama’s intended deal with Iran will cause Israel will be irreversible. The moment that Obama grants Iran a path to a nuclear arsenal – and the terms of the agreement that Obama has offered Iran grant Iran an unimpeded path to nuclear power – a future US administration will be hard-pressed to put the genie back in the bottle. For his efforts to prevent irreparable harm to Israel Netanyahu is being subjected to the most brutal and vicious attacks any Israeli leader has ever been subjected to by an American administration and its political allies. They are being assisted in their efforts by a shameless Israeli opposition that is willing to endanger the future of the country in order to seize political power. Every day brings another serving of abuse. Wednesday National Security Adviser Susan Rice accused Netanyahu of destroying US relations with Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry effectively called him a serial alarmist, liar, and warmonger. For its part, the Congressional Black Caucus reportedly intends to sabotage Netanyahu’s address before the joint houses of Congress by walking out in the middle, thus symbolically accusing of racism the leader of the Middle East’s only liberal democracy, and the leader of the most persecuted people in human history. Radical leftist representatives who happen to be Jewish, like Jan Schakowsky of suburban Chicago and Steve Cohen of Memphis, are joining Netanyahu’s boycotters in order to give the patina of Jewish legitimacy to an administration whose central foreign policy threatens the viability of the Jewish state. As for Netanyahu’s domestic opponents, their behavior is simply inexcusable. In Israel’s hour of peril, just weeks before Obama intends to conclude his nuclear deal with the mullahs that will endanger Israel’s existence, Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog insists that his primary duty is to defeat Netanyahu. And as far as Iran is concerned, he acts as a free loader ad a spoiler. Either he believes that Netanyahu will succeed in his mission to derail the deal with or without his support, or he doesn’t care. But Herzog’s rejection of Netanyahu’s entreaties that he join him in Washington next week, and his persistent attacks on Netanyahu for refusing accommodate that which cannot be accommodated shows that he is both an opportunist and utterly unworthy of a leadership role in this country. Netanyahu is not coming to Washington next Tuesday to warn Congress against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, because he seeks a fight with Obama. Netanyahu has devoted the last six years to avoiding a fight with Obama, often at great cost to Israel’s national security and to his own political position. Netanyahu is coming to Washington next week because Obama has left him no choice. And all decent people of good will should support him, and those who do not, and those who are silent, should be called out for their treachery and cowardice.