The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals


Howard Adelman

On 5 May 2016 at noon at Massey College at the University of Toronto, Professor Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, a Professor of History and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the university, gave a talk entitled, “The Iran Deal and the End of the Iranian Revolutionary Radicalism.” The talk was not about the terms of the deal itself, upon which I have written a great deal, but rather on the far more important topic, the significance of the deal as an indicator of the current stage of the Iranian revolution and the implications on both domestic policy within Iran and on international relations.

Mohamad’s most important book has been Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Historiography (2001). In it, he described the unique historical cultural and religious heritage of Iran, in contrast to the imposition of Western imperialist influences. In the journal, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (23:1&2, 2003, Nasrin Rahimieh described the scholarship in the book as “a remarkable work of historiography and an original analysis of Iranian cultural history” by challenging the Euro-centred concept of modernity and the widespread intellectual conviction that the spirit of inquiry, rationalism and scientific discovery can be traced exclusively to the European Enlightenment. In Mohamad’s thesis, the Enlightenment itself was influenced in its development by a dialectical relationship with the East, in particular, the Middle East, which facilitated the refashioning of the cultural revolution underway in Europe and the emergence of a new conception of self epitomized by the Enlightenment.

True to that spirit of exploring the interaction of East and West, Mohamad began his lecture with the depiction of the confluence of two streams, the final stage of the Iranian revolution and America’s historical withdrawal from its self-defined role as spreading democracy to the rest of the world. On the latter, it is noteworthy that former Vice-President Dick Cheney, a prime author of the military intervention in Iraq, on Friday endorsed Donald Trump as the standard bearer of the Republican Party, the very same Trump who has repeatedly denounced that intervention as America’s biggest foreign policy mistake and who has championed an America First policy that requires America to surrender its role as policeman of the world. This is also the same presidential candidate who repeatedly knocks the Iran nuclear deal as the “worst deal ever” while revealing he knows very little about its terms.

Three months ago, as Trump campaigned in the New Hampshire primary, he was interviewed by Anderson Cooper for CNN where he put on full display his total ignorance about the contents of that agreement and his absolute lack of credentials to be the leader of the free world. Trump boasted as usual that he is “the best deal-maker ever,” “the best negotiator ever,” while revealing gross misrepresentations of the deal and the process that lead to it. As Trump mis-described the terms, he claimed that America was paying Iran $150 billion to sign the deal. In reality, the UN was lifting the sanctions that blocked Iran from using $50 billion (not $150 billion) of its own money. America had been the main initiator and the most important enforcer of the sanctions, but in no rational world could the release of Iran’s own money be described as the U.S. giving Iran that money to sign the deal. Yet this blustering braggart went on to win, or is on the verge of winning, the Republican nomination to run for President on the absolutely unique campaign of presenting himself as a victim of the “establishment” and a heroic one person saviour – victim and victor at one and the same time.

Mohamad’s thesis was precisely the opposite of Trump’s. Though Mohamad did not spell it out in his lecture, the implicit assumption of the talk (confirmed in my discussions with him afterwards) was that the deal was the best one possible for both sides, and, more importantly, was a significant step in the advancement of peace in international relations. Further, in the major thrust of his talk, the deal was critical both as a signal of and an instrument for the advance towards moderation of the Iranian regime. While I have agreed with the former conclusion, I have been sceptical about the latter claim. Mohamad’s talk forced me to reconsider that position.

In the talk, Mohamad presumed he was addressing an educated audience and took for granted that we were all familiar with the variation of theories of the stages through which revolutions pass. When I was an undergraduate, I read Crane Brinton’s 1952 revised edition of The Anatomy of a Revolution and believe it is still among my collection of books now mostly shelved in my garage. As a medical student at the time, I recall that my predominant reaction was that the book should have been called The Physiology of Revolution for it was far more of a dynamic account of stages revolutions pass through than of its structural elements. Further, it was more of a disease account, a portrait of an abnormality that societies have to go through in order to develop an immunity to political domestic violence. Mohamad referred to, but did not explicate, the fact that the dominant conception of the Iranian revolution by Iranians was an engineering rather than a medical model, implying a constructive rather than abnormal political pattern through which societies pass.

Since he did not elaborate on how the stages of a revolution conceived in engineering terms differed from those stages conceived in a medical framework, I had to fall back on the disease model as a means of understanding the intellectual foundation for his talk and when I asked two questions afterwards, I chose not to raise the question because any answer would require another lecture. In the disease model, revolutions are abnormalities in social development, but usually necessary abnormalities that societies in the process of maturation need to go through, to acquire the necessary institutions that will immunize that society from the destructive forces as inherent propensities in domestic politics.

Revolutions begin with failures of the old regime, more specifically, the increasing costs of maintaining the regime and carrying out its perceived responsibilities, and the decreasing ability to access the funds necessary for that task. As the regime grows more ineffectual and less able to enforce its rules, defectors come forth from the regime and an opposition arises in significant part from elements outside the normal power structure. When a regime can no longer hold the centre, when it can no longer enforce the values underpinning the regime and the order established by it, a revolt or a disaster instigating a revolt breaks out. Moderates step in to try to mollify the rebels and reassert control. They fail. The reforms they initiate are half-assed. And they are caught in a vice between reactionaries who condemn them for their weakness and selling out, and by the militants who denounce the wishy-washy half-hearted efforts. After the regime has lost its immunity to change, after the incubation period, then the revolution proper begins and the disease soon appears at fever pitch.

The radicals lead an uprising to challenge the constituted authority directly and take control of the main centres of power – the railways, the communications centres, the seats of law and of governance – precisely the key source of failure of the Easter Rising in Ireland where the revolution was delayed rather than halted in its tracks by this failure, by a focus on symbols of place rather than power. That was lucky, lucky, because of what also failed to follow – the initial successful seizure of control and The Terror as a way to deal with the domestic opposition and its foreign supporters. Instead, the British ruling regime resorted to terror, retaining power temporarily, but at the cost of its legitimacy.

Normally, terror perpetrated by the militant revolutionaries emerges like a raging fever. While a weak regime tries to extend and consolidate its power and authority, many errors are committed and the revolution is only partially successful. The radicals give rise to an equally powerful reaction as moderates either gradually or suddenly assume power over the instruments controlled by the radicals. But they too cannot regain the trust of the population and a new regime led by a charismatic and populist leader takes charge to exercise control primarily through coercive power rather than through the authority of legislated and judicially adjudicated laws and certainly not through the influence of ideas.

This standard pattern is neither a necessary nor a constant one. For example, though the British Revolution produced a Cromwell, the French a Napoleon and Russia a Stalin, the U.S. exceptionally did not yield to dictatorship. Not all revolutions need devour their children. In the U.S., this may have been because the American Revolution had a release valve – the cleansing of the figures of power of the old regime took place by means of a forced exodus as the elements of the old power structure fled to the mother country or to Canada as self-defined United Empire Loyalists. But whichever path taken, given the context and circumstances, what initially emerges is a regime of dual power – Presbyterians and the military leaders of the new modern army in Britain, Girondins and Jacobins in France, Bolsheviks versus Mensheviks in partnership with liberals in Russia. And that was certainly true in the Iranian Revolution.

Though often viewed as a reactionary regime to restore the power of the Mosque, the Iranian Revolution exemplified the pattern of extremist control in a revolution. In the very significant first phase through which it passed, the so-called men of virtue, those most fanatically dedicated and led by a small and resolute disciplinary leadership gained power in conjunction with the Revolutionary Guards. The exercise of that power was characterized by summary executions at home to expunge the regime of “vice,” and the export of the revolution to the near-abroad. If France had its Committee of Public Safety and Britain its Council of State, Iran had its Council of Experts to centralize power and authority through the use of lethal force to repress any perceived opposition. The domestic repression was combined with missionary adventurism and then went through two other stages, the seeming compromise between the clerics and the militants in a so-called period of apparent moderation and then the supposed reinvigoration of the revolution under the Terror of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian Revolution under the rule of President Hassan Rouhani is now going through the consolidation of its Thermidor, its second substantive moderating phase and convalescence from the fever of its incandescent fervour in the disease version of the stages of revolution

At the height of the feverish period of Puritanism and the revolt against the influence of the Great Satan, during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election and then fraudulent re-election in June of 2003, the third phase of the Terror began. The final evident opponents of the regime were either killed, suppressed into silence or forced into exile, like the Nobel Prize winner for human rights, Shirin Abadi. That is when Ahmadinejad announced the resumption of the Iranian nuclear program and the plans for 10 nuclear plants in total disregard of UN resolutions. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were banned and Iran declared it would no longer be bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran had passed through the first stage of the actual revolution in the first decade of the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini who consolidated his power in partnership with the Revolutionary Guard by expunging his communist and liberal secular allies from power in the decade until his death in 1989. He did so under the rule of Islamic law, velayat-e faqih. (Faqih is an Islamic jurist). Khomeini’s death inaugurated the second stage in the dual split between Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, and President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the incomparable deal maker who makes Trump look like a wuss. At the same time, Iran exported its anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli fervent orthodoxy and revolutionary spirit in the bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Argentina in 1994.

A radical dual system of rule had been incorporated into the Council of Guardians to mediate between decisions of the Majlis or parliament and the Council of Experts, charged with selecting the Supreme Leader. This proved inadequate. In 1988, constitutional reform created an Expediency Council, an administrative amalgam of clerics, scholars and intellectuals to resolve disputes between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians and ensure the efficacy of legislated rule. Although its creation seemed initially to be ineffectual as the Iranian Spring was suppressed in the tyrannical rule and consolidation of clerical power, Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi in his talk seemed to suggest, if I interpreted him correctly, that the Expediency Council saved the new revolution from the Terror instituted under Ahmadinejad and his continuation in power via a fraudulent election in 2003. That Council enabled his replacement by the consolidation or power of the moderates under Rafsanjani.

In the terror, the Revolutionary Guards had gained a monopoly and consolidated its corrupt control over entire economic sectors of the economy, arrested critics routinely and permitted prison guards to routinely flout the rule of law in the treatment of prisoners (see Michael Ledeen Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West.) The West’s reaction was primarily stimulated by the resurrection of the nuclear program rather than by the abuse of civil liberties. Utilizing gradually increased smart sanctions while avoiding a direct military confrontation, the attack against Iran’s nuclear program worked. Moderates were elected and the new regime in 2009 launched a process of reconciliation, of which the most momentous outcome was the nuclear deal. But that was made possible when Iran entered the fourth phase of its revolution and the real Shiite scholars began to reassert themselves against the pseudo and unrecognized scholarship of a third rate Khamenei as they tried to distance the clerics from the political misrule of Ahmadinejad, who tried to cover up his corrupt and inept regime with the rationale that his rule exemplified the return of the Shiite messiah. Anti-clericalism had mushroomed and hope for the preservation of the status of the clerics depended on the resumption of a widely recognized clerical scholar becoming the third Supreme Leader.

But political and economic revolutions are relatively superficial and deal with the earth’s crust and not the momentous shifts in the tectonic plates on which that crust rests – such as the Industrial Revolution and the Reproductive Revolution. In the next blog I will discuss that interaction as exemplified by developments in the Iranian Revolution as depicted, to the best of my memory, by Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi.

With the help of Alex Zisman


The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II


Howard Adelman

The Significance of the Agreement

Was this the “the most significant and tangible progress that we’ve made with Iran” since Obama took office? Or was the agreement a “historic mistake”, a loss of momentum towards capitulation by Iran or the readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities by the allies? Without question it was the most significant agreement since there had been none for decades. Its projected impact was presumed to be very large whether one approved or disapproved of the deal. The real question is whether the agreement represented progress or a historic mistake.

Canada took a position somewhere between Netanyahu and Obama by emphasizing scepticism and withholding its support of the agreement until such time as Iran granted “unfettered access” to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Further, Canada waited to see whether the verification promised in the deal was fulfilled. Although the Harper government said it had been moving economic self-interest to the front in its foreign policy, in the case of Iran, Canada closed its embassy and delayed the gold rush of opportunities as western companies sought to establish a foothold in the opening with Iran. At the same time, Canada abandoned its political lockstep link to Israeli policy, hence losing any advantage by the delay.

Why then did Avi Benlolo of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center support the Canadian position since Canada supported the interim agreement if full transparency and verification resulted. Benolo was far more critical of the agreement and accused the P5+1 of being suckered by Iran’s new smiling diplomacy while Iran retained its deep antipathy to the West and remained determined to develop nuclear weapons while it bought the necessary time to progress towards that goal. For Benolo, the Iranian retreat had to be surrender, not just of the entire nuclear program, but of the support for terrorism. Canada stipulated no such conditions.

Certainly, the agreement does nothing substantive to curb Iran’s rogue status in the international community. However, the interim agreement opens wide such a possibility. The real substantive dispute is whether the interim agreement denies Iran the right to enrich uranium or whether it reified Iran’s right to enrich uranium, as President Rouhani declared? Uranium enrichment can produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium for fissile material for nuclear weapons. John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, claimed that Iran was not given any inherent and unfettered right to enrich uranium, but concedes that Iran will likely be given a limited, completely verifiable right to have a very constrained program of enrichment for peaceful (medical) purposes.

This was not a zone of creative ambiguity because Iran retains the right to enrich uranium to 5% purity for peaceful purposes, but is explicitly denied the right to enrich uranium to 20% purity to enable Iran, with banks of centrifuges, then to increase that uranium readily to 90% purity for weapon’s grade purposes. The agreement does NOT enshrine an apparent promise that at the end of the process, Iran would be entitled to enrich uranium as it wants, when it wants and as much as it wants. Such a charge makes nonsense of the plain text of the agreement.

In a more modest but very severe criticism, did the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) shred six United Nations Security Council resolutions that required the Islamic Republic of Islam to abandon its enrichment program and reprocessing facilities? Not as I read the intent of the agreement that followed the interim one. Further, the UN resolutions demanded only that Iran “suspend” its nuclear enrichment program, embark on a course of confidence-building measures, suspend the construction of heavy water plant at Arak for producing plutonium and ratify the IAEA additional protocol. Iran did all of these.

The first three points were already part of the interim agreement. The UNSC nonbinding resolutions required a suspension of Iran’s enrichment, a reconsideration of its decision to build a heavy-water nuclear reactor, and Tehran’s implementation of “transparency measures” providing inspectors with access to non-nuclear facilities, procurement documents, and the opportunity to interview certain Iranian officials. This is precisely what the interim agreement achieved. Perhaps, these successes may be inadequate, may cover up for a long term malevolent intent, but they seem clearly to fulfil both the letter and spirit of the UNSC resolutions. Previously, Iran had accelerated work on its uranium enrichment program (it had stopped in November 2004) and stopped voluntarily adhering to the Additional Protocol. The interim agreement seems to fulfil the aims of the UNSC resolutions in accordance with the goals of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006.

The Reception in Iran

The agreement had a fiery reception in Iran, only second to the one that greeted the agreement in the United States. On 23 June 2015, three weeks prior to the signing of the agreement, the Majlis, Iran’s Parliament, passed The Government’s Obligation Act to Protect the Nuclear Rights and Achievements of the Iranian Nation (the Iran Nuclear Achievements Act – INAA) by a vote of 213 to 10. The Act provided that all sanctions be lifted on the day Iran began to comply with the obligations of the Agreement, a requirement that the JCPOA definitively did not make. However, there was nothing in the agreement that contradicted the Act’s requirements on inspections restricted to nuclear facilities but banning access to military bases and security sensitive areas because the Act also provided that such access conform to Supreme National Security policies. Therefore, the steps to obtain such approval were included in the agreement. More importantly, the Act only required that the agreement be submitted to the Majlis, not endorsed by that body.

Less than a week after the deal was signed on 14 July 2015, the Majlis set up a special commission to examine the JCPOA with a vote on its report scheduled just after the deadline for American Congressional approval. However, two days before the deal was signed, President Rouhani signed the law safeguarding Iran’s nuclear achievements and ordered the relevant ministries to implement INAA, in effect, JCPOA. The hardliners in Iran, parallel to the hardliners in the U.S., were denied a voice to a great degree to articulate their strong opposition because the Supreme National Security Council issued a directive to media outlets to avoid representing Iran as divided about the deal and, therefore, avoid permitting the hardliners – the fundamentalists, authoritarians and militants – to criticize the deal and insist that the agreement crossed the red line of the Supreme Leader. By 3 September, the Supreme Leader weighed in and reversed the intent of the legislation and determined that the Majlis should make the final decision, not the government on its own; Majlis approval now seemed to be required.

But the make-up of the Special Commission, while giving the opposition a strong voice, still seemed to assure that the agreement would be approved. The Majlis 15-member Special Commission for examining the nuclear agreement consisted of a clear majority of moderates: 6 members representing not only the United Front but the Combatant Clergy, the Pathfinders and the Resistance Front. They were opposed by the 6 members of the Stability Front, the party of extremist fundamentalists. However, the opposition on the other flank to the so-called moderates were the Reformists (2 seats) and independent (1 seat) who were expected to support the moderates on approving the deal. In any case, the Majlis was very weak relative to the Executive branch of government and the Executive Branch was fully committed to implementing the deal.

The Reception Elsewhere and in the United States

I have already referred to the overwhelming opposition to the deal In Israel. However, in Europe the agreement had vast support. Further, 70 nuclear non-proliferation experts endorsed the agreement. So did the United Nations Security Council in a unanimous vote. The agreement, however, was vociferously and overwhelmingly opposed by Republican majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate where the vote on the deal was scheduled for September. A two-thirds vote would have to be mustered to overthrow a Presidential deal since the Senate had already surrendered its power to formally endorse the agreement.

The key players were 28 Jewish Congressmen; all but one were Democrats or independents who support the Democrats. There were 19 in the House and 9 in the Senate. The huge lobbying effort of AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee), the Jewish pro-Israel lobby group and the outspoken voice of Netanyahu who addressed a joint session of Congress, was not able to dissuade 19 of the 28 Jewish congressional members from endorsing the agreement. Congress thus could not muster the votes to defeat a Presidential override of any act to delay or defeat the agreement.  In effect, without a formal vote, the deal was sealed on 17 September, the agreed allotted time for the opposition to see if it could muster sufficient votes to override the agreement.

Setting aside the actual legislative victory of sorts, why is there a plethora of institutions, politicians and pundits in the United States even opposed to the agreement? Am I missing something?  No. The critics play on ambiguity. They say that the agreement enshrines Iran’s right to enrich uranium, as if this was a problem. The agreement does say explicitly that Iran has the right to enrich uranium to 5% for peaceful purposes. Iran does not have the right for further enrichment. Obfuscating this difference just confuses the public for political purposes. John Kerry did not say that Iran had no right to enrich uranium. He said that Iran had no right to enrich uranium to weapons grade, a very different matter. The reality is that Iran was within 6-8 weeks of a breakout point. If the negotiations had failed, the choice then was bombing the facilities or merely increasing sanctions. If the deal succeeds, Iran will be much further back, but will have acquired access to funds and a restored faith in the Iranian rial so the economy will improve spectacularly. But this is what the P5+1 want as well as Iran – for that would help solidify support for the agreement. Further, if the new transparency reveals cheating, the sanctions would be quickly re-imposed, the rial would plummet in value and Iran would be even worse off than it is now with dashed domestic hopes and a restive public.

If the deal had not been made, following the pattern George Bush did in 2003 when he rejected Iranian overtures to make a deal in the expectation that the Iranian regime would collapse, the results would have been disastrous. When Bush scuttled a prospective deal, Iran did not collapse. Iran has almost 20,000 centrifuges rather than the less than 200 it had ten years ago. Iran would be able to approach the breaking point without breaking into the production of nuclear weapons, thereby keeping the rest of the world on tenterhooks. If Israel attacked and even succeeded, Israel would likely be labelled the rogue state, not Iran. More seriously, Iran would feel free, and China and Russia would support Iran, to complete its nuclear program in order to defend itself against future attacks from Israel. The nascent hope is that the Iranian population will turn to greater trust in dealing with the rest of the world. Iran could come out of the cold.

The Danger to Israel and Saudi Arabia

This is precisely the real danger for Israel and the Gulf states. They do not want a more powerful non-nuclear Iran. After all, Iran is the main supporter of Assad in Syria, sponsors Hezbollah in Lebanon, has made the Iraqi Shiite-dominated regime in Iraq a satrap, supports subversion in Bahrain, and is a supporter of Hamas. Retaining the sanctions and fencing Iran in is more important for Israel than reversing Iran’s direction towards an ability to make nuclear weapons. The agreement is seen as a golden opportunity to improve relations with the West, strengthen the regime and improve the support of moderates by Iranians. But that is the real threat for Israel.

Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, says on CNN that, “Of course, we want to see diplomacy succeed. Of course, we’d like to see a peaceful solution. Israel, more than any other country, has an interest in a successful diplomatic outcome ultimately. We’re the first people on the firing line,” he is being somewhat disingenuous. Yes, Israel does want a proper deal, but not only to stop but dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. More importantly, and understandably, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, want a weaker Iran. Parts of the domestic population who have been persecuted for years – the Bahá’is for example – concur. However, the United Arab Emirates had long before concluded that even the interim agreement reinforced “the stability of the region” while Bahrain welcomed the removal of fear.

The reality is that without Israel’s screams as well as threats, it is questionable whether the rest of the world would have been nearly as sensitive to the developments in Iran. Did Netanyahu build on this diplomatic success in making the world keenly alert to the Iran nuclear threat not only to Israel but to all of the Middle East and the rest of the world?  The world answered Israel’s call to impose severe sanctions. Chalk two up for Israel’s diplomatic success. However, Israel’s belligerency, its full frontal assault by all its ministers using inflammatory rhetoric against the agreement rather than reasoned debate, may not be seen just as Israel serving as bad cop, but as Israel performing a spoiler role.

This criticism of Israel does not mean that I am no longer sceptical about Iran’s intentions. They have been clear. Iran wants to retain the ability to maintain a short gap between a break out point and their existing facilities. Their negotiating stance attempted to keep that time line as short as possible while the P5+1 strived to lengthen it enormously. The issue has not been over the actual production of nuclear weapons, but reducing significantly the capacity to move to a breakout point in short order.

Since the Iranians had achieved the status of a near-nuclear power, it was an optimum time for Iran to negotiate an ending, if possible, to their economic straightjacket. Israel and Saudi criticism was that relief from sanctions, though amounting to only six billion spread over six months as a result of the interim agreement, and fifty billion at the end of the rainbow of a full agreement, was too rich a reward for signing the agreement. Iran’s achievement had reached a tipping point – either the large possibility of a bombing raid on its nuclear facilities or a diplomatic agreement. That is why the Saudis and Israel dubbed the agreement as a capitulation to a charm offensive and fraud by Iran (Minister of Defence for Israel, Moshe Ya’alon) and characterized the interim agreement as a cosmetic rather than a substantial agreement. However, Saudi Arabia was eventually persuaded to come around and support the deal. Israel alone remained the outlier.

Understandably to some degree! After all, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, continues to call Israelis rabid dogs, expresses the desire to see not only Israel disappear, but for Iran to be the agent for that event as he reiterates his desire to wipe Israel (which he repeatedly describes as a cancer) off the map. The Saudis too wanted a total dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program. The Israelis and Saudis had good reason to fear that P5+1 would be satisfied with sufficient dismantling to lengthen the time between a resumption of its program and the ability to make a nuclear weapon only a year. For Israel and Saudi Arabia, this was insufficient. They wanted enough dismantling of the production capability to make it unviable. The intelligence services of the U.S. advised the President that such a goal itself was not viable, but the program could be sufficiently dismantled and disabled such that, with inspections and oversight, the possibility of Iran resuming a nuclear military production program would be significantly reduced and, in any case, risked bringing a huge and perhaps even stronger sanctions attack against Iran. This persuaded Saudi Arabia to change its stance.

The Implications

So the devil is in the details of a final agreement; the number of centrifuges permitted – less than 6,000 – making enrichment past 5% both prohibited, but also a trigger for an immediate resumption of sanctions; the dismantling or conversion of the Arak facility to a light-water reactor rather than one capable of producing plutonium; the elimination of all uranium enrich stocks above 5%.

Israel lost its diplomatic battle in a second sense. Few believe Israel could or would now cross not only the Americans but every one of the world’s great economic and military powers and bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. But Israeli leaders continue to bellow and blow exhibiting petulance instead of considered criticisms, sound bites linked to insults, accusations and aspersions rather than a policy alternative. A more careful course of diplomatic discourse would have been welcome. At the same time, Israel used the back door to offer comments to improve the interim deal. Do those complaints advance or harm the country’s national interests? Is perpetual petulance and in-your-face bellyaching really a constructive form of diplomacy? Israel performed any presumed role as the bad cop like an amateur stage performer.