The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II

The Iranian Nuclear Deal – Part II

by

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.

Goals and Significance of the Iran Deal

Goals and Significance of the Iran Deal

by

Howard Adelman

This past summer, John Robson wrote an op-ed in the National Post (17 July 2015) claiming that, “those most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear are most unhappy with the deal.” He went from that assumption to its presumed opposite, asserting that those most committed to the deal then must have a very different agenda than stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He speculated that it might mean a desire to promote regime change provided that this happens before Iran goes nuclear in ten years. Or perhaps the real motive is a soft-headed rather than hard-hearted intent simply to delay Iran going nuclear for just ten years. (He did not write soft-hearted versus hard-headed, but if he so deliberately turns what is written on its head, he perhaps deserves the same treatment, even if only for a weak attempt at humour.)

However, ignoring the extreme misrepresentation for the moment, just look at the bad logic. To repeat, he insists that, “those most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear are most unhappy with the deal.” But is it not more valid to assert that those most unhappy with the deal are more determined to continue economically crippling Iran so it is less able to pursue its hegemonic program in the Middle East and enhance its extreme antagonism towards Israel than they are determined to stop Iran from going nuclear? The presumption that Netanyahu and his ilk are the ones most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear is a presumption, not a fact, and I would argue a false one. Further, even if it was accepted that the extreme opponents of the deal are the ones most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear – a very questionable assumption indeed – it does not follow that this is the reason that they are unhappy with the deal.

The false assumptions and illogic in reasoning is also to be found in the characterization of the proponents of the deal. While those proponents, as I indicated in my last blog, have a modest agenda focused only on making sure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons and that they have no agenda beyond that, the argument that they must have another hidden agenda, such as an illusionary expectation of regime change, does not follow from the argument that the opponents of the deal are most determined to stop Iran from becoming nuclear. It is both logically and empirically possible that the proponents and opponents are equally, or almost equally opposed to Iran not acquiring nuclear arms, but either side may have additional, and often very understandable and even commendable goals separate from that one, such as the fairly obvious one, that Netanyahu also has the goal of keeping Iran crippled economically.

Now I wish that John Robson were just an extreme example of a critic who is both illogical and misrepresents reality, but, unfortunately, this is not the case. He may teach history in Ottawa and be a journalist and documentary filmmaker, but he also may be one of the stupidest critics of the accord. He, however, has lots of company, though many do not defend that opposition on the basis of sheer partisanship that is immune to wrestling with facts and rational argument.

Take another critic of the accord, Shimon Kofler Fogel, CEO for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Canadian counterpart to America’s AIPAC. At least in his op-ed alongside John Robson’s, he says what he believes is wrong in his view of the deal, that it fails to leverage the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to reign in its hegemonic foreign policy goals and its extreme antipathy to Israel. He is absolutely correct. It does not do that. Further, all parties negotiating with Iran did not believe that was a feasible goal. But Fogel, though accurate about the non-achievement of the accord, is also guilty of false reasoning. If the weight of sanctions coerced the Iranian regime to come to the negotiating table, then, he argues, it follows that those conditions can and ought to have been used to modify Iranian foreign policy. But that does not follow at all, not only not for Iran, but for virtually all of the other representatives of the six nations negotiating with Iran.

The fact that Iran is the leading sponsor of terror in the Middle East (I personally think ISIS is, but Iran is horrible enough, and the point is not worth debating here), that it is a brutal regime with an enormous number of executions per year and extreme repression of its minorities, mainly Bahá’is, does not invalidate the value of the agreement. Fogel’s recommendation that relief from the sanctions should be tied to Iranian tangible progress on reducing Iran’s role as a state-sponsor of terror is disingenuous. For, to repeat, it was neither the goal of the negotiations nor one that any reasonably-knowledgeable person argues could be achieved by negotiations at this time. The agreement already allows for his other recommendations – continuing to define Iran as a state-sponsor of terrorism, continuing the criticism of Iran for its horrendous human rights record and the continuing use of sanctions for these reasons – quite separate from the provisions of the Special Economic Measures Act.

The goal of the negotiations with Iran was clearly spelled out in Obama’s first election platform, but particularly in the Prague Agenda articulated in an Obama speech in Hradčany Square of the Czech capital on 5 April 2009, which focused on Iran, not as a rogue state, not as a promoter of terrorism, not as a human-rights abuser and, most of all, not as an intractable enemy of Israel. The focus was on promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy and reinforcing mechanisms in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Obama was intent on reducing the risks posed by nuclear weapons while simultaneously supporting and promoting nuclear energy as an alternative for peaceful purposes.

The Prague Agenda included a broad swath of goals, many since achieved:

  • Negotiating a new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals by 30%;
  • Cancellation of the Bush plan to deploy ground-based strategic missile interceptors in Europe;
  • Restricting the strategic use of America’s nuclear arsenal to deterrence only;
  • Banning nuclear testing for the future.

The Prague Agenda included further restrictions on North Korea and Pakistan, but these have notably not been achieved. However, one goal concerning Iran, rallying international support and engaging Iran to resolve the crisis over its military nuclear program, has now finally been achieved after over five years of work. “My administration will seek engagement with Iran based on mutual interests and mutual respect. We believe in dialogue. But in that dialogue we will present a clear choice. We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community.” (my italics) Israel wanted no such result for this regime.

Making the world safer from nuclear terror and reigning in Iran did not supplant the need for deterrence and a strong regional strategy. (As we shall see, it may have had an inadvertent impact on it.) Further, the achievement of such a goal of eliminating the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power had to meet a number of criteria:

  1. The strongest inspection and verification system ever;
  2. Elimination of advanced centrifuges and a significant reduction of older models;
  3. A virtual elimination of Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium
  4. Sanctions relief as a quid pro quo;
  5. Spelling out repercussions in case of violations.

A further word is needed on the prospect of regime change in Iran and transformation of its confrontational ideology. Paul Berman in The Tablet on 15 July 2015 focused on a single paragraph in Obama’s speech about the conclusion of the Iran deal. Obama stated in reference to U.S./Iran relations, “Our differences are real, and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored. But it is possible to change. The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel—that’s a dead end. A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.”

Paul Berman insisted that this one paragraph was crucial because, “if a change among the Iranians is not, in fact, possible, then Obama’s critics are right. The deal will turn out to be a disaster because, in the short run, it will strengthen the Islamic Republic conventionally and, in the long run, will strengthen the Islamic Republic unconventionally—and, all the while, the Islamic Republic will go on treading the dead-end path of violence and rigid ideology and the dream of eradicating demonic enemies. It is hard to imagine how, under those circumstances, the deal will reduce the chances of war. On the contrary, Iran’s endangered neighbors will contemplate their own prospective eradication and will certainly notice that time is against them, and they would be foolish not to act.”

It is one thing to argue that regime transformation may take place as a result of the deal and the insistence that it must take place or else the deal is more than worthless for it will enhance the prospect of war in the region. Obama made the former claim. Berman extracted from that slim possibility and transformed it magically into an absolute necessity. In that case, then the nuclear containment deal to peaceful uses is only as good as the strength of the possibility of transformation of the Iranian regime. That is clearly not Obama’s position.

It is and was certainly not the goal of the Iranians who stood steadfast in the opposition to the “arrogant” U.S., “the policies of which they viewed to be at 180 degrees to their own. The U.S. remained as the “Great Satan” ever after 18 months of negotiations. Israel remained its implacable enemy. Though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted that the deal was only about guaranteeing that Iran could continue its peaceful program of developing nuclear energy and had no wider goals, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani insisted there was another aim: opening a new chapter of cooperation with the outside world after years of sanctions. He predicted that the “win-win” result would gradually eliminate mutual mistrust. Similarly, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also saw the deal as going beyond the nuclear arrangements and hopefully could lead to greater regional and international cooperation.

What have Benjamin Netanyahu’s goals been in rejecting and criticizing the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program? Let me go back to his address to a joint session of Congress, not the one earlier this year, but the one he delivered on 24 May 2011 before the negotiations got underway and when the Arab Spring remained a gleam in many eyes, including Netanyahu’s. Though most of his address focused on the negotiations with the Palestinians, a small portion of his remarks addressed the question of Iran. Iran was depicted as the most powerful force in the Middle East opposed to modernity, opposed to democracy and opposed to peace. Here are Netanyahu’s words verbatim:

The tyranny in Tehran brutalizes its own people. It supports attacks against Americans troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq. It subjugates Lebanon and Gaza. It sponsors terror worldwide.

When I last stood here, I spoke of the consequences of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Now time is running out. The hinge of history may soon turn, for the greatest danger of all could soon be upon U.S.: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons. (my italics) Militant Islam threatens the world. It threatens Islam. A nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It would give terrorists a nuclear umbrella. It would make the nightmare of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger throughout the world.

These were not Obama’s words, but those of Netanyahu. Then he came across as the most vocal champion of ensuring that a militant Iran did not possess nuclear weapons. Just over seven months later, in the 2012 new year, when the U.S. led the successful charge to impose new and tough sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking industry as the “only” diplomatic measure that could force Iran to the negotiating table, after President Obama signed legislation………..imposing sanctions against Iran’s central bank to impede Iranian oil sales and the EU put plans in place for an oil embargo, this goal was no longer sufficient for Netanyahu. The consequent weakening of the Iranian rial led Iran to state that it was willing to permit a visit by a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, independently of the world powers, had suggested that Iran was working towards acquiring the ability to make nuclear weapons. As the goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons came nearer, Netanyahu’s pitch shifted.

There was one discordant note at the time. Israel wanted the US.. to warn Iran that if the sanctions and diplomacy failed to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program, the U.S. should warn Iran that the U.S. would resort to military means to stop Iran. While not ruling out such a possibility, the U.S. refused to threaten Iran if negotiations failed. In contrast, Netanyahu, while applauding the new economic sanctions aimed at stopping Iran’s military nuclear program, insisted that only if the sanctions were combined with the threat of military action would the effort succeed. Netanyahu was proven wrong. It succeeded beyond most expectations. No threat of military action was necessary.

That note threatening military action grew far more shrill when Netanyahu, during the period in which he was struggling to put together a new coalition government, addressed an AIPAC Policy Conference in March 2013. After the usual praise for the President and Vice-President of the US, after the accolades to the government of the United States as Israel’s best and most steadfast ally, Netanyahu now insisted far more vociferously that sanctions were insufficient and that Iran needed to be militarily threatened.

Iran has made it clear that it will continue to defy the will of the international community. Time after time, the world powers have tabled diplomatic proposals to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully. But diplomacy has not worked. (my italics) Iran ignores these offers. It is running out the clock. It has USed negotiations to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program. Thus far, the sanctions have not stopped the nuclear program either. The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard. But Iran’s leaders grit their teeth and move forward. Iran enriches more and more uranium.  It installs faster and faster centrifuges Iran has still not crossed the red line I drew at the United Nations last September. But they are getting closer and closer to that line. And they are putting themselves in a position to cross that line very quickly once they decide to do so. Ladies and Gentlemen, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we cannot allow Iran to cross that line. We must stop its nuclear enrichment program before it will be too late.  Words alone will not stop Iran.  Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. (my italics) Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

From March 2013 until November 2013 when the negotiators were on the verge of a tentative deal with Iran, and with the U.S. Senate poised to authorize new sanctions, and after Obama phoned Netanyahu to ask him not to oppose the deal, Netanyahu did just that, openly opposed the deal by phoning all the other leaders asking them to block it. French President François Hollande agreed. The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, carried the message to his colleagues in the negotiations which bought time for Israel to take further steps to try to stop the deal after Netanyahu had failed to persuade John Kerry at Ben Gurion Airport not to loosen sanctions without the Iranians agreeing to halt the nuclear project altogether. The sticking points then were Iran’s stock of enriched uranium and the heavy water reactor at Arak that could produce plutonium from spent fuel.

The delay turned out to be temporary only. On 24 November 2013, an interim agreement, called the Joint Plan of Action, was agreed upon in Geneva that provided for a short-term freeze on much of Iran’s nuclear program in return for a decrease in the economic sanctions against Iran, the agreement to commence on 20 January 2014. Iran agreed not to commission or fuel the Arak heavy-water reactor or build a reprocessing plant to convert spent fuel into plutonium, agreed not to commission the Bushehr Nuclear Plant, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plan, the Isafahn uranium-conversion plant, the Natanz uranium-conversion plant and the Parchin military research and development complex. Iran also agreed to stop enriching uranium above 5% reactor-grade, and to dilute its stock of 20%-enriched uranium. As well, Iran agreed not to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and to leave half its 16,000 centrifuges inoperable, all this to be verified by more extensive and frequent inspections.

That is when Netanyahu first labelled the deal a historic mistake and became an implacable foe to the negotiations. But not because it left Iran as an implacable foe of Israel. Not because of Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region. Those reasons would come later. At that point the deal was opposed because it did not dismantle Iran’s nuclear capacity altogether. In other words, Netanyahu now opposed Iran even having the ability to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Netanyahu had upped the ante and produced a deep gulf between Israel and the P5+1, for the premise of the negotiations from the get-go was that Iran would be allowed to use its nuclear knowhow and facilities for peaceful purpose. In his speech to the Knesset on the Plan of Action, Netanyahu admitted that sanctions without a military threat had, in fact, produced significant and successful results, but the deal was still bad because the results were not tangible. Effectively shutting down Iran’s nuclear military production was insufficient.

From then on, the line of attack grew more shrill, more definitive, and the grounds expanded until the bulk of the weight was not on the efficacy of inspections or the length of time Iran’s military nuclear program would be in place, though these were always there and were almost always deformed with less and less resemblance to the actual terms of the agreement. It soon became obvious and clear that Netanyahu was not really after an agreement that halted the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons, but that he opposed the deal because Iran without nuclear arms would be an even more dangeroUS foe of Israel. However, preventing Iran from using its facilities for peaceful purposes had never been a premise of the negotiations or there never would have been any negotiations. Further, that goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear facilities altogether had not been Netanyahu’s goal eighteen months earlier.

Netanyahu was now engaged in gross exaggeration if not an outright lie. “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world .” (my italics) This is a bad agreement; this is a historic mistake. This became his mantra. Both were evaluations of a very dubious nature as more and more information emerged about both the Action Plan and the terms of the ongoing negotiations. Netanyahu’s efforts to weave his new critique and reconcile it with his old support for simply a ban on Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons was skating on thinner and thinner ice. The release of the final agreement in July allowed him to fall through the ice, but the freezing water has not reduced the pitch of his hysteria one iota. Netanyahu had established to any objective observer, as distinct from his horde of cheerleaders, that he was not the one most opposed to Iran developing nuclear weapons; he wanted to keep Iran impoverished for very understandable reasons given Iran’s irrational and extreme antipathy towards Israel.

Yom Kippur and the Iran Deal

Yom Kippur and the Iran Deal

by

Howard Adelman

After my last two blogs, some readers may have come to the conclusion that I have lost my critical faculties. I have not. This blog is not written to demonstrate that, but it is written to encourage Rabbi Yael Splansky either to stick to religion, for she is truly a rabbi of faith, or to use directly accessible expert advisers like David Dewitt and Stephen Toope when she strays into international relations strewn with landmines.

On Yom Kippur, after the three hour morning service in synagogue, there is a break. Before the afternoon, evening and remembrance services between 3:30 and 7:30, the after-morning break is followed by an assortment of events which congregants can attend if they do not wish to go home and get a nap. The events vary from participating in Yiddish singing to listening to learned talks on theology and politics.

I attended the most popular event of all, one that almost filled the Eisendrath auditorium. Stephen Toope, the new director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, spoke about the Iran nuclear deal. Stephen is a noted international scholar with a very impressive academic record. He received his PhD from Trinity College, Cambridge (1987) after obtaining degrees in common law (LL.B.) and civil law (B.C.L.) with honours from McGill University (1983), and an undergraduate degree in History and Literature from Harvard University (1979) where he graduated magna cum laude. He served as Law Clerk to the Rt. Hon. Chief Justice Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada in the late eighties and was dean of the McGill Law School in the nineties. He came to the Munk School after a very successful four year role as President of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and a nine year stint as the President of the University of British Columbia. In addition to his very weighty scholarly output on issues of continuity and change in international law and the origins of international obligation in international society (with Jutta Brunnée, Legitimacy and Legality in International Law: An Interactional Account), he has been involved in the practice of diplomacy, such as representing Western Europe and North America on the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances from 2002-2007.

In his talk, he also made clear that he had attended Yom Kippur services. I assume that is because his wife is Paula Rosen and they have three children who, I believe, are being raised as Jews. I do not know if this son of an Anglican minister ever converted, but I suspect not. He gave no indication that he knew of Rabbi Yael Splansky’s talk on the subject of the nuclear arms deal on 25 July 2015, Tish B’Av.

That Jewish holiday is akin to Yom Kippur in many ways (fasting not wearing leather shoes, abstaining from sex), though, unlike Yom Kippur, it is not observed by the majority of Jews. Perhaps that is because it has some extra obligations – refraining from laughing or even smiling, for it is a day when Jews lament and pray as they remember the destruction of the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem and other historical calamities that have befallen the Jewish people, including the expulsion of the Jewish people from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492.

In July, Rabbi Splansky offered a lament, but could not help but add a number of hopeful possibilities given her sunny disposition. On Yom Kippur, Toope offered the opposite, a very reserved and very qualified celebration of the deal. Though the two evaluations were clearly at odds, neither had taken an extreme position. Toope’s presentation was both very informed and yet very clear and precise, both comprehensive without losing the audience in a thicket of detail. Splansky’s analysis on that day of mourning was even more terse and concentrated, but not on any of the details of the agreement – for she admitted she was neither an expert on international affairs nor a scholar of science who understood the difference between uranium and plutonium. She focused on the intent of the agreement.

She began with two starting points. The first was a reference to the novelist, Jonathan Safer Foer. Splansky offered a summary or a quote on the theme that Jews have a sixth sense. In Everything Is Illuminated, Foer wrote: “Jews have six senses – touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing…memory. While Gentiles experience and process the world through the traditional senses, and use memory only as a second-order means of interpreting events, for Jews memory is no less primary than the prick of a pin, or its silver glimmer, or the taste of the blood it pulls from the finger. The Jew is pricked by a pin and remembers other pins…when his mother tried to fix his sleeve while his arm was still in it…when Abraham tested the knife point to be sure Isaac would feel no pain – that the Jew is able to know why it hurts. When a Jew encounters a pin, he asks: What does it remember like?”

She could have quoted from his book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to the effect that a Jew’s sense of hope and belief in the future countered the propensity to read the contemporary world in terms of the past. Depending on your outlook, maintaining hope and keeping despair at bay may be a delusion. “Why didn’t I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.” On the other hand, Splamsky could have quoted another passage from Everything Is Illuminated that suggested that living with an acute sense of memory, as if the past were integral to experiencing the present, reduced one to extreme loneliness and melancholy.

He awoke each morning with the desire to do right, to be a good and meaningful person, to be, as simple as it sounded and as impossible as it actually was, happy. And during the course of each day his heart would descend from his chest into his stomach. By early afternoon he was overcome by the feeling that nothing was right, or nothing was right for him, and by the desire to be alone. By evening he was fulfilled: alone in the magnitude of his grief, alone in his aimless guilt, alone even in his loneliness. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over, I am not sad.

For Splansky, through remembering a Jew knows why it hurts. She could also have written that, through memory, “I think and think and think, I‘ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.”  If a Jew through remembering knows why it hurts, it may also mean that through memory, the Jew is unable to see how one can escape that pain. Living so deeply in that memory of pain may not yield knowledge – even of pain – but results in what Foer called “ignorance bliss,”  “the cancer of never letting go.” The pain comes from too much thinking about the past, not so much from sensibility, as an immersion in the ignorant bliss of sorrow. “I don’t know, but it’s so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.”

Splansky’s second introductory springboard was to refer Lamentations, a requisite on Tish B’Av. How solitary sits the city that has become like a widow. Bitterly does she weep at night. “Among all her lovers, she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.” The pain, the lamentation about the possibility of the past repeating itself, may not arise from a sixth acute sensibility, but an overload of thinking which ends up reading the past into the present

Splansky claimed that in the Iranian negotiations, things had gone, not from bad to worse, but from “good to bad.” The result for Splansky: the deal was really a terrible one. Toope argued that in the case of Iran, with the deal things had gone from worse to bad and, therefore, the deal was better for us. Was it better to look at the Iran deal through a lens of Jewish memory, as Splansky had done, or through a lens of empirical and detailed knowledge and analysis? One of the questions asked after Toope gave his talk was from a friend sitting next to me who informed me that his gut, not his knowledge, told him that it was a bad deal. He quoted selectively from the service that morning where it referred to the evil of appeasement and asked Toope whether the Iran deal was such a case.

Toope replied that there were virtually no similarities between Munich in 1938 and the Iran deal. The 1938 Munich deal advertised itself as “Peace in our Time.” The Iran deal, on the other hand, was based on continuing distrust and a tough regimen of inspections. There were neither monitoring or inspection measures set forth in the Munich agreement. Further, the Munich deal gave away part of another country. The Iran deal covered only the issue of the capability of Iran to produce nuclear weapons. The deal itself provides for the most extensive and intrusive inspection and monitoring regime ever in international diplomatic history. The two examples could not seem to be further apart. So the question is why anyone would conflate them.

One explanation attributes the error to poor and illogical thought. It is one thing to make the error of inferring from some similarities between two situations to a basis for deducing a further similarity. It is quite another to presume two things are even similar when they are clearly and distinctly different. A second explanation attributes the mistake, not to illogical reasoning, but to a misguided effort to score points, but as we know from any study of spin, if you can associate one characteristic often enough with a particular event or person, no matter how inappropriate, there is a stick factor having nothing to do with any justification for the characterization. I myself think that although both of these kinds of exercises in illogic were probably at work, the deeper explanation belongs to what Rabbi Splansky referred to as a Jewish sixth sense. The problem is that such a sense, if it exists at all, can be, and often is, misleading. It may yield illusions, and frightening ones, because the result is often mindblindness, an unwillingness, even inability, to countenance another explanation and account of what is being characterized.

Thus, when Rabbi Splansky, even though she admittedly was not an expert on the deal or on international diplomacy, said that the result was based on poor negotiations and was full of dangerous loopholes, one can see where reliance on a sensibility that often produces illusions and delusions is not a reliable source. Most – though admittedly not all – scholars who study and have worked on international diplomacy, do not consider that the deal was a result of poor negotiations. So why would someone who is not familiar with the intricacies of international diplomacy as she confessed, venture to characterize the deal as a result of poor negotiations? How could she conclude that the agreement was full of dangerous loopholes. I cannot test her conclusions because Rabbi Splansky offered no examples of either poor diplomacy in this case or of dangerous loopholes.

Anyone familiar with the deal can tell you that Iran can abuse the intentions and terms. Given Iran’s past record, there is a strong suspicion by many that Iran may try. But that is not a loophole. That is the premise of the deal. That is why all the provisions have been made for monitoring and making sure the IAEA has enough funds to undertake the job of inspections. The presumption is made that Iran may try to cheat and the whole regime created by the treaty is designed to detect precisely that and to prepare allies which are part of this agreement for an appropriate response. There is no guarantee that states will respond to their commitments about any deal. One can only provide as good conditions as possible for ensuring such a response and proving the best conditions for reacting responsibly.

Viewing the deal through Jewish memory is not only dangerous, leading to misleading conclusions about the Iran nuclear deal, but can and has lead to dangerous behaviour. It need not. In the case of Rabbi Splansky’s talk, that danger was mitigated somewhat by her admonition to focus on how to use leverage to minimize the damage. However, when the portrait painted of the situation is very poorly done and the deal is characterized as resulting in “a very bad, grave situation,” there is a clear risk that some of the steps proposed will be poorly thought out.

First, Splansky was correct that the scope of the negotiations was narrow. They focused only on considerably reducing Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons, which, as I will argue in subsequent blogs, the agreement did achieve. The “Framework for Cooperation Agreement” (FCA) commits all parties to cooperation “aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme through the resolution of all outstanding issues that have not already been resolved by the IAEA.” The negotiations were not intended nor did they cover the issues of Iran’s extensive and horrible record of human rights violations, of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, of Iran’s refusal to recognize Israel. This was the list Rabbi Splansky offered. It could have been longer and included characterizing Israel as the little Satan as a satrap to the U.S., the big Satan, by expressing a determination to eliminate Israel from the map of the Middle East and by predicting that in the not too distant future, Israel would exist no more.

Rabbi Splansky asked the question: “Will the proposed deal protect the security of Israel and her allies?” She answered “No.” What she left out was that the deal was not designed to do any such thing. The deal was designed to significantly reduce the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear threat. That it did. Rabbi Splansky not only misrepresented the goals of the deal but the permitted outcome. She said there was relatively little relief from the danger since the deal “entitled Iran to have nuclear arms in 15 years.” This, as I will show, is categorically false. As Professor Toome noted, the deal does buy 15 years of intense monitoring and inspections, but nowhere indicates that Iran is permitted to acquire nuclear arms after that date. As I will show, the opposite is the case.

Rabbi Splansky indicated that the worst part of the deal was an “acceptance of Iran’s evil ways.” Nonsense! That is not part of the deal at all. In fact a small aspect of Iran’s bad behaviour, though far from its worst, is the secrecy, deceit and trickery practiced for almost a decade as Iran developed its nuclear program. The nuclear deal no more indicates an acceptance of Iran’s support of terrorism and determination to wipe out Israel than the recognition that the U.S. gave to China in the ping pong diplomacy and Nixon’s trip suggested any support for China’s wicked ways, or the international nuclear treaty with the U.S.S.R. mitigated at all the cruelty of the Soviet dictatorship. In each case, it could be argued that those deals helped to contribute to the moderation of those two enemies, but in the case of Iran, I personally would not count on it.

And the deal does not. After all, immediately after the deal was signed, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, published a 416 page book, Palestine. “The book carries one central message: the urge to annihilate the state of Israel and establish the state of Palestine in its stead” using three key words: “nabudi” (annihilation),” “imha” (wiping), and “zaval” (effacement). Abraham Joshua Heschel is certainly correct that, “We are tired of expulsions and of extermination threats.” But the object is to ensure they cannot be carried out. Reducing Iran’s capacity to make military nuclear weapons does just that. It does not eliminate or even reduce Iran’s hegemonic ambitions. In fact, just over two weeks ago on 9 September, Khamenei explicitly disabused anyone’s expectations that the nuclear talks could be a first step towards a broader peace agenda. Khamenei asserted, “We agreed to hold talks with the Americans only on the nuclear issue.” In other areas, “I have not authorized negotiations and [we] will not hold talks with them.”

As for the $50-150 billion dollars Splansky alleged would be released to Iran by the deal

  • The amount of total assets held in foreign banks by Iran is estimated to be $150 billion, but only $50 billion was impounded through the sanctions regime
  • Of Iranian assets abroad, most are owed to creditors, like China, to pay debts that were delayed by the sanctions
  • The money belongs to Iran from Iranian sales of oil and other goods and is not a signing bonus
  • The money was impounded until such time as Iran complied with the requirement of proving the nuclear development was and remains peaceful
  • The latter is important because if there is any evidence of Iran straying from that commitment, the impounding of Iranian dollars in foreign banks kicks in automatically
  • Any release of the money will take time
  • The condition for release comes only after Iran has demonstrated compliance with the terms of the deal
  • It is true that Iran could use the money to foster even more terrorism, but there is a huge pent-up demand for infrastructure and other domestic uses that suggests that only a small part will be diverted in that direction, especially since the party currently in power under President Hassan Rouhani ran on a platform of improving the dismal state of the Iranian economy

Splansky was much stronger when she shifted from the deal itself and its implications to the issue of how to exert leverage through the wise use of the next fifteen years, through the access gained and through the necessity to develop increasing solidarity among the parties that signed the deal with Iran.

So how valid is Splansky’s or a Jewish sixth sense? Any analysis suggests that you not rely on your kishkas or some imagined sixth sense. In the case of Rabbi Yael Splansky, it is a serious distraction of her power as a truly religious figure who leads with her heart, with her head and her soul.

How do we answer the question she asked of what can we do and what must we do? First, we must get the context and our facts right – see the remainder of this week’s blogs. We ought not to support CIJA’s plea to sign their petition to put pressure on Iran and enhance support for Netanyahu. He is the biggest example of using hyperbole, to missing any opportunity he had to get things right, and using the most inopportune times to sabotage Israel’s crucial alliance with the U.S. Urging Canada to keep sanctions is a joke. U.S. sanctions alone would not work without the cooperation of its partners in the deal. Splansky suggested we use leverage. Canada has absolutely no leverage – and that is another story.

Share solidarity with Israelis. Certainly! But not by helping enhance their fears and pricking their bad memories – they have more than sufficient resources to do that on their own. Do NOT share fear. Do not use Tish Ba’av to go in absolutely the wrong direction. Share analyses. Share hope. Share support. There is so much we can really share that will be invaluable. Solidarity is not a unity of views, as Rabbi Splansky herself indicated in her erev Yom Kippur sermon.

Tomorrow I will begin to demonstrate that by writing about the historical context.