By Monday morning, the Israeli reaction to the nuclear deal with Iran had changed from “What happened?” to “Now what?”
And that reaction makes a lot more sense.
The interim agreement signed by Iran and the group of negotiating nations known as P5+1 on Saturday night, Nov. 23, Iran committed to halt uranium enrichment above 5 percent, to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, to suspend its installation of updated centrifuges and its plutonium enrichment, to suspend development of its Arak heavy water reactor and to allow for highly intrusive inspection and monitoring of its nuclear program.
In return, Iran will receive between $6 billion and $7 billion in sanctions relief, while still facing some $30 billion in lost oil revenue.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can call the historic deal a “historic mistake,” but the ink is dry, and there’s no going back.
The dogs bark, as the old Middle East proverb goes, the caravan moves on.
Critics are comparing the interim deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement—but, to be fair, the President’s critics compare everything he does to the 1938 Munich Agreement.
The reality is far more complicated. There are serious weaknesses in the deal, as well as strengths. We can harp on the drawbacks or use the six-month window before the next planned agreement to secure a better deal.
The deal’s weaknesses are legion -- the agreement barely shortens the time Iran needs to “break out” and develop a nuclear weapon. Iran can still maintain its 19,000 centrifuges. It still reserves the right to enrich uranium. The deal’s language is vague enough on this point and others for the signatories to become bogged down in interpretations over what the agreement means, rather than focus on its execution. And relaxing international sanctions makes it that much more difficult to set them back in place.
Worst of all, the accord puts us in business with a regime that crushes the rights of its people, sows havoc and terror from Gaza to Lebanon to Syria, and that has, of course, lied openly and consistently about the very existence of its nuclear weapons program.
But there is good news here, too. The interim agreement allows for the most intrusive inspections ever. It stalls Iran’s otherwise relentless march toward nuclear capability. And the sanctions are reversible— easier said than done, yes, but possible — especially if the world sees the alternative is war.
The accords, by the way, do not limit a military response to Iranian nukes—which still remains the biggest threat hanging over the regime’s head.
These positive developments are one reason the Israeli reaction was not all negative. The agreement, former Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin said, “was neither the dream agreement nor the fall of the Third Temple.”
“If this were the final agreement – then it would really be a bad agreement, but that’s not the situation,” Yadlin told Israeli reporters.
So, to repeat, now what?
Looking forward, not backward, these are the next steps to insure a much safer world. Among them must be:
1. Parchin: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes Iran is using the Parchin military complex for secret nuclear weapons development. Inspectors have to get in there and reveal the truth.
2. Fordo: Inspectors must be allowed access to the Fordo underground enrichment facility whose only possible purpose, experts say, is the development of nuclear weapons capability.
3. Sanctions: Congress and the international community need to keep the pressure on by preparing a list of crippling sanctions that can be triggered with little more than a Skype call. Critics say sanctions will be impossible to revive, but the original fear that led to the sanctions was the threat of a U.S. or Israeli military action. As long as that doesn’t go away, neither will sanctions.
4. Treaties: The United States can use this opportunity to strengthen its relationships with Israel and other Mideast allies. That, UCLA Professor and Israel Policy Forum scholar Steven Spiegel wrote, would go a long way toward reassuring our allies and putting Iran on notice that it would face unified opposition to any provocations.
5. A Final Deal: This interim deal is for six months. A final deal should come in month seven. If the Iranians try to extend, weaken or back out of that – then Obama will know he’s been had. After all, the outlines of a comprehensive deal aren’t mysterious: An end to Iran’s ability to build and deploy nuclear weapons. For Yadlin, that means Iran will agree to maintain as few centrifuges as possible, preferably none at all. It will also agree to strict limits on the level of enrichment and the amount of enriched material.
Then, Yadlin said, “if the Iranians decide to violate the agreement, it will take them years rather than months.”
Six months from now is June 2014. Critics of the interim accord need to stop barking, and start working.