The Nuclear Deal: Netanyahu vs. Obama
The deal that was struck in Geneva between Iran and the P5+ 1 (the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, and Germany) represents an important first step in curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Regardless of the multiple flaws it contains, it offers a chance to end Iran’s nuclear impasse peacefully. I have maintained all along that unless the U.S. and Iran engage in direct negotiations, no agreement can be achieved. The fact that the U.S. and Iran have conducted secret negotiations for more than six months has contributed appreciably to reaching this interim deal.
Unfortunately, however, the Obama Administration and Israel see the deal from entirely different perspectives. To exemplify the stark differences between the two, brief quotes from President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Prime Minister Netanyahu say it all.
Whereas the U.S. sees significant advantages in the concessions that Iran made, Israel and a majority of the Arab states look at these concessions with tremendous skepticism.
Israel sees Iran as the mortal enemy because Israel is the only country that top Iranian officials have time and again characterized as illegitimate, insisting it should be wiped from the face of the Earth. Even as negotiations were underway, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, labeled Israel a criminal state and a “rabid dog.”
Netanyahu insists that the rollback of Iran’s nuclear program will, at best, slow it for only a few months. Tehran can resume it at will, and, in any case, Ayatollah Khamenei will never close the door on the option to develop nuclear weapons.
Moreover, Netanyahu claims that the deal gives a false sense of security and that the U.S. should have taken a harder line against Iran’s insistence on enriching uranium on its soil, which is, from his perspective, the central point over which the U.S. should have never wavered.
Put together, the deal has deepened the gulf between Netanyahu and Obama and may well harden Netanyahu’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and further frustrate the U.S.’ efforts to advance the peace process.
In addition, the deal will provide America with six months to pursue a more comprehensive accord, hoping to prevent the use of military force, which Obama has been averse to all along.
Although the deal requires Iran to halt enrichment of uranium above 5 percent, Tehran interprets that as the most significant concession that it has exacted from the U.S. because the deal enshrines Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium now and in any future agreement.
Whereas the deal stipulates that Iran neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, it gives Tehran the choice to convert it to 5 percent or dilute it to oxide (less likely to be readily used), rather than ship it to a third country.
While suspending the work on the heavy water Arak reactor, which can potentially produce plutonium useable for nuclear weapons, is held as a major achievement, Iran agreed only to stop further development of the facility rather than dismantle it altogether, leaving Iran able to resume its development at any time.
Furthermore, Israel is extremely concerned about Iran’s unwavering support of terrorist groups and Hamas and Hezbollah, who are committed to Israel’s destruction. For these reasons, Netanyahu bluntly said that “Israel is not bound by the agreement” and has the right to “defend itself by itself.”
That said, Netanyahu knows that he can do little to openly sabotage the deal as long as it remains in place and progress is being made. He also knows that he must go along with the U.S. and find a way to climb down in an effort to limit the schism with the U.S.
To take any military action before the six month interim period expires, Netanyahu will have to produce indisputably hard evidence that Iran is cheating and is at the threshold of assembling nuclear weapons, and present it to the U.S. and its European allies.
I believe that not only Netanyahu, but any Israeli prime minister will use force against Iran if he or she concludes that Iran has reached the “break out” stage and that Obama is unwilling to take military action and instead settles for containment.
President Obama needs to understand that regardless of how committed he is to Israel’s national security, because of a deep sense of historical insecurity, no Israeli prime minister will take the Iranian threat lightly and place Israel’s ultimate national security even in the hands of its closest ally.
Regardless of the present discord between Netanyahu and Obama, the two leaders must begin to cultivate anew mutual trust and develop a much closer working relationship on Iran’s portfolio.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and”Ž Middle Eastern studies. Contact: [email protected]