If two senior Israeli officials are to be believed, we now know a little more about why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vehemently opposes a potential deal between Iran and several world powers to reduce the Islamic Republic’s nuclear capacity in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. And it’s a bit strange.
He’s worried that Iran will fully adhere to the agreement, reports the Israeli daily, Haaretz:
According to the two senior officials, Netanyahu said during the meeting [with his security cabinet] that he feared that the “Iranians will keep to every letter in the agreement if indeed one is signed at the end of June.”
One official said: “Netanyahu said at the meeting that it would be impossible to catch the Iranians cheating simply because they will not break the agreement.”
Netanyahu explained that Iran’s compliance will give the global community the false impression that it’s a “normal” country and so there would be no need to fear it, causing the world to ignore Iran’s alleged longer term nuclear ambitions.
While it’s clear Netanyahu has been skeptical of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany) since the beginning, the rationale behind his concern shows just how irredeemably untrustworthy he believes Iran’s leaders to be. Moreover, it shows how little he trusts that the U.S. and the international community will keep Iran contained over the long term. Netanyahu’s comments come as the two sides are looking to hammer out a final agreement by a June 30 deadline.
The prime minister’s warnings might carry more weight were it not for the fact that he’s been sounding the alarm on Iran’s nuclear ambitions for nearly 20 years, even though the country remains free of nuclear weapons and has not been particularly close to getting them. In July Iran eliminated its entire stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium in exchange for $2.8 billion in sanctions relief, and in January the State Department reported that Iran ceased all enrichment above 5%. Weapons-grade uranium requires enrichment of more than 90% — a threshold Iran has not come close to reaching.
The parameters of the deal being discussed between Iran and the P5+1 countries would ensure that Iran enrich uranium to no more than 3.7% while also redesigning its Arak facility that enriches plutonium — the other element that can be used to make a nuclear weapon — so that it’s rendered incapable of producing weapons-grade material. These steps will be subject to rigorous international inspections, noncompliance to which could result in a termination of the deal.
Interestingly, implicit in Netanyahu’s remarks to his security cabinet is the admission that a nuclear deal would ensure that Iran doesn’t obtain nuclear weapons for at least another 10 years since even he thinks Iran will honor the agreement. This is a strange if not impractical way of thinking about the situation. Given that Netanyahu believes Iran poses a serious and immediate threat to Israel because of Iran’s nuclear ambitions (in addition to its funding of terror groups), one would think that a decade-long moratorium on those ambitions, as well as a further scaling back of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, would be positive development that increases Israel’s safety in both the short and the long term. And it is.
Therefore, by Netanyahu’s own logic, the deal would guarantee that Iran won’t achieve a nuclear capability for at least 10 years, during which time Iran will abide by the accord by taking measures to reduce its ability to build a nuclear bomb. It seems the only hitch for him then, actually has less to do with Iran than the international community, which he seems to think is so naive it will simply welcome Iran with open arms after the expiry of the deal, which means Iran will be free to pursue nuclear weapons away from the prying eyes of the world.
To say that’s a far-fetched concern is, well, far-fetched. There has been immense pressure on the U.S. government from pro-Israel groups to ensure it takes a hard line on Iran, and it has for 35 years. We’re seeing it now, as Republicans and some Democrats, with the support of groups like the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, are feverishly working to thwart a deal that, by any standard — including Netanyahu’s — reduces the nuclear threat that Iran poses for at least 10 years.
Diplomacy between countries is an arduous thing. And when that diplomacy involves countries that don’t even have embassies on each other’s soil, it’s even more painstaking. The deal to end all deals on Iran’s nuclear program isn’t going to be achieved on the first go, and it’s foolhardy to think it could. This agreement isn’t just about nuclear weapons; it’s about establishing the willingness of each side to agree and implement their obligations under any agreement. As Ronald Reagan once said of such deals: “Trust, but verify.” But there can be no trusting or verifying if we don’t even bother trying in the first place.