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Getting Ready for a Bad Deal

Israel’s security establishment steps up.

May 12, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 33 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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The world’s attention was largely turned to Ukraine last week. To the extent that the Middle East was on the front pages, the focus was the new agreement between the PLO and Hamas, its implications for the “peace process,” and John Kerry’s comment about Israel as an “apartheid state.” 

But in Israel a different subject was getting a lot of attention: Iran’s nuclear program. April 28 was Holocaust Remembrance Day, and that was the context in which Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke about Iran at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. 

Netanyahu discussed the world’s blind refusal to see what was coming in the 1930s despite all the evident warnings: “How is it possible that so many people failed to understand reality? The bitter, tragic truth is this: It is not that they did not see. They did not want to see.” He then asked, “Has the world learned [from] the mistakes of the past? Today we again face clear facts and a tangible threat. Iran calls for our destruction. It is developing nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu turned then to the current negotiations with Iran and drew the analogy: 

This time too, the truth is evident to all: Iran seeks an agreement that will lift the sanctions and leave it as a nuclear threshold state with the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons within several months at most. Iran wants a deal that will eliminate the sanctions and leave its capabilities intact. A deal which enables Iran to be a nuclear threshold state will bring the entire world to the threshold of an abyss. I hope that the lessons of the past have been learned, and that the desire to avoid confrontation at any cost will not lead to a deal that will exact a much heavier price in the future. I call on the leaders of the world powers to insist that Iran fully dismantle its capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons, and to persist until this goal is achieved.

He then repeated a pledge he has made in the past that Israel will not tolerate Iran as a nuclear threshold power: “The people of Israel stand strong. Faced with an existential threat, our situation today is entirely different than it was during the Holocaust. .  .  . Today, we have a sovereign Jewish state. Unlike the Holocaust, when the Jewish people were like a wind-tossed leaf and utterly defenseless, we now have great power to defend ourselves, and it is ready for any mission.”

Of course, Netanyahu has been saying these things for years, and listeners may wonder whether this is just more of the same: rhetoric, or at best a kind of “psy-op” meant to toughen the American position at those talks with Iran. After all, though Netanyahu is said to have come close to ordering a strike at Iran in the summer of 2012, it didn’t happen. In addition to feeling great American pressure against acting, Netanyahu clearly did not have a consensus in the Israeli security establishment for such a grave decision.

Those who consider Netanyahu’s words just more rhetoric should consider, then, two additional statements made last week—by two key figures in the security establishment, both viewed as balanced and sensible voices.

On April 23, five days before Netanyahu spoke, retired general Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli Military Intelligence and now director of the Institute for National Security Studies, wrote a piece for the Jerusalem Post. Like Netanyahu, he objected to a deal with Iran that would allow it to preserve its nuclear weapons program—and said that appears to be where the West is headed. The Iranian “concessions” are not real, he wrote: “Iran is trying to portray itself as a country prepared to make fundamental concessions, but at the same time it is preserving the core abilities in both routes it is developing for a nuclear weapon.” 

Yadlin rejected the view that inspections alone could prevent Iran from cheating: Inspections are “insufficient. The international inspection systems are not perfect and have always been known to fail. They already failed in the past to discover on time the efforts made by Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Iran to secretly develop a military nuclear program. These systems can cease to exist in case of a unilateral Iranian decision—like what happened with North Korea.”

So what should a deal with Iran contain? 

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