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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 powers must demand that Iran will dissolve most of the centrifuges and leave a symbolic number of non-advanced centrifuges. They must demand that the uranium enrichment stockpile in Iran will be limited to a low level and symbolic amount (less than the amount required for one bomb). They must also demand the dismantlement of the enrichment site inside a mountain near Qom, which aims to guarantee a protected site immune to a quick breakthrough towards a bomb. They must demand that the Arak reactor will be altered so that it would not be used for military purposes and demand an answer to the open questions regarding the military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.

Yadlin said the mark of an acceptable deal with Iran is that “the time it takes Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, if it decides to do so, will be measured in years rather than in months.”

General Yaakov Amidror, the former Israeli national security adviser and before that head of research for Israeli Military Intelligence, wrote a piece for the Jerusalem Post one day later. Like Yadlin, he brushed aside assurances that inspections and intelligence will spot any Iranian moves toward making a bomb: “There is no such thing as a monitoring system that cannot be sidestepped. There is no way to guarantee that the world will spot Iran’s efforts to cheat. American intelligence officials have publicly admitted that they cannot guarantee identification in real time of an Iranian breakout move to produce a nuclear weapon.”

And what if Iranian cheating is discovered? “Anyone who thinks that a U.S. administration would respond immediately to an Iranian agreement violation, without negotiations, is deluding himself. .  .  . Israel cannot accept the existential threat caused by this delusion.” The determination of the P5+1 to stop Iran will erode in future years, he argues, just as it has eroded in the past few years as the demands being made of Iran have steadily been reduced. Requirements considered essential a few years ago have already been dropped, including the demand that Iran simply stop enriching uranium.

Amidror also dismissed the idea that Iran won’t cheat and try to build a bomb out of fear of the likely American reaction: “Does anyone believe that the use of force is a possible option for the United States? What are the chances that the United States would obtain the support of the Security Council for the use of force against Iran? What are the chances that Washington would act without U.N. support?” Amidror argued that optimistic assumptions about a deal with Iran cannot be sustained—“neither the assumption that a monitoring regime can guarantee identification, in real time, of Iranian violations; nor the assumption that the United States will act with alacrity if a breach is identified; nor the assumption that, in the real world, Iran will truly be deterred by U.S. threats.”

Where does this argument lead? Amidror concluded: “With such a flimsy agreement, I wonder what will be left of Western commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And Israel will have to draw its own conclusions.”

These three statements, from Israel’s prime minister and two of its leading security figures, are of course meant to toughen the American position in the coming talks. Watching the P5+1 effort to conclude a deal with Iran by the July deadline, the three men are urging tougher terms than many in the West (not to mention Russia and China) seem willing to require. They are restating the point that a bad deal is, as American officials have agreed at least in principle, worse than no deal, because it would offer false assurances that we’ve stopped Iran while strengthening the Islamic Republic through the elimination of economic sanctions. And they are reminding us, yet again, that while the P5+1 may be willing to take a chance and let Iran progress a bit more slowly toward a bomb, Israel may make a different calculation and “draw its own conclusions.” 

It may be difficult to think of Israel acting alone in the face of a widely celebrated nuclear deal with Iran or even in the face of continuing negotiations that function as a cover for Iran’s progress toward a usable weapon. But watching Israel’s prime minister deliver his warning from Yad Vashem, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a reminder that Jewish history has taught Israel’s leaders powerful lessons about the past—and the dangers the future holds. 

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author, most recently, of Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

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