Opinion | Opinion

Op-Ed: Iran nuclear deal could be a blessing in disguise for Israel

Few people who are now furiously debating the Iranian deal have actually read the 160 pages of the agreement. I doubt it if they will ever do, and anyway, it will not sway them from their entrenched positions.

Those who support it would stick to what President Obama has said in the White House, namely, that it was “a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Opponents of the deal will cite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the deal “a stunning historical mistake.” There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground here.

“Instead of confronting President Obama, Israel should take him on his word, that he will work like no other previous administration to safeguard the security of Israel. In that sense, the deal might prove to be a blessing in disguise for Israel.”
– Uri Dromi

Personally, I think this is a bad deal. Iran gets what it desired most – the lifting of the sanctions – while maintaining its status as a nuclear threshold state, being able to quickly cross it when the opportunity presents itself. Being masters of bluffing and concealment, it will surely be able to deceive the naive inspectors.

At the same time, billions of dollars will be injected into the veins of the economy of Iran, thus boosting its already widespread network of terror and subversion in the region.

The problem is that in the Middle East, the choice is not simply between good and bad, but between bad and worse. While the current deal is bad, other scenarios seem worse.

One such scenario might have been the continuation of sanctions, with a defiant Iran eventually becoming nuclear. Another scenario would have been a military attack – either American or Israeli – which could have delayed the Iranian nuclear progress but not erase it, while invoking responses of regional and global ramifications.

The “good” thing about this bad deal is that through diplomacy, we get a period of some years where Iran is not supposed to pursue its military nuclear option. Perhaps during that period, with the Iranian people getting used to better life with the lifting of sanctions, the regime will have to drop its nuclear plans? Perhaps. But can diplomacy possibly deliver that?

Chemical warfare

Uri Bar-Yosef, professor of international relations at Haifa University, thinks it can. In an op-ed in Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he reminds us of August 2013, when the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people, thus crossing the red line drawn by President Obama.

An American military retaliatory strike was averted at the last moment, due to the intervention of Russia. Under heavy pressure, President Bashar al-Assad was coerced to ship out of the country 1,300 tons of chemical weapons and many of the facilities producing them were destroyed.

Following that, a great threat on Israel was removed, so much so that it stopped distributing gas masks to its citizens. “Here is a proof of what diplomacy can accomplish,” concludes Bar-Yosef.

But what happens if diplomacy fails, and Iran becomes nuclear? This is a grave scenario indeed, but not the end of the world. In April 1990, Saddam Hussein boasted he had a non-conventional arsenal big enough to “burn half of Israel”.

The then deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces and later Israeli Prime Minister, Gen. Ehud Barak, responded in quite an enigmatic way. He said: “Saddam Hussein knows better than most Israelis why he shouldn’t be doing it”. Barak referred to the non-conventional capabilities of Israel, kept under veil of secrecy.

Indeed, Israel is not only protected today by a sophisticated anti-missile defence system but, according to foreign sources such as Der Spiegel (3 June 2012), submarines built in Germany for the Israeli Navy that carry “second strike” capabilities. Since nobody assumes the Iranian regime is suicidal, a mutual deterrence might emerge, such as the one that actually worked during the Cold War.

However, making the deal a predominantly Israeli issue is a mistake. In high circles in Riyadh, Cairo, Amman and other Sunni capitals, people are voicing even stronger objections to the deal than in Jerusalem. After all, Iran’s race to the nukes has more to do with the Ayatollahs’ quest for hegemony in the region than with their ambition to destroy Israel.

Furthermore, in light of the Islamic State (Isis) tremor that has been rocking the Middle East, is it really such a bad scenario to have a strong Iran challenging radical Sunni Islam?

In sum, I’ll say again that this is a bad deal. But compared to the alternatives, it is perhaps the lesser evil. Israeli leadership should take a deep breath, weigh the new circumstances and act soberly. Instead of confronting Obama, Israel should take him on his word, that he will work like no other previous administration to safeguard the security of Israel. In that sense, the deal might prove to be a blessing in disguise for Israel.

Uri Dromi was the spokesman of the Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres governments from 1992-96. This article first appeared in the International Business Times.