Iran must not get nuclear weapons and must not be allowed to become a nuclear threshold state.
It seems quite clear that this is the position of virtually the entire world. The P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) leading the negotiations with Iran in Geneva are the main stakeholders empowered by international community to ensure that Iran will never have a military nuclear program. I quite frankly question the so-called leaks that claim the international community is giving in to a deal that will enable Iran to become the possessor of nuclear bombs. There are very few people sitting around the table and in this kind of high-stakes negotiations information and disinformation are used as tools of pressure and manipulation. It seems that the only party truly interested at the current juncture in creating the impression that the international community is capitulating to Iran is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The immediate fallout from this folly is the wedge that has been driven between the government of Israel and the Obama administration.
In the lead-up to Israeli elections, it seems that Netanyahu and his chorus of yea-sayers at home and abroad believe that taking up an opposing stance to the created image of US President Barack Obama as weak on international affairs and holding a special affinity for Muslims serves Netanyahu with the electorate at home. In reality, rather than protecting Israel from Iran, by positioning Israel in opposition to Obama and to many American supporters of the Democratic Party they are bringing about an erosion of Israel’s standing in US public opinion, weakening support for Israel among Democratic members of Congress and most of all creating deep tension with the administration – including the White House and the State Department. Israel’s most valuable and important strategic asset has always been the special relationship with the United States, and thus Netanyahu is playing a very dangerous game.
The international community is dealing with three well known facts: 1) Economic sanctions against Iran have crippled the Iranian economy and threaten the regime; 2) Iran has consistently lied to the international community about its nuclear program for some 30 years; and 3) even after 30 years of having a nuclear program Iran has still not built a bomb. Pakistan achieved nuclear weapons status in a fraction of that time without having nearly the level of scientists, engineers and nuclear experts that Iran has.
These facts make the essential aspect of any deal with Iran the verification regime that must be put in place. The P5+1 enter negotiations with Iran assessing that Iran is seeking to become a nuclear threshold state, with the ability to create a bomb within less than one year. It is not clear at all that Iran has ever made a decision to actually make a bomb; if that decision had been taken Iran would have achieved it already. The international assessment is that Iran has not made the decision to reach bomb status. The removal of economic sanctions is Iran’s primary interest. But perhaps even more important to Iran is the reconnection of its sovereign rights to engage in a nuclear program with its own uranium enrichment capability.
Ironically, one of the elements which provide the greatest impetus for Iranian resolve to enrich uranium is Israel’s nuclear status. The international community believes that Israel is a nuclear state but has allowed Israel to unofficially enter the nuclear club without being a signatory to any obligations not to proliferate nuclear technology or even having to own up to the status of possessing nuclear weapons. In Iran’s view, Israel’s nuclear status is a direct threat to Iran’s security.
Israel has ballistic missile capability from the land, the air and the sea and no sanctions have ever been imposed on Israel for its nuclear program.
The world apparently accepts Israel’s position of nuclear ambiguity, never owning up to possessing nuclear weapons, because of the assessment that Israel will act responsibly and will not, as it claims, be the first party to introduce nuclear weapons to the arena. In other words, Israel has obligated itself to use nuclear weapons only as a second strike – after being hit with a bomb first. Ironically Israel’s assumed possession of nuclear weapons weakens the position of the international community in the negotiations with Iran and as such might weaken Israel’s ultimate security.
Iran will not agree to give up its nuclear program any more than Israel would surrender its program – the difference being that Israel is a nuclear power with, according to foreign sources, at least 100 bombs. No agreement with Iran will include a complete cessation of uranium enrichment. Israel’s demand for Iran to totally give up its nuclear enrichment program has never been a realistic goal and has apparently never been accepted by the P5+1 as the baseline for an agreement. The most important elements of any future agreement with Iran are the closure of the Arak plutonium reactor and the ability of the international community to effectively monitor Iran’s actions on the ground, known as the verification regime.
Iran, it seems, is likely to cease the activities of the Arak plutonium reactor. Many Iran experts believe that they built that plant as part of their strategy in facing the international community in negotiations – Arak is the famous “goat” in the Jewish tale of raising the stakes in order to improve the final outcome. The verification regime is the most essential element because only with full and open access 24/7, 365 days a year can international inspectors be on the ground in Iran at every site without prior warning and ensure that if the decision by the regime to move forward to bomb status is taken, immediate international responses can be prepared to act, including military responses. Along with the verification regime the international community must also be clear, in the negotiations and post-negotiations, that substantive Iranian violation of the agreement will result not only in sanctions, but with a military response.
Along with all of this, it would be wise to finally begin a genuine public debate in Israel on the need to create a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction, recognizing that today Israel is the only side capable of total destruction of the entire region.
The best security from weapons of mass destruction is their total elimination. “The Bomb” is a weapon that Israel cannot use and should never use – so the question must be asked whether it does in fact provide Israel with real security, or the opposite.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.