Michael B. Oren, Israel’s former Ambassador to the United States, is a Member of Israel’s Knesset from the Kulanu Party. He is the author of Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide (Random House, 2015).
In Israel, one of the world’s rowdiest democracies, politicians rarely agree on anything. Which is why their reaction to the nuclear arms deal with Iran is so unique. For the first time in living memory, virtually all Israelis – left, right, religious, secular, Arabs, Jews – are together calling the deal disastrous.
The reasons might not be clear to many readers of the agreement. According to preliminary reports, its 100 pages contain bewilderingly complex provisions for supposedly delaying Iran from making a bomb. There are international inspections of the Iranians’ nuclear facilities but none that would actually catch them off guard. There are limits to the number of centrifuges with which Iran can enrich uranium to weapons grade, but only for a decade during which not a single centrifuge will be dismantled. And Iran can continue to research and develop more advanced technologies capable of producing nuclear weapons even faster. Most mystifying still, the deal recognizes Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear power without demanding that Iran cease promoting war throughout the Middle East and terror worldwide.
For Israelis, though, there is nothing mystifying about this picture. We see an Iranian regime that will deceive inspectors and, in the end, achieve military nuclear capabilities. We see an Iranian nuclear program that, while perhaps temporarily curtailed, will remain capable of eventually producing hundreds of nuclear weapons.
This is a picture that we’ve all seen before. Back in 1994, American negotiators promised a “good deal” with North Korea. Its nuclear plants were supposed to be frozen and dismantled. International inspectors would “carefully monitor” North Korea’s compliance with the agreement and ensure the country’s return to the “community of nations.” The world, we were told, would be a safer place.
It wasn’t. North Korea never forfeited its nuclear plants and the inspections proved useless. The community of nations is threatened by North Korean atomic bombs and the world is anything but safe. And yet, against all logic, a very similar deal has been signed with Iran.
And Iran is not North Korea. It’s far worse. Pyonyang’s dictators never plotted terrorist attacks across five continents and in thirty cities, including Washington, D.C. Tehran’s Ayatollahs did. North Korea is not actively undermining pro-Western governments in its region or planting agents in South America. Iran is. And North Korea – unlike Iran – did not kill many hundreds of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
So why, then, are only Israelis united in opposing this deal? The answer is that we have the most to lose, at least in the short run. We know that the deal allows Iran to break out and create nuclear bombs in as little as three months, too quickly for the world to react. We know that the Ayatollahs, who have secretly constructed fortified nuclear facilities that have no peaceful purpose and have violated all of their international commitments, will break this deal in steps too small to precipitate a powerful global response. And we know that the sanctions, once lifted, cannot be swiftly revived, and that hundreds of billions of dollars Iran will soon receive will not be spent on better roads and schools. That treasure will fund the shedding of blood – of Israelis but also of many others.
Israelis know that, while the world might weather its deception by North Korea, they cannot afford to be duped by Iran. But neither, in fact, can the United States. Just last week, Iran’s President attended a rally in Tehran where tens of thousands of protesters chanted “Death to America.” The deal will better enable them to carry out that attack – if not today, then against future generations. And Iran’s Supreme Leader has publicly pledged to do just that.
The planned celebrations in Tehran and Iranian declarations of victory contrast starkly with the gloom hanging today over almost all Israelis. We believe that with stronger sanctions and tougher demands, a better deal is still possible. But we also understand that the present deal poses grave dangers not only to us, but ultimately to America and the world.
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