July 16, 2015
Number 07/16 #03
As readers are no doubt aware, after years of negotiations a final nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers (US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany) was announced yesterday. A White House summary of the key provisions of the deal is here, while the full 160-page agreement can be read here. This Update offers some analysis of the deal’s provisions and its implications, as well as a piece on the Israeli perspective of the deal.
First up, former US Defence Department official Dov Zakheim writes that the deal has given Iran everything it wanted and that America conceded on many elements that it deemed deal breakers only a few years ago. The benefits Iran gains includes recognition of the country’s right to enrich uranium, the lifting of sanctions against 800 individuals and organisations, massive foreign economic investment, preservation of all of Iran’s existing nuclear facilities, and a lifting of an arms embargo after five years. To read this good summary of the deal, CLICK HERE.
Next, veteran analyst Max Boot offers a number of insights into the 160 page document. Although he welcomes the snap back provisions not being tied to a UN Security Council vote he believes violations will inevitably be overlooked to prevent them being seen as an embarrassing sign of the agreement’s failure. Boot also notes that Iran insisted on the agreement only covering the nuclear issue but managed to have included non-nuclear items that were to its advantage, including the lifting of the embargo on conventional arms and ballistic missiles. (Since Boot’s article an AP report is claiming that a draft UN resolution will propose ending the snap back provisions after only 10 years). To read Boot’s’ many insights into the agreement, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Israeli correspondent Shmuel Rosner looks at why Israel (and neighbouring countries) view the agreement as an historic readjustment of the US’ long standing regional relationships and a strategic failure. Rosner says that Israeli MPs may question the tactics used by Binyamin Netanyahu to prevent the proposed deal but that they overwhelmingly agree with him that the deal is a bad one, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Robert Satloff warns that the deal is not only a nuclear agreement but a “strategy paper that maps Iran’s emergence as a regional power, with the full blessing…of the US and the international community”. Agreeing with Satloff, Elliott Abrams says Iran did not deserve to be given such a generous deal. Alan Dershowitz sees the temporary aspect of the deal as the most troubling point. Michael Rubin calls the deal “craven capitulation”, highlighting such US’ concession as letting Iran experiment with next generation centrifuges.
- Knesset MP and former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren argues that Israel opposes the deal because of the nature of the Iranian regime and the North Korean precedent from the 1990s.
- An excellent primer on Iran’s role in regional chaos from journalist and author Michael Totten.
- Israeli academic/diplomat Dore Gold on the futility of hoping the Iranian regime will be a force against terrorism.
- Analyst Dr. Andrew Bowan on the consequences for both the US and the Middle East of lifting arms embargoes against Iran.
- Veteran Iran specialist Ray Takeyh addresses the US Administration’s belief that Iran will use its post-deal windfall almost wholly for domestic needs, and not for regional destabilisation.
- Former NATO Commander and US Admiral James Stavridis on Iran’s long-standing imperial ambitions in the region.
- The Zionist Organisation of America’s Morton A. Klein and Dr. Daniel Mandel argue the agreement is a “surrender” because “it does not dismantle any element of Irans nuclear weapons infrastructure” and “contradicts every substantive assurance President Obama gave on stopping Iran becoming a nuclear power”.
- Foundation for Defence of Democracies’ Cliff May on how Iran “out-negotiated the envoys of the ‘Great Satan,’ thereby preparing the ground for the many battles not just diplomatic yet to come”.
- Washington insider Aaron David Miller nominates five issues to consider when assessing the merits of the deal.
- US defence policy analyst Matthew Kroenig argues that President Obama has abandoned 70 years of the US nonproliferation policy in agreeing to the deal.
- British author Toby Greene asks why Iran needed to enrich as much uranium as it has if its nuclear program was only ever for peaceful purposes.
- Emily Landau, an Israeli academic proliferation specialist, on why the negotiations ended up tilting too far In Iran’s direction.
- For those who missed it, AIJAC’s Colin Rubenstein offers an Australian perspective of the deal in the Herald Sun. In the Australian newspaper foreign editor Greg Sheridan calls the deal a “wretched capitulation”.
President Obama now has the deal he eagerly sought so early, in fact, that he reportedly instructed his negotiators to bring home a deal no matter what. According to Mr. Obama , the so-called Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful changechange that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure. Real and meaningful change will certainly be the result of this agreement. Unfortunately, the change will only be for the worse.
Iran will be recognized by the UN as a country with nuclear technology and entitled to rights of peaceful nuclear program including enrichment and full fuel cycle.
All economic and financial sanctions against Iran will be removed through a new Security Council resolution.
All nuclear facilities in Iran will retain their activities. Contrary to the initial demands of the other side, none of the nuclear sites will be shut down.
The policy to prevent Irans enrichment activities failed. Iran will continue nuclear enrichment.
Irans nuclear infrastructure will be preserved. No centrifuge will be [destroyed] and research and development on all advanced centrifuges including IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 will continue.
Arak heavy water reactor will remain as such. Any demands to return the facility to a light water reactor have been dismissed. The facility will be modernized and enjoy new additions through cooperating with owners of most advanced and secure world technologies.
Iran will enter global markets as a producer of nuclear products especially in the case of enriched uranium and heavy water. All sanctions and limitations against imports and exports of nuclear material will be annulled.
All economic and financial sanctions in the fields of banking, oil, gas, petrochemicals, insurance, and transportation as imposed by the EU and the US under the pretext of Irans nuclear program will be immediately lifted upon the implementation of the agreement.
Irans arms embargo will be lifted, replaced with some restrictions to be removed in 5 years.
Billions of Irans blocked revenues in foreign banks will be unfrozen.
A total of 800 individuals and legal entities, including the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), will be released from any sanctions.
Virtually none of these outcomes was presaged when the United States first undertook to negotiate an agreement with Iran. Indeed, many of the elements now conceded to Tehran were considered to be deal breakers. Yet these have proved to be no more effective than the administrations red lines regarding the Assad regimes use of chemical weapons against the Syrian opposition.
It is noteworthy that while the Iranian side has greeted the agreement with nothing short of elation, only the president, the secretary of state, and their immediate circle of advisors have evinced a similar reaction. Indeed, Mr. Obama has compared himself to John Kennedy, who sought to reach an arms agreement with the Soviet Union, as if Iran, with no nuclear weapons, was somehow a nuclear superpower as the USSR was when JFK first reached out to Moscow. In reality, America, with its allies in tow, has made concession after concession to an economically starved state whose delusions of grandeur will now be greater than ever.
President Obamas assurances notwithstanding, the Middle East (and indeed, the world) will now be far less stable. Iran will have little trouble cheating IAEA inspectors while it proceeds along its path of nuclear-weapons development. After five years, it will have complete freedom to acquire arms of all sorts. More ominously, Iran will now be flush with cash, with tens of billions of dollars accruing from both petroleum sales and the lifting of financial sanctions. No doubt Tehran will put that money to good use: increasing its support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Hafez Assad and the Houthi rebels; destabilizing Bahrain, Saudi Arabias eastern province; and extending its terrorist reach worldwide.
It remains to be seen whether the Congress can muster enough votes to override an inevitable presidential veto of any attempt to block the deal. In this regard, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed the deal, hardly helped his case at all. In seeking to muster support for Congressional opposition to any deal, he alienated a large number of Democrats by going behind the presidents back to address a joint session of the Congress. Now he needs those Democratic votes for an override, and he may not get them.
Should an override fail, and the agreement come into force, the larger Sunni Arab states can be expected to seek their own nuclear-weapons capability, as Saudi Arabias King Salman has already indicated would be the case  if the P5+1 capitulated to Tehran. The Gulf States, as well as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, will no doubt also request additional American military equipment, financed by aid or sold outright. Israel will follow suit, except that Jerusalem, despite its ability to deter Iran, may yet attack that countrys nuclear facilities purely out of desperation and frustration with American policy.
It did not have to be this way. The P5+1 could have continued to negotiate, while retaining the interim agreement signed in November 2013. Tehran would have had to face ongoing sanctions, which, even if China and Russia evaded them, would have continued to stress the Iranian economy. The West could have held out for a better deal, for the choice was never between war and peace, as the president kept asserting, or between a bad deal or no deal, as Israels prime minister insisted. Now the die has been cast; only the Congress stands in the way of a rollback of two decades of bipartisan efforts to contain the rogue state that to this day wishes to do harm to the country it continues to deride as the Great Satan.
Dov S. Zakheim served as the undersecretary of defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Defense from 20012004 and as the deputy undersecretary of defense (planning and resources) from 1985-1987. He also served as DoD’s civilian coordinator for Afghan reconstruction from 20022004. He is a member of The National Interest ‘s advisory council.
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By now, after months of leaks following the initial agreement on April 2, the broad outlines of the deal with Iran are already familiar. If you want to know whats in it, I recommend skipping the bombastic White House PowerPoints, which claim that all Iranian pathways to a nuclear weapon have been blocked, or the obfuscatory language of the 150-page Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action itself, which reads like a document drafted by a committee of lawyers intent on papering over differences with extra-long and hard-to-follow sentences.
For a more succinct (and, on the whole, accurate) account, go right to the statement issued by Tehrans official Islamic Republic News Agency. It notes, inter alia:
-) World powers have recognized Irans peaceful nuclear program and are to respect the nuclear rights of Iranian nation within international conventions
-) The Islamic Republic of Iran is to be recognized as a nuclear technology power authorized to have peaceful nuclear programs such as complete nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment to be identified by the United Nations.
-) All unfair sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council including economic and financial sanctions on Iran are to be lifted as per the agreement and through issuance of a new resolution by the United Nations Security Council.
-) All nuclear installations and sites are to continue their work contrary to the early demands of the other party, none of them will be dismantled.
-) The policy on preventing enrichment uranium is now failed, and Iran will go ahead with its enrichment program.
-) Irans nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, no centrifuges will be dismantled and research and development on key and advanced centrifuges such as IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, IR-8 will continue.
So far, so familiar and dismaying. This agreement is a massive capitulation to Iran. Having started negotiations with the goal of ending Irans nuclear program, the U.S. and its European negotiating partners are winding up legitimating Irans status as a nuclear power in waiting.
But there are some surprises in the final language.
The most pleasant surprise is the snapback provision which would, in theory, at least, allow the reintroduction of sanctions should Iran violate the agreement. It had been widely feared that snapback would require a vote of the U.N. Security Council, which would allow Russia or China to veto such a resolution. Instead, the agreement sets up a Joint Commission composed of the European Union, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran to adjudicate disputes over implementation. It would only take a bare majority of the commission to reinstitute sanctions, which means that the U.S. and its European allies could re-impose sanctions even without the support of Russia and China.
This makes snapback no longer an impossibility but still extremely improbable. Because once sanctions come off, the European states, in particular, will have a significant business stake in Iran that they will be loath to endanger by re-imposing sanctions.
There is also the psychological dimension to be considered: Re-imposing sanctions would be tantamount to a concession that the agreement has failed. How likely is it that the architects of the agreement will concede any such thing? In reality, its impossible to imagine any circumstances under which President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry (who is no doubt expecting to get a Nobel Peace Prize out of this, to match Obamas) will ever say that Iran is in violation. Perhaps some future president who did not negotiate this deal will be more willing to make such a call perhaps. But to do so would spark a crisis with Iran that no future president would relish. The odds are it will be easier to overlook any violations that are sure to be disputed. Thats certainly been the patterns with arms control treaties between the U.S. and Russia repeated Russian violations tend to get swept under the carpet by both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Finally, even if the snapback were implemented sometime in the future, it wouldnt matter that much Iran will already have reaped the benefits of well over $100 billion of sanctions relief.
The Joint Commission mechanism that governs snapback is also in place to adjudicate disputes over access for inspectors to Iranian nuclear sites. Again, in theory, the U.S. and its European partners can compel an inspection of a suspect site notwithstanding Iranian opposition by out-voting Iran, Russia, and China. But not right away. The agreement specifies that it would take no fewer than 24 days to compel an inspection. Thats plenty of time for the Iranians to sanitize any suspect site so as to remove any evidence of nuclear activity, and its far removed from the kind of 24/7 access that President Obama said just today that inspectors would have.
The other surprises in the agreement are even nastier. The Iranians had insisted that the agreement stick only to the nuclear issue thats why, for example, the Iranians did not agree as part of this deal to release the American hostages they are holding or to end their support for terrorism or their commitment to Israels destruction. But it turns out the agreement isnt just limited to nuclear issues. It includes a commitment to lift the conventional arms embargo on Iran in no more than five years, and the embargo on missile sales to Iran in no more than eight years and possibly sooner, if Iran is said to be in compliance with the nuclear accord.
Those provisions should be read in conjunction with the agreements promise to lift all sanctions on a long line of Iranian entities and individuals 61 pages worth, to be exact including a promise to lift sanctions on Qassem Soleimani, commander of Irans Quds Force, who is to Shiite terrorism what Osama bin Laden was to Sunni terrorism. Assuming that this is in fact what the agreement says (notwithstanding whispers from some American officials that its another Qassem Soleimani who is benefitting), this is a stunning concession to Irans imperial designs in the Middle East.
What this means is that Iran will soon have more than $100 billion extra to spend not only on exporting the Iranian revolution and dominating neighboring states (Gen. Soleimanis job) but that it will also before long be free to purchase as many weapons even ballistic missiles as it likes on the world market. No wonder Vladimir Putin appears to be happy: This deal is likely to become a windfall for Russian arms makers, although you can be sure that Iran will also spread its largesse to manufacturers in France and, if possible, the UK so as to give those countries an extra stake in not re-imposing sanctions.
To sum up: The agreement with Iran, even if Iran complies (which is a heroic assumption), will merely delay the weaponization of Irans nuclear program by a few years, while giving Iran a massive boost in conventional power in the meantime. What do you think Irans Sunni neighbors, all of whom are terrified of Iranian power, will do in response? There is a good possibility that this agreement will set off a massive regional arms race, in both conventional and nuclear weaponry, while also leading states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar to make common cause with the Islamic State as a hedge against Iranian designs in the region.
Thats assuming, of course, that the agreement is not blocked by Congress. But its unlikely that the Senate can muster a veto-proof majority to override the veto Obama promised to deliver of any bill that seeks to block this terrible deal. Assuming, as appears probable, that this deal is in fact implemented, future historians may well write of July 14, 2015, as the date when American dominance in the Middle East was supplanted by the Iranian Imperium.
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There is nothing less reassuring than a band of experts telling a nation that there is no reason for panic. And that is exactly the message Israel was getting on Tuesday morning, hours before the expected announcement of an Iran deal. The agreement officials, ex-officials and experts were telling us - would be “dramatic, “historic, “challenging, “sobering, “devastating” - all of these are words used by high-ranking Israelis - and yet, hysteria would be misplaced. Israel is a strong country, it will adjust to new realities, and it will overcome the challenge.
How? Unclear. The route to overcoming the challenge is as unclear as the challenge itself. That is because the agreement represents the beginning of a new era. Its impact on the region will reveal itself only gradually, and Israel’s response to this impact will also develop gradually.
There are many details to the agreement that can confuse the reader and cloud the waters, but a few key points stand out the crucial points that make this agreement highly problematic. Problematic for Israel, and for Saudi Arabia, and for Egypt, and for many other countries in the region. Problematic for the US, for all countries that object to the proliferation of military nuclear capabilities, and for all countries that object to the increase of Iranian power through means of terror.
The first of these key points: the agreement does not aim to curb Iran’s ambition to become a military nuclear power. The U.S. began the process of negotiations with Iran with the position that the international community should allow Iran to maintain its nuclear activities only when those activities are strictly “civilian” in nature. If Iran wants to develop its nuclear capabilities for energy purposes, the U.S. initially said, that is acceptable. That is the only nuclear activity that is acceptable. The U.S. ended the negotiations with a position that officially accepts Iran as a threshold military nuclear power. Pure and simple. For the next 10 years, Iran will be a year away from a bomb that is a best case scenario and later it could be weeks away from a bomb that is also a best case scenario.
The second of these key points: The sanctions against Iran will be lifted - never to return (or, if they do return, it will take a very long time to reinstate). This allows Iran to abide by the agreement only for a relatively short time, until the sanctions are lifted, then soon after it can reconsider its position. We already know that it takes time and a lengthy process for the international community to sanction Iran. The prospect of a rapid reinstatement of sanctions in the event that Iran violates the agreement is laughable.
The third key point: The agreement has a time limit. Namely, even if Iran decides to abide by all of the provisions, it will take only a decade for it to become what it wants to be without too many restrictions. A decade is a long time for an American president who will be out of office in less than two years. It is a long time for an Israeli Prime Minister who is also unlikely to stay in power for such a long time. But it is a short time for two ancient nations.
The other elements of the deal, while still important, are secondary. One other issue concerns the insufficient and deliberately unclear language with regard to inspections. Iran still says that not all of its sites will be open for inspections, at any time. The international group of negotiators says sites will be open for inspections as necessary. Another issue concerns the mechanism for rapid response in case of violations of the agreement. There is good reason to doubt the U.S. ability to ignite such a response within 65 days as the agreement assumes as quickly as its negotiators claim they would.
Is the agreement “good” or “bad”? It is bad if the goal is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear military power and if one believes achieving such a goal was realistic. It is good if the aim is to attempt to have some measure of control over the way Iran pursues its policy as a de-facto nuclear military power and if one believes that a more ambitious goal was unrealistic.
The Obama administration believes the deal is a good one. It will argue that the deal is also good for Israel. Indeed, on Tuesday, in his initial remarks on the deal, President Barack Obama mentioned Israel three times, including saying of Iran, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel — that’s a dead end. Yet these reassurances will be a hard sell for Israelis. Earlier this week, Israeli politicians debated whether Israel’s strategy in fighting the agreement would be viable. The opposition attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arguing that his confrontational approach had been unhelpful and did not provide results. They may be right, or wrong one never knows what would have happened had Netanyahu chosen a different path. But opposition leaders also backed Netanyahu’s position in saying the deal is not a good one. Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the Labor Party and Israel’s opposition, said on Monday that “one thing is already clear: This agreement is going to expedite the regional arms race.” The agreement, Herzog said, will “legitimize Iran’s turning into a nuclear threshold state.” Yair Lapid another leader of the opposition called the agreement “lousy,” and said the position of the international community is “incomprehensible.
Lapid also took the opportunity to insist Netanyahu should resign from office because of his “failure” to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state. A nice try, but most Israelis would probably blame Obama, not Netanyahu, for this failure. In fact, as Israel ponders its next step in this battle whether the battle to lobby Congress to vote against the agreement, or the later battle to survive in an even more dangerous region its challenge is not just how to deal with a new situation with regards to Iran, it is also the challenge of how to deal with a new situation with regards to the United States.
The U.S.-Israel crisis is one of the most devastating outcomes of the agreement with Iran. The widespread (and exaggerated) belief among Israelis that the U.S. would always be steadfast in guarding Israel’s security was undermined and in some minds, even demolished. This does not mean that the U.S. is no longer Israel’s most important ally. This does not mean that Israel will no longer rely on American support. But there should be no mistake: the U.S.-Israel alliance is no longer as solid as it was 10 years ago. If Israel is asked to make compromises based on American assurances it will not be as inclined to rely on those assurances as it once was. Surely not as long as the Obama administration is in office, but probably not later, as well.
On Tuesday morning, Tzipi Livni identified a “problem with the American outlook, saying the U.S .is legitimizing Iran’s support of terrorism in the Middle East. It is a serious allegation by an Israeli leader who is hardly a fan of Netanyahu’s policies. Livni suggested Israel should make demands to make the agreement less detrimental for Israel: a strict weapons embargo on Iran is essential, she said. The agreement includes a five-year term in which weapons restrictions remain in place. That is better than earlier expectations, and represents a supposed caving by Iran. But it is also a very short time short enough for other countries to get ready for its expiration and to let them begin an expedited process of selling weapons to Iran as soon as it expires.
Livni sounded quite ready to lobby for improvements in the agreement on behalf of Israel and in coordination with the Netanyahu government. The Iran agreement could provide Netanyahu with an opportunity to expand his coalition around a common cause, and some of his ministers called on the opposition to “assist” the government in battling against the agreement instead of focusing on criticism of Netanyahu’s policies. But as of Tuesday morning there were not yet any signs that Netanyahu intends to go beyond such pleas and to try to quickly expand his coalition.
Some in Israel are already calling on the government to readjust to a new reality by asking for American assurances, weapon systems, or new understandings. Surely, Israel might eventually get to such a point, but for the time being, what Netanyahu intends to do is fight, not adjust. His strategy all along has been confrontational, based on two assumptions.
The first is that trying to work with the Obama administration is a hopeless cause. Early on, Netanyahu figured out that Obama wanted an agreement with Iran and that no Israeli move could dissuade the U.S. president from attempting to reach his goal. Netanyahu dismisses those who claim that his personal relations with Obama ruined Israel’s chances to alter the agreement, as well as those who claim that an Israeli move towards an accord with the Palestinians could have changed the dynamic on the Iranian front.
Netanyahu does not a have high regard for the American president, but he finds such claims too belittling of Obama. The president did not reach an agreement with Iran because of his dislike for Netanyahu, and he did not turn to Iran because of his disappointment with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Obama was serious about Iran early on, and no one was able to make him change this course. Thus, Netanyahu concluded, Israel’s only way has been to fight tooth and nail against the administration. Its only way is to bet on Congress.
Netanyahu’s second assumption is one based on principle: Under dire circumstances, Israel should not accept a new reality of a nuclear Iran without a bitter fight. Even if Israels chances for success are slim; even if the fight could damage other Israeli interests (such as Israel’s need for bipartisan support in the U.S.); even if a vote against the agreement by Congress leads to a less stable situation of no agreement and no sanctions; even then, Israel, and its prime minister, are obligated to wage a battle.
Netanyahu does not believe in a silent response to the threat of a nuclear Iran. And while he has recently toned down his Iran-Nazi Germany comparisons - and has asked his ministers not to go into redundant Obama-Neville Chamberlain comparisons - his instinctive response to all the suggestions that Israel should accept the new reality and move on is resistance.
Netanyahu believes Israel must now shy away or tire when fighting great evil.