The deal was sealed early morning Israel time on July 14. By mid day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called it among other things, a “stunning, historic mistake.” He has a habit of hyperbole. Lets not forget that he also called the November 2013 Geneva agreement with Iran a “historic mistake,” too.
We in Israel should only hope that Netanyahu’s hysteria does not hurt the legitimacy of our valid concerns regarding the agreement struck between Iran and world powers over its nuclear program. Chief among these are worries about inspections of non-declared nuclear sites, especially those at Iran’s military bases.
Although the deal allows constant access to declared nuclear sites, if illegal activities are suspected to be taking place at an undeclared site, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will first have to ask Iran to visit that site. Once that request has been made, then a set of procedures has to be followed which could take up to 24 days before an actual inspection takes place.
Dr. Ephraim Asculai, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), worries about not just the 24-day process but also what precedes it.
To initiate an inspection at such a site, one must first show evidence to Iran that illegal activities are taking place there, otherwise why should Iran even consider a request for an inspection visit?
“Presenting evidence could compromise intelligence sources, something which no country will want to do” says Asculai, who worked for Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) for over 40 years. “This is specially true if the evidence comes from Human Intelligence Sources or electronic intercepts from organizations such as the NSA [National Security Agency].”
As for the 24-day duration of such a process, Asculai, who also served in the IAEA for six years, says: “Within that time, Iran could remove nuclear activities which do not involve nuclear material, without leaving any traces.”
To be sure, there are positive features of the current deal that could make it very difficult — in fact economically catastrophic — for Iran to decide to secretly make a weapon.
First, 96 percent of Iran’s Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) stockpile will be reduced, part of which will be sold abroad “in return for natural uranium delivered to Iran” and the rest diluted at home. Enrichment is one path to a bomb and with only 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of LEU remaining in Iran, Tehran will not have enough to make a weapon. Even if Iran does have a stockpile of undeclared LEU somewhere, if and when it decides to make a weapon, it will be easier to detect, even after the 24-day procedure required for inspection of non-declared military sites. Removal of residue from nuclear material such as uranium is very difficult; it can stay in soil and water samples for months, if not years.
The deal also blocks Iran’s path to a bomb via plutonium, since the Arak reactor will be removed and redesigned to produce less plutonium,if any.
In addition, the deal’s “snapback” mechanism would reimpose sanctions against Iran in 65 days, if it were to be found in breach of its commitments.
Last but not least, removal of some of the sanctions will also be conditional upon Iran answering questions about the Possible Military Dimension (PMD) of its nuclear program. This refers to allegations that Iran had until 2003 a functional military nuclear program. Iran has been playing coy with the IAEA over this matter for a number of years. However until today, clarification over PMD has not been tied to sanctions. Now that they are, Iran is very likely to resolve this matter.
The leaders of Israel have every right to voice their concerns over the current deal. Even the opposition is concerned about it. But the deal’s restrictions on Iran mean that the breakout time needed to make a nuclear weapon has been pushed back to a year. Without the deal it would be two to three months.
Israel should be just as concerned, if not more, with improving U.S. relations and modifying its expectations. There is so much mistrust of the Obama administration’s Iran policy and the latest Iran agreement that Netanyahu has publicly declared that “Israel is not bound by the agreement.” Israel’s ambassador Ron Dermer has been cut off from the White House — an unprecedented move in contemporary US-Israel relations. This impasse must change. Senior U.S. and Israeli government officials must meet at the earliest opportunity to resolve differences and to come up with a common strategy to address any potential future threats posed by Iran.
It was completely unrealistic for Netanyahu to demand that Iran give up its entire nuclear program. The opposition is also guilty of having unrealistic expectations, for instance, about Iran’s funding of Israel’s enemies. How could any deal aimed at stopping Iranian financial support to Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be verifiable? Also, when it comes to support for Hezbollah, Iran spends $200 million a year on the organization. Last year, Iran’s official budget was $294 billion. Help for Hezbollah was a mere .07 percent of the funds available to it. Even without the sanctions, Iran could still support Hezbollah.
Meanwhile the leaders of Iran must also think about their actions. It would be unfair and inaccurate to say all Israelis and Jewish diaspora members who oppose a deal with Iran do so because they want war. After the Holocaust, Jews are very sensitive towards anyone who uses eliminationist terms against them. Iranian regime’s constant calls for Israel to be wiped off the face of the map touches this very fear, and creates a strong reaction. Therefore even after a deal, even if Iran abides by all of its commitments, as long as the Iranian regime continues to call for the elimination of Israel, a majority of diaspora Jews and Israelis will distrust anything Tehran does, and will try to counter it in the halls of Congress.