The first cause for concern is nuclear proliferation. The international community’s greatest achievement over the past 70 years has been its ability to control the nuclear demon. Israel’s most significant achievement over the past half century has been the monopoly of Dimona.
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If the Vienna agreement is adhered to, both these achievements will be preserved — excellent. But if it turns out, perish the thought, that the Vienna accord is vague, the holes are black and the monitoring mechanisms can’t be enforced, the world will be a different world, the Middle East will become a terrible Middle East, and a giant shadow will loom over Israel’s future.
The second cause for concern is the expansion of conventional weapons. Iran’s military-industrial complex has few parallels in the world. Some 50,000 skilled and creative Iranians have learned to make satellites, missiles, sophisticated ships and drones.
Iran, even when it stood on the brink of bankruptcy, built its own defense industry, including its own aircraft industry and its own Elbit Systems of the ‘90s. The injection of tens of billions of dollars into Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s R&D labs and assembly lines could take us back 30 years: a semi-existential threat by conventional weapons.
The third cause for concern is regional hegemony. Over the past four years many of the Arab nation-states have collapsed. There is no more Iraq, no more Syria, no more Libya, no more Yemen and no more Sudan. The rotting order that gave the Middle East decades of relative stability has crumbled.
Iran, even when it was a pariah, knew how to take advantage of the Arab chaos and took over Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sanaa. The legitimacy, honor and leverage the Vienna agreement gives Tehran will let it double and triple this victory and impose fear on the Middle East.
The fourth reason for concern is the lack of ideological conversion. Pro-Israeli elements in Washington recently demanded that Iran recognize Israel. But the real problem is that Iran does not recognize the United States; American flags are burned in Tehran. Iran has received economic salvation and international legitimacy and has not been required to dismantle its nuclear or ideological infrastructure, and this raises worries about things to come.
The fifth reason for concern is the whole ensemble. From the American-European perspective, the agreement means reconciliation and peace. The desired outcome is for Iran to become more moderate, not become nuclear, and join the family of nations. Maybe. If that can only happen.
But experience reveals a yawning gap between the way the United States and Europe understand the Middle East and the way the Middle East understands itself. Here on the ground, between Casablanca and Kabul, the Vienna agreement could be perceived as evidence that America is in retreat, Europe is declining and Shi’ite power is on the rise.
Hence the concern that in the long run a nuclear arms race will develop around us, in the short run a conventional arms race will emerge, and in the intermediate term neighboring powers like Hezbollah will strengthen and feel that their time has arrived. The move that is intended to bring peace for our time may lead to the opposite.
And yet, concerns are not policy. Anxiety is not strategy. The international community made a decision, and now Israel must not be an irritating prophet of doom that no one listens to. It must be a dynamic diplomatic player.
This is not the time to quarrel with the U.S. president and not the time to wail and stamp our feet. Jerusalem must resume a positive dialogue with Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels to minimize the risks of Vienna. It must ensure that Vienna does not, perish the thought, become the Munich of the 21st century.