What Happened to the Iranian Bomb?

The entire political establishment adopted Netanyahu’s nightmare scenarios regarding Iran. Nobody in Israel ever paid a price for prophecies of woe that never came true.

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PM Benjamin Netanyahu illustrates Iran's nuclear ambitions as he addresses the UN, September 27, 2012.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu illustrates Iran's nuclear ambitions as he addresses the UN, September 27, 2012.Credit: Associated Press
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

Is it possible that the Iranian bomb has disappeared from our lives? After 15 years of beating the war drums, we must admit we’ve already grown a bit accustomed to the bomb and even learned to love it a little. We organized our political system by the bomb, ascribed fateful significance to terms of office devoid of content and got used to serious people in suits lowering their voices and explaining everything under the sun by whispering: “I can’t elaborate, but it’s not for nothing that Benjamin Netanyahu looks more serious recently.” Our lives were run from one “year of decision” to another. And suddenly, poof! It’s gone.

A little more than six months ago, the prime minister went to speak at the United Nations. The entire world was celebrating the agreement that had been signed with Iran two and a half months earlier, and Netanyahu’s job, one he dearly loves, was to play the ingrate, to explain to the stupid non-Jews how bad things will be here – so bad that the prime minister, in one of the most ridiculous gestures ever seen on an international stage, stood silent on the dais for 40 seconds.

Afterward he explained how much courage this job demanded: “It’s not easy to oppose something that is embraced by the greatest powers in the world. Believe me, it would be far easier to remain silent. But throughout our history, the Jewish people have learned the heavy price of silence. And as the prime minister of the Jewish State ... I refuse to be silent.”

Immediately after this speech, Netanyahu informed the White House that henceforth, he would remain silent. And in this one unique case, he kept his word. For the last six months, the Iranian “deal of the century” (according to Netanyahu) and the world powers’ “historic mistake” (also according to Netanyahu) have been implemented – but Netanyahu has kept mum.

And this is how he described the post-deal world to the UN back then: “Iran is setting up dozens of terror cells ... Iran’s been doing all of this, everything that I’ve just described, just in the last six months, when it was trying to convince the world to remove the sanctions. Now just imagine what Iran will do after those sanctions are lifted. Unleashed and un-muzzled, Iran will go on the prowl, devouring more and more prey.”

Yet lo and behold, here’s what has happened since then, according to a senior defense official: Iranian payments to Hezbollah and Hamas haven’t grown, even though that famous $100 billion the Iranians were to get was unfrozen back in January. Iran is honoring the agreement, and its nuclear program has been set back; in other words, even if the Iranians were to blatantly violate the agreement, it would take them, according to our own defense establishment, more time to obtain the bomb than it would have taken them had the agreement not been signed. So far, even the claim that Western companies would run like maniacs to do business with Iran has proven exaggerated, while in Iran’s recent parliamentary elections, the most moderate human material the Islamic Republic is capable of producing won.

The Iranians haven’t changed their spots. They still give a great deal of aid to Hamas and Hezbollah and send militias to Syria. Nor should we assume they’ve abandoned their nuclear pretensions. But that isn’t the question. The question is whether our situation is better or worse following the agreement.

Yet the entire political establishment – from Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to opposition leaders Yair Lapid, Avigdor Lieberman and Isaac Herzog – has told us the agreement is a terrible existential danger. They all preferred to adopt Netanyahu’s nightmare scenarios. Nobody in Israel ever paid a price for prophecies of woe that never came true.

Granted, it’s still too early to declare the agreement a success (I, too, have to cover my rear). But one claim made by the agreement’s critics really drives me wild. The agreement, they say, gives us a lull of 10 to 15 years, but after that, Iran will be able to obtain the bomb with ease. So a country that invested billions of dollars, time and all its available diplomatic capital in creating a military option which, in the best case, would have postponed the bomb’s development by three years is thumbing its nose at 10 to 15 years.

Our doomsayers, it turns out, will never change their tune. There’s always some “long term” in which their prophecy will come true.

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