Emerging Deal Reveals West's Reluctance to Avert a Nuclear Iran

Netanyahu's effort to achieve a better deal should be welcomed; tomorrow it will be impossible to achieve what isn't agreed upon today.

Amiel Ungar
Amiel Ungar
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A replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier is exploded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, February 25, 2015.
A replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier is exploded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, February 25, 2015.Credit: AP
Amiel Ungar
Amiel Ungar

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to decry the emerging world powers' nuclear deal with Iran. It is a bad deal that includes a sunset clause upon whose expiration Iran is home free, a massive centrifuge infrastructure for Tehran to retain, and a nave belief that Iran – which continues to stonewall the IAEA – will change its spots and forthwith comply with intrusive inspection.

Any Israeli success in winning better terms should be welcomed, because it will be impossible to demand from Iran tomorrow anything that is omitted from the signed agreement today.

Netanyahu speaks before a joint meeting of Congress, March 3, 2015.Credit: AP

We have also learned during the negotiation process that previous United Nations resolutions hampering Iran from procuring bomb-making components will be superseded and shredded by the most recently signed agreement.

While the final text and terms of the agreement are important, of equal importance – to paraphrase Montesquieu – is the spirit of the agreement. Even an optimally worded agreement is useless unless the signatories are prepared to punish Iran for violating it.

Israel learned this lesson when UN Security Council Resolution 1701 terminated Israel's Second Lebanon War in 2006. The resolution's most meaningful clause was "the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State."

Nobody was willing to enforce this clause against Hezbollah, and as a result the organization is more powerful than the Lebanese army that the resolution sought to make the country's exclusive military force.

Over and beyond the unfavorable terms of the agreement with Iran are the massive concessions the world plans on making. They demonstrate a lack of will that justifies Netanyahu's accusation that the West "has given up" on trying to prevent an Iranian bomb.

Netanyahu is aptly focusing his efforts on the United States and Europeans. It was a foregone conclusion that Russia and China who, like Iran, form part of what Prof. Walter Russell Mead has called the axis of weevils – revisionist powers who want to chip away at the international status quo – and who would not be overly despondent if Iran got the bomb.

Russia, as reportedly noted by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, is looking forward to the conclusion of a deal that would lift the arms embargo on Tehran and facilitate Russian-Iranian military cooperation.

If you believe that Russia will serve as an effective and vigilant custodian of Iran's enriched uranium, you must surely also believe that its leader, President Vladimir Putin, will guarantee a transparent investigation of Boris Nemtsov's murder.

Russia will treat accusations of Iranian violations in the same vein that it treated the use of chemical warfare by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The disappointment thus focuses primarily on the Obama administration. An American policy of "all options are on the table" has become a policy that the military option is definitively off the table.

Administration spokespersons now argue that the military option is useless because it will accelerate Iran's march to the bomb and its removal of the nuclear infrastructure to impregnable underground locations.

If the military option is so terrible to contemplate when Iran lacks nuclear weapons, how will it look when Tehran does a Pyongyang and tests a bomb that can be mounted on its intercontinental delivery systems?

Compare this aversion to war with the "Great Prophet 9" maneuvers conducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, culminating with the destruction of a mock-up of the U.S. carrier Nimitz.

Iran signals it is willing to risk a military confrontation; the West has signaled that this prospect is unthinkable.

Sham agreements are drafted to deodorize the stench. This tactic applies not only to Iran but to Ukraine as well, where Putin has now added two separatist enclaves in East Ukraine to his annexation of Crimea.

When Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994 and gave up its nuclear force, it was granted assurances of its territorial integrity, reaffirmed in 2009, by the United States and Russia, who obliged to "refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine."

Ukraine was wooed by the European Union and exhorted to draw closer to the West and move further away from its Soviet past. When it did so, and Putin expressed his displeasure first by employing the energy [natural gas] weapon and then by outright invasion, the West hastily patched together cease-fire after cease-fire. It refused to even supply Kiev with weaponry that could have possibly convinced Putin that the price of military invasion could prove prohibitive.

Kiev has not been allowed to fight, just as Israel would not be allowed to attack Iran's nuclear program.

Kiev has to accept the fact that Ukraine's Finlandization at best, or dismemberment at worst, is more important to Putin than the West. The deal with Iran carries the same message: Tehran is more committed to getting the bomb than the West is committed to denying Iran that achievement.

Amiel Ungar is a political scientist.

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