The latest reports on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program have sown fear in the hearts of Israeli decision makers. There has apparently been significant progress in the talks between Iran and the Western powers in Vienna, and they may soon sign a new nuclear agreement. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was quick to warn that “two things have happened” since the original deal was signed in 2015 – “the Iranians have made great strides in building their enrichment capability and time has passed. If the world signs the agreement again – without extending the expiration date – then we are talking about an agreement that buys a total of two and a half years, after which Iran can and may develop and install advanced centrifuges, without restrictions.”
Bennett forgot to mention that Iran began to violate the agreement only about a year after the United States withdrew from it unilaterally in 2018. He also forgot to mention that Israel made a big contribution to that American decision. Israel invested all its diplomatic efforts and military capabilities into torpedoing the agreement before it was signed, and now, it’s complaining that the new agreement will freeze Iran’s nuclear program for too short a time.
This complaint is inaccurate. The supervision and most of the restrictions will remain in place for many years, and in any case, Iran won’t be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Moreover, had the agreement still been in force, the reduced sanctions and Iran’s increased profits would have made it possible to scrutinize its intentions more seriously, so there would be no need to automatically continue nurturing the idee fixe of an existential threat.
After the negotiations with Iran were frozen last June due to the election of a new Iranian president, Israel rushed to market the theory that Iran didn’t intend to return to the negotiating table. When the negotiations did resume, Israel predicted that Tehran would try to buy time and that its goal was to further develop its nuclear program under cover of the talks. Both of these prophecies proved wrong. Iran is negotiating aggressively – and while the negotiations haven’t been free of ups and downs, Tehran has demonstrated seriousness and appears determined to sign a deal.
If the deal is signed, it won’t allay all of Israel’s fears. Iran will still be able to continue developing ballistic missiles, and it’s not expected to stop supporting Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen or militias in Iraq. At the same time, Tehran is seeking to repair its relationships with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the other Gulf states that are considered Israeli allies.
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Israel’s government must view the agreement with suspicion, participate in the international supervisory effort to ensure that all its provisions are indeed upheld and work to thwart any Iranian threat against Israelis. But when the government views the agreement itself as a threat, it is undermining its aspiration to neutralize the existential threat Iran poses to Israel’s citizens.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.