Q&A: What Next for the Iranian Nuclear Agreement?

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Representatives of Iran, EU, world powers in Lausanne for talks, April 2, 2015. Credit: Reuters
Haaretz

Haaretz's Barak Ravid has just got back from Lausanne, where representatives of the P5+1 nations negotiated a 10-year deal that is supposed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

If the issue of centrifuges has left your head spinning, if you're enraged over enrichment or you just don't know how to react to the whole deal - ask Barak.

Send your questions to QandA@haaretz.co.il

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Q: Does the deal with Iran make an Israeli military strike more or less likely?

A: While technically Israel still has a military option against the Iranian nuclear facilities, it is highly unlikely that in the current political atmosphere the Israeli government will order the IDF to implement its strike plans in Iran. As long as talks are still ongoing and further more if a comprehensive deal is signed on June 30th I do not see any possibility of an Israeli military strike in Iran.

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Q: You wrote yesterday that Israel will seek to nix the deal through Congress. Is there any chance that it will succeed?

Anders (Rotterdam)

A: I think there is a very low probability of nixing the deal through congress. To pass a bill that obliges the Obama administration to give more reporting to Congress about the deal is one thing – lawmakers on both sides of the aisle would be happy to assert congress role vis a vis the White House. But when it comes to a more robust bill that might be able to stop a deal, I find it hard to believe the Israeli government will be able to mobilize 13 democratic senators against the President. The political controversy around Netanyahu's speech in congress has turned the Iran issue and Israel's concerns about it into a more partisan issue than ever before. For democrats to support such a bill will be in a way – choosing Netanyahu over Obama. I think very few democrats will choose Netanyahu. Moreover – Netanyahu trying to use Congress against the White House has been proven counterproductive before. I think such a move will only further alienate the White House, damage U.S.-Israel relations and only serve Iran.

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Q: Why is Israel's purported nuclear arsenal not being discussed at the same time as the Iranian nuclear program?

Tom (via email)

A: There are many reasons for this – the main one is that unlike Iran, Israel is not a signatory to the NPT. Iran signed the NPT and then violated it and got caught doing it. Moreover – unlike Iran Israel is a democracy that never threatened to wipe another country of the map. The combination of Iranian violations of the NPT and threats to annihilate other countries such as Israel is a good reason to scrutinize Tehran's nuclear program. By the way – Israel's nuclear program is being discussed both in IAEA conferences and UN general assembly resolutions that are being brought up to a vote by the Arab league and Egypt. In the last few years those resolutions did not pass due to their highly politicized nature. Israel is part of the diplomatic process being led by Finland to convene nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. This process is not making any progress mainly because the Arab states involved try time and again to politicize this process and use it to isolate Israel.

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Q: Do any Israeli politicians support the deal with Iran? And if not, is that a good enough reason for them to join Netanyahu in a national unity government?

Amhet (Istanbul)

A: Answer: Thank Ahmet. The implications of the Iran framework deal on domestic Israeli politics and the formation of the new government are still unclear. For now, most of the Israeli political system has expressed skepticism about the Iran deal. Netanyahu, his party the Likud and other parties from the right wing block have been highly critical, while the center-left Zionist Union list voiced concern and emphasized the need to repair ties with the U.S. in order to closely coordinate with the Obama administration. Central figures in the Zionist Union – mainly former director of Military Intelligence General Amos Yadlin – have stressed the need not to reject the deal completely but to take into consideration it also has positive dimensions. If Netanyahu will not be able to form a new right-wing coalition in the next two week he will definitely try to use the Iran deal crisis as a reason for forming a unity government with the Zionist union. But such a unity government will be possible only if Netanyahu will go for quite a dramatic policy shift on other issues such as the peace process with the Palestinians. For now this is a possibility with very low probability.

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Q: IAEA or P5+1 inspectors can go to every known nuclear site in Iran but not military installations. Iran can technically call a nuclear facility a military installation and bar inspectors from going there where Iran can do enrichment for bomb(s). How can this deal prevent such possibility?

Lee Jay (London)

A: Dear Lee. Thank you for this question. According to the understandings between Iran and the 6 world powers, the IAEA inspectors will be able to inspect every declared and undeclared site in Iran as part of an Iranian implementation of what is called "The additional protocol" – an annex to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. This annex allows IAEA inspectors to execute unannounced inspections in suspicious sites. Every country who is a signatory to the NPT and agrees to sign, ratify and implement this annex enters into negotiations with the IAEA in order to draft its own "additional protocol" that will best suit its nuclear program. The Iranians have continuously refused to allow IAEA inspectors into military bases suspected as being part of the alleged military nuclear program. This exact point will be a main stumbling block that will have to be resolved in the next 3 months until June 30th.

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Q: Do you trust the Iranians?

A: No. I don't trust them. This is why I want to put as many constraints on their nuclear program as possible and for a long time. Even though it could have been a bit better, the framework agreement generally does that. Not trusting the Iranians does not mean not trying to find a diplomatic solution with them. 

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Q: Do you believe that the lifting of sanctions is reversible, as President Obama claims, or it is a one-way street?

Chaim (New York)

A: Dear Chaim. There are 4 kinds of sanctions: 1. U.S. Executive sanctions that can be turned on and off quickly and easily by a presidential order. 2. EU sanctions that after being lifted need a consensus among 28 member states in order to snap them back. Possible, but not a quick and problem free process. 3. U.S. sanctions legislation – not going to be lifted in the near term. 4. UN security council sanctions – there are 6 Iran sanctions resolutions that passed in the UN security council over the last 10 years.

As part of the deal most of those sanctions will be lifted after the IAEA determines that Iran has met its obligations according to the agreement. A new Security Council resolution will be drafted to replace those 6 resolutions and to state which sanctions will stay in place – mainly sanctions on the purchase of sensitive technologies by Iran and sanctions on Iran's missile programs. The 6 world powers are working now on a mechanism that will allow them to snap-back the UN Security Council sanctions very quickly if Iran violates the agreement. This mechanism will be very complicated to achieve due to disagreements on this issue among the 6 world powers. Finding a solution to this will be one of the main challenges in the final agreement.

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Q: What does Obama mean when he says that the Iranian breakout time could be zero?

Colin (Tampa)

A: Hi Colin. Thanks for this question. It is very important. There is a misunderstanding and confusion between two things – "Breakout time" and "Building a nuclear bomb". "Breakout time" is a term that describes the amount of time needed for Iran in order to get enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb. You start counting the "Breakout time" from the point Iran decides to kick out UN inspectors and start enriching uranium full speed to the point it has accumulated enough highly enriched uranium (90% purity) for one nuclear bomb. On the other hand – building a bomb is a whole different time table. It is a longer timetable. In order to build a nuclear bomb it is not enough to have the fissile material – you also need to have an operational nuclear device that you can fit into a delivery system (Bomb/Missile warhead) and detonate. Although the Iranians were reportedly engaged in research and development of components for nuclear weapons they are still quite far from mastering the technology to actually produce one.

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Q: Is there any international agreement that Bibi won't try to condition on recognition of Israel? Seriously – what was he thinking?!

A: Good question. Although it would be great if Iran recognized Israel, I do not think that Netanyahu actually believes this will happen in the near term or that the international community will put this condition on the table. On the other hand – it is a very good and effective talking point that Netanyahu will use in his media campaign against this deal when he tries to mobilize U.S. public opinion against it.

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