Repairing the U.S.-Israel Rift

Most of us wouldn’t know a centrifuge — enriched or otherwise — if it was staring us in the face. We also don’t know the difference between plutonium and uranium, and don’t have a clue as to what’s going on in Iran’s various underground nuclear facilities — whether they’re working day and night on building a better X-ray machine to benefit mankind, or, Rachmana litzlan, developing nuclear arms to destroy Israel.

This makes it difficult to weigh in on the question of whether the agreement signed in Geneva at the weekend is good or bad for Israel and for the Western world, which is no less threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran. Will Geneva turn out to be another Munich (where an agreement was signed in 1938 that enabled Nazi Germany to annex parts of Czechoslovakia and ushered in World War II), or a hoped-for breakthrough that spares the West the need to go to war?

But one thing we do know, and that everyone agrees on, is this: Iran is just eight weeks away from having the bomb. It has the material, equipment and know-how to create a nuclear weapon by Tu BiShvat — Purim at the latest.

The interim agreement doesn’t disarm Iran, again, by all accounts. All it does is put things on hold. The gun is cocked and placed at Israel’s temple — and that’s how it’s going to stay, in the best of circumstances, for the next six months.

What’s debatable is whether the agreement is a historic mistake, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu maintains, or a historic opportunity, as its proponents argue. The concern is that the West has given up its leverage over the Iranians — the crippling sanctions — just as their economy was hitting bottom and they could have been forced to disarm.

As U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, put it: “It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced. A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.”

The Iranians believe that once sanctions are eased, even slightly, they will completely unravel, as country after country finds a way to increase trade with them. And once sanctions are lifted, goes the thinking in Tehran, the world will have no appetite to renew them, no matter how ineffective the final agreement turns out to be.

Also on the “historic mistake” side of the ledger is the fact that Iran is allowed to continue developing long-range missiles that can carry its nuclear weapons thousands of miles away and that the United States agreed that Tehran has a right to be a nuclear power (though with restrictions) — a major breakthrough.

But the agreement isn’t all bad. It allows for beefed-up inspection of nuclear sites, including some that were previously off-limits to the West. No less an authority than Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, a highly respected former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, says that if until now the Iranian nuclear program was uncontrolled, now it will be subject to daily inspections that ensure that it doesn’t advance.

If the interim agreement succeeds in keeping Iran a “nuclear threshold” country while a final agreement is worked out over the next six months that leads to the complete dismantling of its nuclear program, then even Netanyahu will hail the Geneva agreement as a historic breakthrough.

It is vitally important for Israel to have a voice in the final agreement that will be taking shape over the next six months. It isn’t a matter of courtesy or consideration for Israel as the country that stands to suffer the most from a nuclear Iran. Rather, it is a matter of practicality: If a final agreement allows Iran to indefinitely remain a nuclear threshold country, with the ability to acquire nuclear weapons in eight weeks’ time, Israel will have no choice but to strike militarily. After all, what country could live with such a threat?

What’s needed now, to ensure that Israel’s voice is heard, is a period of calm, of confidence-building, between Washington and Yerushalayim. The past few weeks have been turbulent, as the prime minister fought hard to prevent an interim agreement that he felt jeopardized Israel’s national security. Now that the deal has been signed, it’s time to repair relations, which are a national security priority of the highest order for Israel.

To President Obama’s credit, he phoned the prime minister just hours after the agreement was signed and said he wanted “the United States and Israel to begin consultations immediately regarding our effort to negotiate a comprehensive solution.” He also expressed an understanding for Israel’s position on the interim agreement, saying that it “has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced in response that he would be sending his national security adviser to Washington to begin the process of consultations.

The next six months are crucial. The leaders of the world must understand what’s at stake and resist the temptation to agree to painless solutions that, in the end, only exacerbate the problem.

We hope and pray that the initial step of Washington’s reaching out to Yerushalayim will result in a partnership that produces a final agreement that peacefully resolves the Iranian nuclear crisis. But we must remember that while Washington’s leadership is important on the temporal, political scene, the key to safety and peace is, as always, in the Hands of Hashem.