Privileged Information – How Bad is Bad?

Yaakov Schwartz, Hamodia’s military correspondent, on the latest political, security and defense developments in Israel, written by Gavriel Meir

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Hamodia speaks to defense experts and here’s a range of opinions on just how problematic the nuclear agreement is for Israel

Those in the know say that the Iran nuclear agreement is a done deal. “The negotiations are now focused on nuances, which will be resolved,” Mossad chief David Barnea reportedly told a recent closed-door meeting in Yerushalayim.

Mossad chief David Barnea attends a ceremony marking Remembrance Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 3, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Iran is eager to sign on the dotted line because the agreement provides it with the funds it needs to rehabilitate its economy and to boost support for its terror proxies, increasing its influence in the region.
As far as the Americans are concerned, the current draft of the deal, which was presented by the European Union as final on July 21, is indeed the West’s final offer.

According to a senior Israeli diplomatic source, “the Americans have made it clear to anyone who asks that they will make no further concessions. Defense Minister Benny Gantz was in the United States — as was national security adviser Eyal Hulata — and got the impression that the United States is also preparing a military option vis-à-vis the Iranians.”

For now, Israel is applying diplomatic pressure on Washington to try and improve the deal, while the Iranians are trying to show that they weren’t forced to make any further concessions.

While there is consensus in Israel that the nuclear agreement is bad, there are differences within the defense establishment as to how bad. Military Intelligence is of the view that Israel will have eight years to come up with ways to deal with the problem, while the Mossad is more pessimistic. They say the deal gives the Iranians what they want.

Israel continues to insist that it is not bound by the nuclear agreement, and that it is free to launch a military strike, but observers say this is lip service. Israel can’t act against the wishes of the Americans or without the support of the Americans, who won’t offer backing after being party to this agreement.

What is the key bone of contention between the United States and Iran?

“One of the main sticking points is the matter of guarantees,” says an Israeli source. “The Iranians want to know what happens if U.S. President Joe Biden’s successor decides to pull out of the agreement, as Donald Trump did in 2018. What kind of compensation will they receive? The administration can’t offer guarantees since the nuclear agreement wasn’t passed into law by Congress. It’s a diplomatic agreement and, as such, can be canceled by whoever follows Biden in office.”

In an interview with Hamodia, Meir Ben- Shabbat, who until a year ago was Israel’s national security adviser, explained the deal’s serious problems from Yerushalayim’s perspective.

“It gives Iran a certain path to a nuclear weapon when the restrictions expire in eight years,” he says. “The sunset clauses — which begin to lift limitations on advanced centrifuges research in 2024 — will allow Iran to amass the nuclear material it needs to make a bomb.

“At the same time, it releases to Iran billions of dollars in funds that were frozen by U.S. sanctions imposed by Trump, which will be put to use to build up its military strength. It also allows the world to renew economic ties with the Iranians, including providing them with goods that also have military applications.

“What the agreement lacks is levers that can force Iran to agree to the kind of ‘longer and stronger agreement’ that the administration has been talking about from the start.

“Finally, we have to remember that Iran has a vision — becoming a nuclear power — and the billions it receives as a result of this agreement will be used to help it realize that vision.”

What is the danger of a “bad agreement” that allows Iran to become a nuclear power?

Ben-Shabbat: “A major concern is Iranian hegemony in the region, which will have very far-reaching influence. Iran is interested in imposing its outlook on the entire region. As long as it is preoccupied with existential problems and isolated diplomatically, it has difficulty doing this. Once the agreement goes into effect, that puts an end to Iran’s diplomatic isolation and provides Tehran with huge sums of money that it can use to spread its influence via its proxies [Hezbollah, militias, the Houthis].

“In all areas, Iran will be perceived as a more significant diplomatic threat to the countries in the region, which will be forced to take this into account in their policies.

“In addition, we can expect to see more aggressive action by proxy powers like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen against Saudi Arabia. What’s more, the entire region, including Egypt, will join in a nuclear arms race.”

Former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Chalutz, who commanded the Israel Air Force, has a different take on the agreement. “The world searched for a nonviolent solution to the Iranian nuclear issue,” he told Hamodia. “The most reasonable solution was put together by the United States and Europe. Bad agreements are always better than good wars.”

Former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Chalutz

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yisrael Ziv, formerly head of IDF operations, agrees that for Israel the deal is bad, but the lesser of all evils. However, for Saudi Arabia, it poses a much more serious problem.
“The ones who are making less noise, but are much more worried about the sanctions being lifted, are the Saudis. For them, the strengthening of Iran is much more significant and they are very concerned about this.”

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yisrael Ziv

Was a better agreement possible?

Chalutz: “No agreement can prevent a determined country from achieving its goals. Iran decided that becoming a nuclear power is a central objective, on which its existence depends.
“A nuclear Iran is a bad thing. On the other hand, an Iran that is bound by agreements and supervision is better. Little by little, it will be possible to go from one agreement to another, and Iran will be put to the test. I think that it’s in Israel’s interest to accept the fact that the United States and Europe are signing an agreement with Iran and will be trying to profit from it.”

Is it fair to say that the United States is not as friendly toward Israel as it was in the past?

“Israel is the one that needs the United States,” a source in Yerushalayim points out. “You have to look at the relationship with the United States as one of utmost importance for Israel. Considering that Israel and the United States face many other issues in the Middle East, it is in Israel’s interest to engage in quiet diplomacy and avoid public clashes.”

Professor Yaakov Nagel, who served as national security adviser in 2016-2017, told Hamodia that the current agreement is different from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed by the Obama administration in that it has been guided through much of its development by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his envoy to the nuclear talks, Mikhail Ulyanov. This was going on while Russia continued to attack Ukraine and Iran was providing it with drones and other weapons and advising it on how to bypass sanctions.

“The United States and Europe fell into line with the agreement despite the fact that Russia and China looked on with joy as the Western powers were being humiliated by the Iranians.
“As to your question, the current agreement is much worse than the JCPOA. It’s being presented as if it is based on the 2015 agreement, but it includes many more concessions. For instance, it allows Iran to hold on to many of the things it developed during its breach of the JCPOA, advanced centrifuges and parts for manufacturing more enriched material in larger amounts.

“As of 2026, the restrictions on using centrifuges, including advanced ones [IR6], begin to expire, gradually until 2028. In 2029, they’ll be able to manufacture as many advanced centrifuges as they want. As of 2031, there will be no limits on uranium enrichment; true, this will be under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but we know how much that is worth.

“The agreement gives the Iranians a massive lifting of sanctions, including companies that do business with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. That’s really not far from removing the Revolutionary Guard from the list of terror-supporting bodies. Lifting sanctions will allow for the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars to Iranian coffers right away, eventually reaching as much as a trillion dollars by the end of the agreement.”

What should Israel be doing now?

“In his day, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan developed a doctrine for collapsing the Soviet Union that used economic weapons, as described in the book Victory. While Israel isn’t the United States, Iran is also not the Soviet Union and its economy will remain fragile despite the money it’s expected to receive in the agreement.

“One of the ways to deal with Iran is through indirect programs that weaken the regime. For instance, recent cyberattacks on a major Iranian port, which were attributed to Israel by foreign sources, caused paranoia, even hysteria, in Tehran, leading some leaders of Iran to a rethinking of some of its hostile behavior. This is an example of the paradigm shift that led quickly to unexpected results.”

There are those in the defense establishment who say the agreement is very bad, but at least it buys Israel time to prepare a military strike.

“Those who make this argument are mistaken and pulling the wool over the eyes of the public,” Nagel says. “The time Israel will ‘gain’ will cost it dearly, since Iran will be able to dramatically improve its nuclear capabilities and infrastructure almost to the point that whatever Israel will be able to develop will be irrelevant.”n

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