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The Iran Deal: A View from Israel

Hillel Schenker
August 17, 2015

Gevald! vs. Hope

by Hillel Schenker

This essay was originally published by the Times of Israel

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a point as he addresses a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, May 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW BUSINESS ENERGY POLITICS HEADSHOT) - RTR2MU7D

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU and the Republicans in the U.S. are trying to create the impression that all Israelis are opposed to the deal with Iran aimed at preventing it from achieving nuclear weapons.

This week, Thomas Friedman wrote an article titled “If I were an Israeli looking at the Iran deal.”

Well, I’m an Israeli who lives in Tel Aviv and experienced Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles raining down on the city in 1991, the ineffectual Hamas rockets which were blocked by the Iron Dome defense system in the summer of 2014, and who was on the front lines for eight months in the IDF Combat Engineering Corps facing the Syrians with their then chemical weapons potential during the 1973/74 Yom Kippur War. Since 1982 I have edited four publications which dealt with the danger of the nuclearization of the the Israeli-Arab conflict and the quest for a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East, and in recent years I have participated in many regional encounters with prominent experts on the subject from Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the P5 + 1 who negotiated the deal.

When I look at the Iran deal, I see a deal which prevents Iran from achieving nuclear weapons for the next ten to fifteen years, and puts in place an inspection regime which will make it very difficult for Iran to ever pursue nuclear weapons without being detected. Therefore, I support the deal, as being in the best interests of both Israel and the United States.

And I’m not alone. I am part of an initiative by a group of concerned Israeli citizens, many of them prominent academics, who are sending a letter to all of the members of the American Congress and Senate, which begins with the following sentences:

We, the undersigned Israeli citizens, wish to congratulate the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, upon reaching an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.

Thanks to the provisions outline in the agreement, and in particular the unprecedented inspection regime, this agreement provides the best assurance that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons for at least 15 years.

As people who live in Israel, share the risks and are strongly committed to Israel’s security, we are confident that a diplomatic, peaceful solution represents the best chance of containing any potential nuclear threat.

INDEPENDENT SECURITY ANALYST Shmuel Meir, former head of the Arms Control Branch in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Strategic Planning Department, who writes a blog in Hebrew at Haaretz called Strategic Discourse which deals primarily with nuclear affairs, recently wrote a detailed analysis of the agreement, “The Iran Accord: Not What You Thought: A detailed analysis of the Vienna deal shows that there is no basis for the dramatic scenario posited by Netanyahu.”

Meir’s conclusion is that “the agreement contains important positive implications for Israel’s security. Above all, it prevents Iran’s emergence as a new nuclear weapon state in the Middle East...” And he adds, “as a by-product, the agreement should prevent the development of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and the region’s transformation into a multi-nuclear arena.”

Another analysis by a veteran commander in the Israeli intelligence services Avishay Ben Sasson Gordis, written for the Molad think tank, is titled “Why the nuclear deal is good for Israel.”

On Thursday, August 13th, Amir Oren, security affairs commentator for Haaretz wrote an article, “Netanyahu Must Stop Silencing Intel Chiefs Who Find Iran Deal Acceptable: There are those in the Intelligence Corps whose views on the nuclear agreement are at odds with Netanyahu’s position; their opinions are being kept from the public.”

The next day, Friday August 14th, the lead story, written again by Oren, was devoted to “a unique document entitled “IDF Strategy”, prepared by the new IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott, containing the IDF’s plans for the coming five years. The headline of the article is: “Eizenkot: Iran Isn’t the Main Threat to Israel”. In the article, he notes “Iran is mentioned as supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, not as a nuclear threat.”

WE ALL RECALL how the entire Israeli security establishment, Mossad Head Meir Dagan, General Security Services Head Yuval Diskin, IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi and many others were opposed to Netanyahu’s plans to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. So where are the voices of the current head of the Mossad, the General Security Services, IDF Intelligence and the head of the National Security Council? Netanyahu seems insistent on making this a one-man show, and is muzzling all of the others. If they were with him, he would be broadcasting their support loud and clear.

We do know from an article in the Forward that former General Security Services Head Ami Ayalon believes that the deal is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives.”

While former Mossad Head Ephraim Halevy wrote: “A moment before we storm Capitol Hill, led by the Israeli ambassador to Washington, it’s important to hold a profound debate in Israel on whether no agreement is preferable to an agreement which includes components that are crucial for Israel’s security. There will be no other agreement and no other negotiations. What is better, a signed agreement or no agreement?”

And former MK Prof. Uzi Even, a physics professor at Tel Aviv University who served as a scientist at the Dimona reactor wrote in an article entitled, “Everyone Relax: Israel can live with the Iran Deal,” “I am sure the deal that was signed is preferable to the current situation because it delays Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb by at least fifteen years and in practice ends its nuclear aspirations. Don’t believe me? Look at the facts.”

And speaking of scientists, in an interview with Yediot Ahronot’s American correspondent Orly Azulay (August 14, 2015, not yet translated into English), U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, a noted nuclear physicist, states that “during the course of negotiations, Wendy Sherman (the Under Secretary of State who coordinated the negotiating team) traveled to Israel to report and also to compare notes. We were in constant contact with Israeli scientists, and as a result of those important discussions, we have a stronger agreement.” Moniz goes on to say that “the agreement gives us very strong monitoring mechanisms. I have a tremendous confidence in the American, Israel, British and other intelligence services. At the foundation of the agreement lies our ability to ascertain whether the Iranians are doing what they agreed to... The risk of Iran being caught, if it goes in the wrong direction is very high.” Moniz also warns that “if Congress rejects the agreement, the global unity which has helped us so much will no longer be. We will be alone. The sanctions regime will collapse, and we will be facing a worst case scenario.”

TO RETURN to Thomas Friedman, towards the end of his article he writes that “unfortunately, Israel has a prime minister whose strategy is to reject the Iran deal without any credible Plan B.”

Using even harsher words, Israel’s most widely read and influential political commentator, Nachum Barnea, writes in this weekend’s Yediot Ahronot (August 14, 2015) the following: “At this moment in the crisis Israel has no cabinet, no government, no security apparatus, no Knesset, no free press. Everything is being decided and determined according to the wishes of one man, Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Barnea then goes on to recall Netanyahu’s expert testimony (this is worth seeing, only six minutes) on Iraq in 2002, in which he advocated that America should overthrow the Iraqi regime. “Take out Sadam, (and) I guarantee that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region,” which would lead to a ripple effect leading to positive change in Iran and the entire region. He also spoke about the tremendous benefit of “applying power” in Afghanistan, talking about “the first victory in Afghanistan, leading to the second victory in Iraq,” etc.

Well we all know how that turned out. Even Jeb Bush now admits that Iraq was a mistake.

But Netanyahu never seems to learn.

Hillel Schenker is co-editor of the Israel-Palestine Journal and lives in Tel Aviv. This article is reprinted from the blog of the Times of Israel with the author’s permission.