Self congratulations and mutual admiration at the Iran nuclear talks in Geneva November 24, 2013.
Photo: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
Judging from their reactions to the deal that world powers signed with Iran in Geneva early Sunday morning, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama live in different worlds.
Diplomacy, Obama declared in a message to the nation announcing the accord, “opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure.”
Netanyahu begged to differ, telling the cabinet Sunday that “today the world has become a much more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
Same world, yet diametrically opposed risk assessments by two very close allies.
Beyond the nuclear element, one of Jerusalem’s main concerns is that Iran... is suddenly cleansed, receiving a stamp of approval as a legitimate member of the international community in good standing. Iran ... has ... undergone a revolutionary rebranding...from pariah state to “constructive” actor.
Or, as Obama enthused, if Iran “seizes this opportunity” to prove to the world that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes, then “the Iranian people will benefit from rejoining the international community, and we can begin to chip away at the mistrust between our two nations. This would provide Iran with a dignified path to forge a new beginning with the wider world based on mutual respect.”
Really? How about Iran’s part in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s massacre of tens of thousands of people? How about its continued development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads that were not even mentioned in the Geneva agreement? How about its role in exporting terrorism around the globe? How about its stoning of women accused of adultery, hanging of homosexuals and gruesome rate of executions? How about the anti- Semitic ranting of its leaders? Does all of the above really render the world a safer place, as Obama said? This agreement shows that Iran can indeed do all of the above, yet still get to be a member of the international community.
Israel’s concern about a nuclear Iran has never only – or even primarily – been that the Iranians will use a nuclear bomb on Israel, but rather that even having the weapon or the weapons capability will magnify its power in the region and embolden it and its proxies.
There is a deep concern that the Geneva agreement will indeed bolster Iran in the region.
Iran is already a nuclear threshold state, as is any state that can enrich uranium to 5%, has 18,000 centrifuges (nuclear-armed Pakistan has only 6,000) at its disposal and can “break out” with a bomb in five weeks.
But if before Saturday night Iran was a nuclear threshold state with leper status in the world, now it is a nuclear threshold state with international legitimacy.
UN Security Council resolutions on Iran called for it explicitly to suspend its enrichment; this agreement says go ahead and enrich, just not beyond 5%.
The agreement gives Iran considerable regional leverage.
Will the US or other Western countries push Iran on the Syrian issue, knowing that if they push too hard, Iran may walk away from the nuclear agreement? After investing so much time and energy into forging an agreement, none of those involved will want to do anything that could lead to its falling apart.
Two weeks ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry, following an inconclusive round of talks in Geneva, was asked in a BBC interview whether Hezbollah or the conflict in Syria came up in his talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “I think we spent 30 seconds on Syria,” Kerry said tellingly.
And the regional ramifications do not only touch on Syria (notice that Damascus praised the agreement to the moon), but will also have ramifications on the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Firstly Iran – suddenly let off the ropes – will once again be free to do what it can to torpedo any possible Israeli-Palestinian accommodation, as any pressure on Iran to demonstrate “good behavior” in order not to scuttle a potential deal with the West is now off. Expect, therefore, a sudden upsurge again in Iranian support for Hamas, a group looking for a new patron following their split with Damascus and the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in Egypt.
The agreement will also have ramifications on the Israel-Palestinian front for a couple of other reasons. First of all, Israel will feel no compulsion now to repay a tough US or international stance on Iran with concessions to the Palestinians, since from Netanyahu’s point of view there was no strong stance on Iran.
The linkage discussed so often in the past, “Bushehr for Yitzhar” – the US stops a nuclear Iran symbolized by the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, and in return Israel gives up settlements symbolized by Yitzhar – has lost currency, for from Israel’s perspective the world is letting Iran keep Bushehr.
Also, any agreement with the Palestinians will necessitate Israel taking calculated risks. But Israel now will be much more risk averse, with Iran suddenly emboldened and enjoying new-found international legitimacy.
In addition, any possible future agreement with the Palestinians would undoubtedly necessitate ironclad security guarantees from the US. Considering the way Washington handled the Iranian file since Rouhani’s election in June, does anyone really think Netanyahu is going to place Israel’s security in the hands of US guarantees?
A safer world? Maybe seen from Washington, a long way from Iran and the Middle East.
But from Jerusalem, close to Iran, and in the eye of the storm? Hardly.