Why Israelis strongly oppose the Iran deal

Now that the dust is settling and after hundreds - if not thousands - of articles of all sorts have appeared in every single media outlet all over the world regarding the deal reached with Iran over its nuclear program, it seems that (almost) everything has been said and written. There is no point in going over the details of the deal or analyzing the merits of the process which led to that deal - it is done and signed, and there is not much I can add to your knowledge about it. Most Israelis are highly skeptical of the probability that Congress will block the deal, and even if it does - the rest of the world is embracing it and rushing to sign commercial deals with Iran as we speak. 

There is, however, one point which many people are wondering about, and which I have been asked by some friends in the U.S.: how come there is such widespread consensus in Israel about the deal being so bad, while the rest of the world thinks that the deal is actually good, if not excellent? 

Other questions arise from this one: was there an alternative to this deal? Was there any deal which could have satisfied the Israelis, or is British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond correct in asserting that Israel simply didn't want any deal to be signed?

I believe that the reason why there is such an overwhelming consensus in Israel (a country notorious for its lack of consensus on any other issue) stems from a number of differences between Israel and the United States. In a nutshell, it has to do with a differential threat perception: the difference between what we, as Israelis, perceive and what the U.S. administration and to a greater degree, the Europeans and others perceive. 

First, there is a matter of geography: Israel is located 604 miles from Iran. The United States is located 5,460 miles from Iran. For us, it is practically a next-door neighbor, with all that it implies. For Americans, it is clear across the globe. Any military (conventional or non-conventional) operation by Iran anywhere within the Middle East has direct ramifications and impacts on Israel's security situation in the immediate term. Any destabilization of nearby Arab regimes (something Iran has been doing for years) similarly impacts directly on Israel's strategic situation. With the added layer of immunity that will be afforded to a nuclearized Iran (even a decade from now, assuming the deal holds), that geographic proximity makes Israelis very worried. 

As an aside, I would add that Iran is working hard on its ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) program. The current range of Iranian missiles puts Europe well within its range and the next stage will be to have missiles that can reach the U.S. Clearly, these long-range weapons are not intended to target Israel (a mere 600 miles away), and their military use is incontrovertible. Since the missile program is not part of the deal, all those within its present or future range should be worried. 

Then, there is the matter of experience. Israelis are used to the Middle Eastern mentality, very different from that of Europeans, Americans or others. Simply put, we know that the Iranian regime cannot be trusted. The faith put in them by the powers that signed the nuclear deal is, in the eyes of most Israelis, misguided. Trusting that Iran will somehow "see the sense" of collaboration with the West and will therefore abandon its homicidal intentions is naïve at best, given Israel's experience. Ours is not a region in which gestures of goodwill and concessions at the negotiations table are appreciated and repaid in kind; in the Middle East, goodwill is more often than not deemed a sign of weakness and is repaid with even greater aggression. 

We have had years of negotiations with Arabs and Muslims (Iran is a Muslim, not an Arab state). We understand the Middle Eastern mentality better than most, simply by virtue of living here and monitoring the region around us for the past seven decades. What world powers see as Iranian good faith, most Israelis (over 70 percent according to recent polls) see as duplicity. And by the way, this kind of mentality, with duplicity and double-crossing, is often seen in the relations between Arab states, and between Muslim states. Less than 15 percent of all trade in the Arab world is conducted between Arabs despite their physical proximity - a sure sign of mistrust between them. 

But if one were to trust the Iranians and take them at face value, one should heed attention to their supreme leader Khamene'i and other Iranian leaders who only last week called on the masses to demonstrate against America with chants of "death to America." The same leaders only this week defined America as the most arrogant of nations with which there will never be any reconciliation. Israelis know that this is no mere rhetoric: it permeates down to grassroots level and is representative of that nation's mentality. When coupled with nuclear capacity (albeit a decade from now) and the long-range missile platform to carry that capacity to the other side of the world, the danger becomes clear.

Finally, there is the matter of Iran's financial situation, which is about to be improved in unimaginable ways. Lifting the sanctions may yield as much as $150 billion dollars in the immediate term, and possibly as much as a full year's worth of Iran's GDP (over $350 billion). This is money which, in the eyes of world powers, will enable Iran to rehabilitate damaged civilian infrastructure and to improve the well-being of its 75 million citizens. Certainly, a large chunk of the money will indeed be used to improve the standard of living of the Iranian people. Lifting even some sanctions removes the hard choice that the Ayatollahs had to make between feeding their nuclear reactors or feeding their people. Continued sanctions would have made that choice starker - and forced the Iranians to devote less money to weapons and more to food. This is the pressure that brought them to the negotiations table in the first place. 

Let us assume that 98 percent of the newly available funds will indeed be dedicated to welfare and infrastructure inside Iran. That still leaves $3 billion available to fund the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council, the regime's militant arm and the organization responsible for funding Hamas, Hezbollah and a myriad other terror organizations. Israel will now have to defend itself not only against the potential threat of tens of thousands of rockets already in the hands of Hezbollah, and thousands of rockets in the hands of Hamas - we will need to defend ourselves against what $3 billion can acquire for these terror organizations. 

The threat perception in Israel is palpable. Israelis are realistic enough to realize that the deal is done and the train has left the station. The national consensus in Israel is that the deal was seriously flawed, and the consequences will fall in our national lap.

Was Israel against a deal? No. Was it possible to reach a better one? Many think so. Israel was never against a deal, and all Israeli politicians have always gone on record as saying that the diplomatic course should be exhausted before recourse to violence - but the military option should remain on the table. 

Israel has legitimate concerns about Iran (as outlined above). Had these concerns been addressed, Israelis would have probably embraced the deal. Had the deal included, for example, full monitoring and inspection "anytime anywhere," Israelis would have been (slightly) less nervous. Had the deal included a dismantlement of Iran's nuclear production capabilities and all centrifuges - that would certainly have calmed down many Israelis. If Iran's missile capabilities were placed under supervision - that would have been reassuring. And most of all, had the deal included an automatic return to sanctions in case Iran continued to arm, train and finance terrorist groups - that would have been an important success of the negotiations. 

But these features are not present in the deal - so the vast majority of Israelis view the deal with suspicion if not downright scorn. Most of us view the deal as providing (to some extent) a resolution to the threats as perceived by the world powers. It does not provide a resolution to the threats as viewed from Jerusalem.

Posted: 7/17/2015 10:05:52 AM

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