Israel's Netanyahu is pushing hard against Iran nuclear deal. But others are pushing back. (+video)
For now, the Obama administration is sticking to its guns.
By now it's pretty clear who hates the agreement reached between Iran and world powers over the country's nuclear program. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been front and center in attacking the agreement.
"A historic mistake for the world," he declared the day the agreement was reached. Today he took to ABC and CBS to urge the US Congress to stop the agreement from being ratified. "I think the right thing to do is merely not to go ahead with this deal. There are many things to be done to stop Iran's aggression and this deal is not one of them," he said on CBS.
Mr. Netanyahu and his political allies in the US and Israel have long been opposed to a negotiated settlement that lifts sanctions on Iran while allowing it to retain some nuclear infrastructure. He also called the 2013 preliminary agreement that led to the current deal a "historic mistake."
But what he's been light on is offering realistic alternatives. Many of his complaints focus on Iran's non-nuclear foreign policy - its support for Hamas, its support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and its involvement on the side of Baghdad in Iraq's civil war - essentially arguing that as long as the Islamic Republic remains the Islamic Republic it shouldn't be negotiated with. He told Israel's security cabinet this week that no concessions should be made to Iran until it stops calling for the destruction of the US and Israel.
But there's the problem. The US managed to rally international support for an unprecedented sanctions regime on Iran by focusing exclusively on nuclear non-proliferation. Iran was offered a way out if it promised to drastically reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium, take centrifuges off line, and change its heavy water reactor at Arak in such a way that it will no longer be able to produce weapons grade plutonium. Iran has agreed to all that - and agreed to expanded inspections to verify that it's following through.
Is Iran's revolutionary regime, which built a lot of its legitimacy on anti-Americanism, going to abandon "death to American" chants at rallies any time soon? No. But it's conventional military is puny in comparison to the US (Iran's spending is about $15 billion a year, against America's $620 billion; total defense spending by the NATO alliance is around $900 billion.) Nuclear weapons are great equalizers for weaker states - one reason Iran might want one, and the reason Israel is the Middle East's only nuclear power. If that's taken off the table, the threat from Iran recedes into the distance.
Even if Israeli pressure can convince enough members of Congress to not only vote against the deal, but provide a veto-proof two-thirds majority, that would leave Israel and the US alone on the issue. The other major parties to the agreement - China, Russia, Germany, France, and the UK - are not only united in support for the deal but are unlikely to come on board for a new sanctions regime as tough if it falls through.
And it isn't just foreign powers who disagree with Netanyahu. There are plenty in Israel who do as well.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli who teaches at the Interdisciplinary Center in Heziliya, has doubts about the agreement, but also sees positives.
"The leaders of Israel have every right to voice their concerns over the current deal. Even the opposition is concerned about it. But the deal’s restrictions on Iran mean that the breakout time needed to make a nuclear weapon has been pushed back to a year. Without the deal it would be two to three months," he writes.
It was completely unrealistic for Netanyahu to demand that Iran give up its entire nuclear program. The opposition is also guilty of having unrealistic expectations, for instance, about Iran’s funding of Israel’s enemies. How could any deal aimed at stopping Iranian financial support to Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be verifiable? Also, when it comes to support for Hezbollah, Iran spends $200 million a year on the organization. Last year, Iran’s official budget was $294 billion. Help for Hezbollah was a mere .07 percent of the funds available to it. Even without the sanctions, Iran could still support Hezbollah.
Or take Uzi Even, an Israeli (an earlier version of this story mistated Mr. Even's nationality.) nuclear physicist who worked at the country's Dimona reactor. "The deal was written by nuclear experts and blocks every path I know to the bomb. The Iranians may be celebrating, but they have in fact swallowed a very bitter pill, more so than they would like to let on," he writes. " In simple terms, a violation of the deal will lead to new sanctions on Iran, hence my confusion regarding the staunch resistance inspired by this deal, especially among non-radical elements in Israeli politics."
To be sure, support in Israel for the agreement seems a lot slimmer than opposition. And in the US, the Obama administration is lobbying publicly today as well. Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz went on CNN to argue for the deal.
"The fact is that the real fear of that region should be that you don't have the deal. If Congress doesn't pass this, if Congress were to kill this, then we have no inspections, we have no sanctions, we have no ability to negotiate," Kerry said on "State of the Union."