Why Israel sees ‘historic’ Iran nuclear deal as dangerous appeasement

While the deal freezes growth in Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Israel says it doesn’t curtail Tehran’s ability to create a nuclear bomb in short order.

Abir Sultan
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on Nov. 24, 2013. After feverishly trying to derail the international community's nuclear deal with Iran in recent weeks, Mr. Netanyahu now has little choice but to accept an agreement that he has derided as deeply flawed.

As European and American diplomats rejoice about successfully negotiating an interim Iran nuclear deal, heralding the "historic" agreement with handshakes and hugs, Israel is decidedly unimpressed.

Yes, the deal curbs any growth in enrichment or stockpiles of enriched uranium, and includes daily inspections of two key Iranian enrichment facilities. But it leaves largely untouched Israel’s greatest concern: Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon in short order.

“The ‘breakout’ possibility has not been negated and the time for breakout … has not been prolonged,” says Ephraim Asculai, a veteran of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, who estimates that it would take only four to six months for Iran to test a nuclear explosive device, with an actual bomb soon to follow.

As a nation that prides itself on understanding Middle Eastern mentalities better than Western countries, and which already feels the sting of Iranian military power from Tehran-backed militant groups on its borders such as Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel has consistently warned Western powers of the dangers of trusting Iranian words without actions to confirm Tehran’s sincerity.

A central fear behind this attitude is the European appeasement of Nazi Germany that ended in the death of 6 million Jews.

In a deal that echoes loudly in Israel today, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain heralded the 1938 Munich Agreement as securing peace in exchange for allowing Hitler to annex part of Czechoslovakia. But Winston Churchill recognized the grave mistake, which soon paved the way for Hitler and his allies to take over much of Europe.

“We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat,” said Mr. Churchill, who had to deal with the consequences when he succeeded Chamberlain two years later. “And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning.”

Some say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems himself as playing a similar role to Churchill, and is thus willing to take an uncompromising stand for what he sees as right and necessary, however unpopular it may be.

"What was achieved last night in Geneva is not an historic agreement; it is an historic mistake,” Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet today, criticizing the world’s leading powers for easing the sanctions on Iran in exchange for “cosmetic Iranian concessions that can be cancelled in weeks.”

While Israel had tentatively supported a diplomatic deal on Iran if coupled with sanctions, this agreement essentially only freezes rather than dismantles the Iranian nuclear military infrastructure and offers close to $7 billion in "sweeteners,"  says Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.

“It’s a very disappointing deal," he says, citing rollbacks in Libya and Syria’s nuclear programs as closer to what Israel would have liked.

Israeli leaders made clear that an Israeli military strike is still possible, though President Shimon Peres struck a somewhat more conciliatory tone.

“I would like to say to the Iranian people: You are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands,” he said, calling on Iran to stop the nuclear program as well as the development of long-range missiles. “… if the diplomatic path fails, the nuclear option will be prevented by other means. The alternative is far worse."

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