Tel Aviv — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s full-throated denunciation of the interim nuclear deal reached with Iran has overshadowed any other reactions from Israel’s intelligence and military echelon. For Netanyahu, the agreement between the Islamic Republic and Western powers is “not an historic agreement, it is an historic mistake.” This dismissive view was echoed by many of his ministers and across the political spectrum.
This general opposition to negotiating with Iran — a country that is broadly perceived here as incapable of acting in good faith — is representative of Israeli public opinion, but it doesn’t capture the more complex expert reactions to this development. A sampling of Israeli strategic thinkers and nonproliferation experts reflects a broader range of opinion on virtually everything to do with Iran, from how good or bad the interim deal is to how Israel should respond, including whether it should join the surge toward further diplomacy or try to undermine a final agreement.
These reactions also suggest that the danger Iran represents for Israel cannot be reduced to fear of a mushroom cloud. The Islamic Republic’s broader role in the region — especially as it acts through its various proxies — is as much an impetus for the backlash as it is concern about the number of its centrifuges or about the level at which it is enriching uranium.
Ehud Yaari, the veteran journalist who first alerted Israelis to the existence of the secret channel of negotiations that led to the interim deal, is confident that Iran is now further away from nuclear bomb capability as a result of the Geneva deal.
He told the Forward, “Instead of Iran being two to three months away from breakout — whether they take it or not — I think the deal extends the period to about a year, which means that everybody will have ample warning in case they are making a dash or getting ready to make a dash, and the inspectors will make it harder for the Iranians to break out without everybody getting a warning.”
The key reason that nuclear bomb capability has receded, in Yaari’s analysis, is the fact that Iran has agreed to dilute or convert the very uranium supply that Netanyahu discussed in his famous 2012 “red line” speech at the United Nations — namely the 20%-enriched uranium, which now stands at 196 kilograms.
Yaari, political commentator for Israel’s Channel 2 television, and fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, highlighted the centrality of inspections in the new agreement. “One of the major achievements of Geneva which people overlook, to my amazement, is the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency has access to places where Iranians are building centrifuges, while so far these went uninspected.”
Though cautiously optimistic, Yaari identifies shortcomings in the deal, such as the fact that though it halts progress at the Arak heavy-water reactor, it does not explicitly prohibit the preparation at other locations of components for the plant. He also acknowledges the possibility that unknown nuclear sites are operating, saying that halting these will be on the table for the permanent accord.
“You can say that the Iranian program was driven in Geneva to a parking lot,” he said. “Even if they work on the engine and polish it, the car is in parked position.”
Yaari’s optimism stems in part from the fact that he sees little salvation in a military strike on Iran, saying that even a devastating Israeli strike “is not going to kill the [nuclear] program,” and in part from his belief that Iran is not in “such a hurry” to build a bomb.