Until the end there was doubt that this would actually happen. But it happened. Heaven help us now. The fools who were negotiating in Vienna have reached an agreement. And look how happy they appear, after the crushing damage they have fomented. (Of course Zarif of Iran, who is laughing the hardest, would be ecstatically happy.)
I share here some basics of the agreement, as described by Omri Ceren of The Israel Project (with my bolded emphasis added):
(1) The Iranian nuclear program will be placed under international sponsorship for R&D – A few weeks ago the AP leaked parts of an annex confirming that a major power would be working with the Iranians to develop next-generation centrifuge technology at the Fordow underground military enrichment bunker. Technically the work won’t be on nuclear material, but the AP noted that “isotope production uses the same technology as enrichment and can be quickly re-engineered to enriching uranium.” The administration had once promised Congress that Iran would be forced to dismantle its centrifuge program. The Iranians refused, so the administration conceded that the Iranians would be allowed to keep their existing centrifuges. Now the international community will be actively sponsoring the development of Iranian nuclear technology. And since the work will be overseen by a great power, it will be off-limits to the kind of sabotage that has kept the Iranian nuclear program in check until now.
(2) The sanctions regime will be shredded – the AP revealed at the beginning of June that the vast majority of the domestic U.S. sanctions regime will be dismantled. The Lausanne factsheet – which played a key role in dampening Congressional criticism to American concessions – had explicitly stated “U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.” That turns out to have been false. Instead the administration will redefine non-nuclear sanctions as nuclear, so that it can lift them…
(3) The U.S. collapsed on the arms embargo – Just a week ago Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking.” Now multiple outlets have confirmed that the embargo on conventional weapons will be lifted no later than 5 years from now, and that the embargo on ballistic missiles will expire in 8 years. No one in the region is going to wait for those embargoes to expire: they’ll rush to build up their stockpiles in anticipation of the sunset.
(4) The U.S. collapsed on anytime-anywhere inspections – The IAEA will get to request access to sensitive sites, the Iranians will get to say no, and then there will be an arbitration board that includes Iran as a member. This concession is particularly damaging politically and substantively because the administration long ago went all-in on verification. The original goal of the talks was to make the Iranians take physical actions that would prevent them from going nuclear if they wanted to: dismantling centrifuges, shuttering facilities, etc. The Iranians said no to those demands, and the Americans backed off. The fallback position relied 100% on verification: yes the Iranians would be physically able to cheat, the argument went, but the cheating would be detected because of an anytime-anywhere inspection regime. That is not what the Americans are bringing home.
Last night, Ceren, who was in Vienna, was interviewed on Voice of Israel. He referred to the deal as a “staggering, staggering failure of US diplomacy, and a staggering failure of US leadership.”
You can see more on the deal as a Western catastrophe in the op-ed by Times of Israel editor David Horovitz:
President Obama’s speech today, celebrating the end of the deal, is so filled with lies and misrepresentations it is difficult to know where to begin:
“…the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change, change that makes our country and the world safer and more secure…
“Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region. Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.
“This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework this spring. Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off…”
If you have been tracking the breathtaking concessions made by the US, either via my posts or elsewhere, you can identify the whoppers for yourself. But let me take one very obvious example here: He says, “we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region [the Middle East]. Quite the contrary is the case.
As the Jewish Policy Center explains:
“We have not. Far from providing for better arms control, the deal will encourage Sunni powers in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to reconsider their own nuclear programs, shredding the international non-proliferation protocol. The region will become increasingly unstable.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu calls the deal a “stunning historical mistake.”
Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90
In his statement today, he said (emphasis added):
“The world is a much more dangerous place today than it was yesterday.
“The leading international powers have bet our collective future on a deal with the foremost sponsor of international terrorism. They’ve gambled that in ten years’ time, Iran’s terrorist regime will change while removing any incentive for it to do so. In fact, the deal gives Iran every incentive not to change.
“In the coming decade, the deal will reward Iran, the terrorist regime in Tehran, with hundreds of billions of dollars. This cash bonanza will fuel Iran’s terrorism worldwide, its aggression in the region and its efforts to destroy Israel, which are ongoing.
“Amazingly, this bad deal does not require Iran to cease its aggressive behavior in any way…
“In addition to filling Iran’s terror war chest, this deal repeats the mistakes made with North Korea.
“There too we were assured that inspections and verifications would prevent a rogue regime from developing nuclear weapons.
“And we all know how that ended.
“The bottom line of this very bad deal is exactly what Iran’s President Rouhani said today: ‘The international community is removing the sanctions and Iran is keeping its nuclear program.’
“By not dismantling Iran’s nuclear program, in a decade this deal will give an unreformed, unrepentant and far richer terrorist regime the capacity to produce many nuclear bombs, in fact an entire nuclear arsenal with the means to deliver it.”
“Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran and Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran because Iran continues to seek our destruction.
“We will always defend ourselves.”
The Security Cabinet has met and unanimously voted to reject the terms of the agreement, and stands by Israel’s right to defend herself.
And here we come to one essential aspect of what will now follow. There is a great deal of discussion regarding whether Israel can hit Iran, and whether Israel will opt to do so.
There are those who say declarations by Israel’s leaders are just bluff. I’m not sure that is true (see below), but those who call these words “bluff” are missing a very essential point: If Iran knows Israel is watching, and Iran is not sure if Israel is bluffing, the situation has a certain inhibiting effect on Iran’s behavior. This has already been demonstrated.
But in any event, as I said, we do not know that Israel is bluffing.
Military analyst Yaakov Lappin says that Israel will continue to develop means for attacking Iran, as long as Iran remains a threat: the military option is not off the table. However, it is only an attempt by Iran to break through to nuclear capability that would trigger an attack.
An attempt by Iran to break through remains a possibility because, historically, Iran cheats, and now the monitoring is sorely insufficient.
See this video of an interview of Naftali Bennett by BBC. He makes the point exceedingly well of how insufficient monitoring will be under the agreement:
A statement by MK Tzahi Hanegbi (Likud), Chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, reinforces the view presented by Lappin: Israel’s ability to attack is independent, he says. [I.e., no one controls us.] We won’t attack if they don’t cheat. “And we know that this entire program is based on fraud and deceit that the world is now accepting.”
Netanyahu has been saying that he never promised he could stop this agreement, as the Western leaders were determined to go forward with it.
What he has promised, he says, and that promise stands, is not to let Iran go nuclear. Lappin’s analysis gives teeth to this commitment. The capability of hitting Iran’s nuclear facilities is one Israel has no intention of forfeiting, Lappin says.
What I find more than a bit astounding is that in spite of widespread understanding in many quarters that the Iranian deal is badly flawed and dangerous, in all the world, Prime Minister Netanyahu is the only head of state who is speaking out forcefully.
In this, I believe he merits our whole-hearted support.
There are others, such as heads of the Sunni Arab states, who are truly horrified. But they are opting for a deafening silence.
The next focus of attention is Washington DC and Congress – which has 60 days now to review the deal. The president has already said he will veto a negative vote. We knew this going in.
Israel has plans to speak with Congressional leaders and to bring the case for rejection of the deal to the American people. The hope is that the deal can be stopped.
According to some sources, Obama, for his part, now plans a charm offensive: he will invite Netanyahu to the White House, offer arms, etc., in an attempt to sway Netanyahu to accept the deal without campaigning against. Make it worth Israel’s while, that is.
I do not expect this will work.
I’ve even read commentary that suggests that Netanyahu might secure guarantees from the US that if Iran attacked Israel, the U.S. would provide defense. Trust the U.S. to defend us? Get real.
I will return to this diplomatic situation, as it plays out, several times over, I am certain.
Tomorrow night begins Pesach. (tonight)
A quintessential moment in the Jewish year, providing a powerful perspective: The Almighty heard the cry of the Children of Israel, who were suffering bitter slavery in Egypt. And He brought us out. Not an agent, but the Almighty. “Us” because we are commanded to consider ourselves as having been rescued then.
In that rescue, that Exodus from Egypt, we became a nation – ultimately brought to Mt. Sinai to receive the law, which instructs us to this day. And then brought to the land. It is of one piece.
Let us not forget the lessons of seder night. And may those lessons transcend what is going on in the world today.
To all who celebrate, Chag Pesach Kasher V’Sameach.
After days of tortuous dragging out of negotiations with Iran, a “sort-of” conclusion has been announced. The advent of the holiday makes it impossible for me to comment at length on what is currently going on. Details will be forthcoming in my postings next week, after time spent with family and when I have returned to a “normal” writing schedule. Here I wish to simply review fairly quickly.
There is no signed agreement. There is only a “framework” – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – that will require much working out of specifics by the end of June.
Obama tonight called the agreement “historic” – if finalized it “would cut off every path” to Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon, and would include the toughest inspections “ever negotiated…If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it.”
Give us a break! Only those eager to be taken in, only those who are so hungry for this issue to be put to rest, would believe this. Unfortunately, this describes a good number of people. Remember that Iran has a history of cheating, of moving ahead in secrecy on nuclear development.
The US speaks about re-imposing sanctions immediately if Iran were found cheating. But this is a dubious proposition, as Russia and China are likely to balk, so that Iran would be able to cheat AND have sanctions relief.
According to Jeffry Lewis, nuclear proliferation expert, “These treaties never really have an enforcement mechanism, which is, from a legal perspective, kind of weird and kind of a bummer, but totally understandable in a world of states that jealously guard their sovereignty.” (Emphasis added)
No enforcement mechanism? This means Iran must be trusted to keep the deal?
Obama has the unmitigated gall to say there is no daylight between Israel and the US with regard to the security of Israel. This deal, he claims, is the best way to protect Israel. He’s slick – attempting to sideline Netanyahu as an aggressive individual who prefers tough sanctions or even a military attack to this splendid deal that solves everything.
Israeli officials say they will continue to fight this agreement until its date for being finalized in June.
They referred to the framework as “a capitulation to Iranian dictates.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, they called it “a bad framework that will lead to a bad and dangerous agreement.” If finalized, it would make the world “far more dangerous.”
The agreement, they maintained, constitutes “international legitimization of Iran’s nuclear program” whose “only purpose is to build nuclear weapons.” (Emphasis added)
We have yet to hear from members of Congress – but we will.
I note, as well, that all Western negotiating partners are not on board with the same enthusiasm that Obama exudes.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and President Francois Hollande welcomed the “framework” but expressed the opinion that there was much work to do to before there could be an acceptable deal.
I share this, from Omri Ceren of The Israel Project (emphasis added):
“[Iranian Foreign Minister] Zarif just finished his speech…some of what Zarif revealed has already generated controversy. There was a lot of braggadocio in the speech: no closing of facilities, R&D will continue on Iran’s scientific schedule, enrichment will continue, the heavy water at Arak will be modernized, etc.
“Perhaps most relevant to people who have been following the day-to-day in Lausanne, is that Zarif confirmed the U.S. has completely caved on the Fordow concession that the AP blew open on Thursday. Recall that Fordow is the underground bunker, built into the side of a mountain, which the Iranians emptied and made into an illicit enrichment facility. The assumption had always been that the Iranians would have to close it under any reasonable deal.
“President Obama was saying as late as 2012: ‘We know they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordo in order to have a peaceful program’…
“The Iranians simply said no…So the Americans caved and said that they could keep it open as a research facility, but they had to remove all the centrifuges for storage…there was a lot of talk of Iranian flexibility when they accepted it…Then this week, it emerged that in fact the Iranians would be allowed to keep centrifuges spinning inside the mountain.
“But instead of spinning uranium, the centrifuges would be spinning germanium or similar non-nuclear elements. Centrifuges spin isotopes into lighter and heavier elements, thereby enriching’ the material. That’s what they do. In fact that’s all they do. The administration has gone all-in on a talking point can be defeated by a Google search for ‘centrifuges enrich germanium’…
“This isn’t a minor point. The concession has the potential to gut the whole deal.”
“[It] allows…centrifuge R&D beyond the reach of the West- since the process is the exact same process, Iran will have a hardened facility where it will be able to research and develop N-generation centrifuges. Zarif bragged from the stage in Lausanne that Iranian R&D on centrifuges will continue…the development of advanced centrifuges would give the Iranians a leg up if they decide to break out, and will put them instantly within a screw’s turn of a nuke when the deal expires.
“[It] leaves Iranian nuclear infrastructure running beyond the reach of the West – if the Iranians kick out inspectors and dare the world to respond, the West will have zero way to intervene…”
A bit of clarification here, regarding the Fordow site and the enrichment of germanium:
“…the centrifuges could only be used to enrich germanium, zinc, and other non-fissile materials. But the centrifuges are identical in design to those used for uranium enrichment, and can quickly be retooled for uranium enrichment.
“Critics are concerned that Fordow could be used to perfect advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges using uranium stand-ins and in a location secure from outside attack.”
And in closing, this additional information just in from Omri Ceren:
“The issue of sequencing sanctions relief – how, when, and to what extent sanctions will be lifted in exchange for Iranian compliance – was one of the key sticking points over the last week…
“Achieving an understanding on sanctions would have to be counted as a major achievement, and it’s already being claimed as such. But there’s something wrong here. I haven’t figured out what it is yet, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like it…
“The EU/Iran joint statement says sanctions will be terminated ‘simultaneously’ with Iran implementing its obligations…
“The White House factsheet says sanctions will be suspended ‘after’ Iran has taken ‘all’ of its nuclear-related steps…
“Zarif is already saying the White House is lying about how sanctions will be lifted… (emphasis added)
“The last time Zarif accused the Obama administration of lying on a factsheet was after the JPOA was announced, in the context of granting a ‘right to enrich.’ He was 100% right and the Americans were 100% wrong.
“It’s not clear what the actual sanctions deal is, but it’s worrying that there are already differences…If the Iranians are right, then the White House is again misleading journalists and lawmakers about the actual scope of their concessions.”
The Obama administration is very close to sealing the parameters of a deal with Iran.
Last Friday, US Secretary of State Kerry, meeting with Iranian Secretary of State Zarif on the sidelines of a conference in Munich, encouraged Iran to move forward on finalizing those parameters by March 24 (the deadline a group of Democratic Congresspersons had given Obama before considering sanctions). Following this, details would be ironed out by the June 30th final deadline.
Both Zarif and Kerry have agreed that there will be no more extensions of the final deadline. After Kerry pressed him on the issue, Zarif concurred: “I do not believe another extension is in the interest of anybody. We’re reaching the point where it is quite possible to make an agreement …”
“This is the opportunity to do it, and we need to seize this opportunity,” concluded Zarif. Of course, this was after Zarif had warned that a failure to clinch a deal would undermine President Hassan Rouhani.
The parameters of the deal are horrendous.
The Washington Post – hardly a right wing publication – ran an editorial on this issue last week. It is instructive to consider its major points (emphasis added):
“First, a process that began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and temporarily restrict that capability.
“Second, in the course of the negotiations, the Obama administration has declined to counter increasingly aggressive efforts by Iran to extend its influence across the Middle East and seems ready to concede Tehran a place as a regional power at the expense of Israel and other U.S. allies.
“Finally, the Obama administration is signaling that it will seek to implement any deal it strikes with Iran — including the suspension of sanctions that were originally imposed by Congress — without a vote by either chamber. Instead, an accord that would have far-reaching implications for nuclear proliferation and U.S. national security would be imposed unilaterally by a president with less than two years left in his term…
“Where it once aimed to eliminate Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, the administration now appears ready to accept an infrastructure of thousands of Iranian centrifuges. It says its goal is to limit and monitor that industrial base so that Iran could not produce the material for a warhead in less than a year. As several senators pointed out last month during a hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee, the prospective deal would leave Iran as a nuclear-threshold state while theoretically giving the world time to respond if Tehran chose to build a weapon. Even these limited restrictions would remain in force for only a specified number of years, after which Iran would be free to expand its production of potential bomb materials…
“Former secretary of state George P. Shultz cited Iran’s regional aggression in pronouncing himself ‘very uneasy’ about the ongoing negotiations. ‘They’ve already outmaneuvered us, in my opinion,’ he told the Armed Services Committee.”
Please, see the entire editorial here:
The current situation has spawned a host of commentaries, many very grim. Observed Michael Ledeen, for example, “Obama entered the White House with the intention of forging an alliance with our most dangerous enemy in the Middle East. That fact has to be the baseline of any serious analysis of our government’s policies.”
The unease voiced by Shultz, above, regarding Iran’s expansionism and promotion of terrorism, is echoed in many quarters. What complicates the situation enormously is the Shia Iran vs. Sunni ISIS situation – with Obama seeking Iran’s “help” in countering Sunni jihadists. His desire to weaken ISIS has moved him even further into forging ties with Iran. Action against Sunni jihadists actually strengthens Iran’s position.
Is this a fait accompli? Close, but no, not yet. Although it may be about five minutes to midnight, there is still time to counter what seems to be coming down the road. Were sanctions to kick in again, it would weaken Iran significantly and might shift the dynamic.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said (emphasis added):
“The major powers and Iran are galloping toward an agreement that will enable Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons, which will endanger the existence of the State of Israel.
“We will continue to take action and to lead the international effort against Iran’s arming itself with nuclear weapons. We will do everything and will take any action to foil this bad and dangerous agreement that will place a heavy cloud over the future of the State of Israel and its security.”
Pretty clear and direct.
There is no one reading this who doesn’t know that Netanyahu has been invited by Speaker of the House John Boehner to address Congress on the issue of the dangers of Iran; that speech is scheduled for March 3.
And here we come to the heart of the matter.
Netanyahu has devoted himself for years to the issue of the dangers of Iran: There is likely no world leader better able to address the issues; at this juncture, what he has to say has deep import. And there is no more significant venue in which he might speak than the US Congress – for it is the members of Congress who will make hard decisions regarding sanctions.
As Boehner has said: “…there’s nobody in the world who can talk about the threat of radical terrorism, nobody can talk about the threat that the Iranians pose, not just to the Middle East and to Israel, our longest ally, but to the entire world, but Bibi Netanyahu.”
Should have been a simple matter – with Congress prepared to hear what he has to say.
But, of course, it wasn’t a simple matter. For Obama is determined to get his agreement with Iran, and is not content to allow an upstart Israeli (an Israeli!) throw a monkey wrench in the works. He does not take interference with his plans lightly.
Thus did the charge go out that Netanyahu was meddling in US politics: It was now a political issue, rather than a matter of diplomacy and security.
First came the lament that protocol was ignored, as the president should have been told about the invitation and was not. But Boehner countered this, saying that he had informed the White House.
Then came the attempt to stonewall Netanyahu: Obama has said he will not see him when he’s in the US. The reason given – that it’s too close to Israeli elections – feels bogus to me in light of how similar situations have been handled. Not only that, Kerry has said he will not be present, and now Biden has discovered that he will be unable to hear Netanyahu speak, as he will “be out of the country.” Some numbers of Democratic members of Congress will decline to be present for the talk, as well – undoubtedly pressured by their president.
All of this is an outrage. A rudeness to a head of state deeply concerned about the security of his state, and the world. People have forgotten that the issue is security, however, since it has all been so politicized.
And here in Israel, in my opinion, the situation is worse. For I expect nothing – less than nothing – from Obama. But here we are talking about our own people.
We are facing a severe security situation – not only with Iran threatening us directly, but with Iran arming and inciting Hezbollah and Hamas. Our prime minister is seeking to address the matter of Iran with seriousness. But we are in the middle of an election campaign, and the opposition on the left sees this as an opportunity to make points. Thus, rather than supporting Netanyahu, rallying around him at this time, the issue has been improperly politicized.
Fingers are being pointed at Netanyahu: See! Goes the cry. He makes trouble with the president of the US by pushing himself into the Congress. We need the US, and this is a bad thing he is doing.
Anyone interested in a reality check would be reminded very quickly that the prime minister was invited, he did not push his way in.
But we are not done yet. “Bugie” Herzog, co-chair with Tzipi Livni of the so-called Zionist Camp (formerly the Labor Party), was in Munich for a security conference, as was Vice President Biden. In the hallway, they stopped to speak to each other. This interval is being billed as an “informal meeting.”
Whether it was really much of a meeting – a meeting that Biden should not have permitted if there is a policy of not meeting with candidates before an election – or a very brief greeting and no more, I cannot say.
But the Zionist Camp is parlaying it into a real meeting. Wrote Shelly Yachimovich that night:
”His meeting this evening with Vice President Biden in Munich, after Biden announced that he would not attend Bibi’s speech to Congress, is proof that the only bridge to harmonious and proper communication in the international arena is Herzog as prime minister.”
This is a low blow that is nothing short of disgusting. The main issue here is not who can be Obama’s best friend, but who can best guard Israel’s security. It happens at present that the two are mutually exclusive – that is, the leader most eager to keep Obama happy is least likely to protect Israel. Bugie Herzog would give away our security and our land. (Heaven forbid that he should have the opportunity to do so.)
But still this is not the end of the story. At that security conference in Munich, Herzog also said that Netanyahu should cancel the March 3 speech “for the sake of Israel’s security…My talks with leaders from Europe and the U.S. indicated they were furious that Netanyahu had diverted the debate on a nuclear Iran for political purposes and made it into a confrontation with Obama.”
First of all, Bibi didn’t “make” the confrontation, Obama did.
Second, Herzog is conflating security with being on good terms with Obama – when in fact, as I have pointed out above, these are two different issues. He makes it sound as if he, the one who would have the better relations with Obama, would thus automatically guard Israel’s security better. Nonsense, balderdash, and worse.
And last, there is an understanding here in Israel that criticism of the government is kept in house – inside Israel – and not voiced outside On the outside, the government is supported. What Herzog did, was done for political purposes. And it was vile and obscene: to weaken Israel’s position internationally for his own electoral gain.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Herzog “crossed all the lines.” MK Miri Regev (Likud) said that “[Herzog] is being exploited by the international community. He’s cooperating with them against Israel and putting the security of the state at risk.”
I fully agree, and I grieve that the situation has been reduced to this.
I want to believe that the Israeli electorate can see through Herzog. But I fear that some percent (what percent?) may be comforted by the notion that it would be easier to have a prime minister who is friends with Obama. I tremble at this thought, and at the sort of self-serving propaganda that promotes it.
There are all sorts of suggestions flying about, regarding ways that Netanyahu might mitigate some of the political tensions when he goes to Washington. My best understanding is that he still intends to speak. I salute him for his courage and pray that he will. He cannot back down now.