For now, it looks like the prospects have declined for a nuclear agreement to be signed between Iran and the powers in the next two months. Tehran responded coolly to the proposal by the European mediators, and even in Europe, with its perpetual optimism, the talk is about how it’s unlikely that anything will be signed before the U.S. midterm elections.
As has been clear for a few months, the key is in the Iranians’ hands. The Biden administration was eager to sign an agreement, but it can’t yield completely to every Iranian demand. In some issues, such as the “open cases” being examined by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Washington doesn’t have the last word. Also, maybe a signing close to the U.S. elections would be less convenient for the administration.
The Americans made their decisions as an airlift of Israelis arrived in Washington to talk to the administration about the looming agreement. Barely a day was needed for diplomatic – actually, political – sources to take credit for the shift in the U.S. stance, which it’s said delayed the signing of the agreement.
Well, that’s arrant nonsense. The person who changed his mind was Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, on whom Jerusalem wields no influence. Lapid is right about one thing: It’s better to talk to the Americans behind the scenes than to scold them or embark on an unnecessary speech in Congress.
Besides that, when it comes to Iran, the current Israeli government sounds more like Netanyahu than Netanyahu. Its leaders, joined this week by President Isaac Herzog, are competing in doomsday prophecies about the consequences of signing an agreement.
But the quarterly report of the IAEA that was published Wednesday actually describes the dangers of the absence of a new agreement. According to the report, the Iranians now possess 55.6 kilograms (123 pounds) of 60 percent-enriched uranium, or 12.5 kilograms (27.5 pounds) more than they had three months ago. This leaves Tehran at most a few weeks away from amassing enough enriched uranium to make one nuclear bomb. (Though fitting it onto a warhead could take another two years.)
Against the backdrop of the near consensus in the Israeli hierarchy, the views of former Military Intelligence chief Tamir Hayman stand out. Hayman, currently the managing director of the Institute for National Security Studies, told Haaretz that “what’s most worrisome about the report is its length. When the IAEA suffices with three pages, you realize how much their inspections have shrunk since the Iranians ended the agency’s use of cameras at the nuclear sites."
“Iran is approaching its goals, and the world no longer has a real supervisory capability. They can decide to burst forward and there won’t be time for a prior warning or to take action against them.”
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“Even if an agreement is finally signed, there will be great uncertainty this time regarding the Iranians’ capability, in contrast to the good level of supervision that the IAEA had in the 2015 agreement. Every week that goes by without an agreement makes the supervisory possibilities after the signing more difficult.”
Still, Hayman believes that signing an agreement is less of a bad choice in the new situation. “The continuation of the existing situation will leave the Iranians without supervision, and without Western sanctions disturbing them either, because of their rapprochement with Russia and China, which makes it possible to circumvent [the sanctions],” Hayman says.
“An excellent agreement isn’t on the agenda. But signing a bad agreement now is still preferable to any other alternative. Over time, the only scenario that will keep Iran from a nuclear bomb is an agreement – and when it expires, the signing of another agreement.”