Apocalypse, Not Now

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech after a nuclear agreement was announced in Vienna,
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech after a nuclear agreement was announced in Vienna, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, July 14, 2015. Rouhani said "a new chapter" has begun in his nation's relations with the world. He maintained that Iran had never sought to build a bomb, an assertion the U.S. and its partners have long disputed. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Just over a decade ago, in 2004, the world was fast approaching a nuclear disaster. You don't remember? Iran was engaged in advanced talks with the EU-3 (Germany, Britain, France), and the sides were close to formulating an agreement regarding the Iranian nuclear program. The intervention of the U.S. administration under then-President George W. Bush, with its threats to strike Iran with a heavy hand, prevented such an agreement -- and in 2006 Iran resumed its enrichment of uranium with full force, than in 2007 economic sanctions and embargo on weapons were introduced. Today, in 2015, Iran has much more enriched uranium, as well as advanced centrifuges. While Iran has not achieved nuclear weapons capability, it has also not slowed its rapid advances toward meeting this objective. Today the Islamic Republic possess slightly more than 10 tons of enriched uranium, much more than needed for a "peaceful nuclear program." It seems that the halt of the negotiations in 2004 and the introduction of sanctions didn't stop the advancement of the Islamic Republic towards the bomb, as today Iran is only a few months away from the possible breakthrough.

Last week world powers signed an agreement with the Iranian leadership, despite Israel's objections -- which would have preferred to see a different and more secure arrangement that fully prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons, both today and in 10 years from now. Could the group of 5 plus 1 have reached a better agreement with Iran? We'll probably never know. Whether the agreement reached is better than no agreement at all? Only time will tell, since much will depend on its implementation and consequences, such as the end of the weapons embargo placed on Iran within 5-8 years. The halt of specific sanctions against Iranian military leaders such as major general Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who is directly involved in the terror industry in Lebanon and Gaza, add to Israeli society's anxieties. Everyone here remembers the horrific blast in Buenos Aires in 1994, targeting a Jewish community center executed by Hizbullah and funded by Iran (94 dead), while Americans might recall the terrorist attack in Beirut against the Marines barracks (241 American servicemen dead) -- also produced by Hizbullah and Iran. One can argue about the different clauses of agreement, but not about the direct ties between Iran and various terrorist groups and organizations around the world: in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Considering that the agreement is practically a done deal, how should Israel act to assure that it's security interests do not suffer? While Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to attack the agreement, I and many in Israel believe that it's time to deal with this worrying and uncertain situation in a sensible manner, and strengthen our ties with the Western nations -- in particular the United States -- in order to formulate a joint road map for the years ahead. Only by working with our friends in the West will Israel have a clearer and updated picture of the situation and the ability to influence the decision making of the powers who signed the agreement with Iran. However, for this to occur, the unnecessary and harmful fight with the American administration must be terminated. The Prime Minister and the opposition headed by MK Isaac Herzog should indeed be working together -- with the American administration and the key European players for the sake of Israel's security.

In the agreement there exist many loopholes and points of uncertainty: What constitutes a "major breach" of the agreement? Does such a breach render the entire agreement invalid, or only some of its articles? If relatively small violations of the agreement are discovered by IAEA inspectors or by intelligence agencies, will the powers be able to reverse this trend? IAEA inspectors are tasked with monitoring, yet will they have the functional ability to exercise an adequate level of observation, allowing them to fulfill their role? This is the practical discussion in which Israel must engage with the signatories to the agreement. Small details do make a difference, and since Israel has and continues to be singled out by Iranian leadership for decades as the "little Satan" that should be wiped off the map, it should have a say in matters such as supervision and enforcement of Iran's end of the deal.

Another matter upon which Israel must insist is that Iran and other countries supporting terrorism and the spread of violent and radical Islam must be countered irrespective of the nuclear agreement. The world should not tolerate state sponsorship of terrorism, that's why we have the UN Security Council, which has the authority to introduce sanctions against such rogue states. In this regard Iran didn't make any concessions to the West. Until now, Hizbullah is budgeted annually 200 million USD by the Iranian regime, while the support of Iran's proxies in Syria and Yemen costs the Islamic Republic something to the tune of between 1-2 billion USD. Who will monitor where the Iranian assets -- worth some 150 billion USD -- will be channeled as soon as they are released as part of the agreement?

And while we discuss Iran it's worth it to say a few words about other actors in our region that promote and finance the spread of a radical brand of jihadi Salafist Islam, which is now becoming a powerful force in the Middle East, and among other things -- provoke a severe Iranian backlash. The actors in question are Iran's bitter enemies, the Sunni Gulf states, who clandestinely sponsor the activities of radical preachers, mosques and madrasas, as well as the military activities of terrorist organizations such as Jabhat an-Nusra in Syria and Al-Qaeda affiliated organizations in Libya and Yemen. The conflict between Shi'a and Sunni is ancient: It is a dispute that began as a political struggle to succeed the Prophet Muhammad and became a head-on collision between the two major currents in Islam. Iran is sponsoring an alarming and murderous brand of terrorism -- yet Islamic terrorism fed by Sunni-Arab elements in the Persian Gulf has become even more frightening during the past few decades and has claimed many more casualties.

The spread of a Salafist-Jihadi brand of Islam is no less dangerous to the State of Israel than the activities of Iranian sponsored organizations. ISIS is definitely no better than Hizbullah, and since the majority of Muslims in the Middle East are Sunni, it has much more of a chance to spread around the region. Its murderous ideology crosses geographic and political borders with ease. It will -- and is already -- sinking deep in the hearts of the youth in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, just a few miles from the Israeli Knesset. In the fight of radical Shi'ite ideology with radical Sunni ideology, the West should play no favorites -- as both aim not only at destruction of the other, but also at destruction of the State of Israel and the West itself.

So, from which direction might apocalypse come? From Iran or Saudi Arabia? This is no longer obvious. What is important for Israel is to maintain a productive dialogue with the Western powers that have entered into the agreement with Iran and who maintain a measure of influence over the Sunni Gulf countries. We must increase our intelligence cooperation in order to prevent, or at least, lessen the possibility of an Armageddon scenario on either of these fronts, and we must work together to prevent radical Islamist ideology and its terrorist offshoots from spreading and growing -- not only in our countries, but worldwide. Israel must act wisely and sensitively -- in order that it not face both of these challenges alone, achieve maximum supervision of the recently signed agreement, and work hand in hand with the West on a new security conception for a Middle East that with every passing day is becoming a much scarier place, with or without the newly signed agreement with Iran.

Ksenia Svetlova Member of Knesset (Zionist Union) Expert in Middle Eastern affairs and Islamic studies, member of Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee