Iran Deal Is the Least Bad Option for Israel

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 15, 2015 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he speaks at the o
FILE - In this Wednesday, April 15, 2015 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he speaks at the opening ceremony of the Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Netanyahu has managed to cobble together a government dominated by nationalist and religious allies, setting the stage for conflict with the Palestinians and much of the world and leaving Israel angrily divided. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

HOD HASHARON, Israel -- Munich 1938. The cataclysmic vortex of the Holocaust. Many countries have been conquered and undergone politicide, destruction of the state. Israel is the only country in the world that fears not just politicide, but genocide, national annihilation. Supreme Leader Khamenei has called Israel "a cancerous tumor" whose "very existence is a crime against humanity" and which must be "eliminated." Small wonder the Iran nuclear deal raises every existential Israeli fear. The deal, indeed, has deep flaws. Iran will remain a de-facto nuclear state, with its nuclear infrastructure intact, able to develop a nuclear weapon should it choose to do so when the agreement expires. The agreement is limited to 10-15 years, instead of being permanent. It does not restrict Iran's destructive regional activities and actually abets them by opening vast financial resources to it. Moreover, the long and convoluted agreement has numerous ambiguities that the Iranians will utilize in order to keep progressing towards a nuclear capability. Netanyahu has decried the agreement as a bad one that threatens the security of Israel and the international community and apparently intends to keep fighting it to the last in Congress, willing to risk a rift with the administration -- and an almost definitely lost battle. In the meantime, he has even rejected the administration's repeated calls to engage in a discussion of a military compensation package designed to alleviate Israeli concerns. Only the deepest strategic convictions can justify an approach as harmful as this to Israel's relations with the U.S. Understandable as they may be, they are misguided. The agreement, a painful compromise, not the one the U.S. or anyone else wanted, but the one it was able to negotiate, serves Israel's security.

The agreement, a painful compromise, not the one the U.S. or anyone else wanted, but the one it was able to negotiate, serves Israel's security.

For 10-15 years Israel will not have to live under the specter of a nuclear Iran and of an existential threat. For a country whose security situation is as precarious as Israel's, that is a mouthful. Moreover, it will enable Israel to focus on the threats posed by Hezbollah's mammoth rocket arsenal, now estimated at over 130,000 strong, and on Hamas and ISIS, as well as long needed educational, health and other domestic reforms. The nuclear program has not been terminated, nor has Iran abandoned its long-term nuclear aspirations, but it has been postponed for a lengthy period. Should Iran choose to renew the program when the agreement expires, the international community will have to gear up once again to prevent this, admittedly without the sanctions regime already in place and thus from a less advantageous starting point. The agreement is, unfortunately, not the end of the Iranian nuclear saga, but merely another stage in a continuing decades-long effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear, and must be understood in this light. The inspections regime is highly robust and provides a high degree of confidence that we will know if Iran violates the agreement in an egregious manner. No one doubts that they will push the envelope every step of the way. Iran's support for terrorism and Hezbollah, and its destructive role in various regional crises are important, but not nearly as dangerous as its nuclear program. Israel long supported a separation of the issues and should do so today. We can now turn our efforts to the other issues. In the end it boils down to a question of alternatives. Obama announced his intention to return to sanctions if an agreement was not reached, hardly a desirable outcome. There is no reason to believe that the sanctions would have achieved more now than they did in the past, when the regime was far stronger. Israel would have remained with the military option, one which it may still ultimately have to resort to, but which it patently has not been anxious to pursue. The bottom line is that it is a good outcome for Israel, given the alternatives. Instead of a fight in Congress, Netanyahu should engage with the administration on the means of ensuring that the Iranians observe the agreement and on a further strategic upgrade of the bilateral relationship. Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, is a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center, and the author of "Zion's Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy," 2012.

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Historic Iran Deal