Strategic Folly in the Framework Agreement with Iran

Redacted from an in-depth position paper by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaacov Amidror

April 20, 2015

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 296

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Only a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Iranian regime could lead anyone to believe that the proposed P5+1 deal will end or satisfy Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The U.S. is capable of bringing Iran’s nuclear program to a halt. Unfortunately, the U.S. has simply chosen not to do so. Israel will now have to decide whether to acquiesce in Iran’s nuclear drive or prepare to confront it.

The nuclear framework agreement signed between Iran and world powers, namely the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, on April 2, was defined by U.S. President Barack Obama as an “historic understanding,” while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defined the deal as “bad.”

Both leaders are right: The deal has radically changed Iran’s position in the global theater in exchange for Iran temporarily slowing down its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and in this respect it is indeed “historic.” However, the agreement affords Iran the status of a regional power and legitimizes it as a nuclear threshold state. It is now up to Iran to decide when to cross this threshold, and in this respect it is a “bad” deal.

The framework deal clearly indicates that the U.S. has come to accept that Iran will one day possess military nuclear capabilities, and that at the end of the supervision period there would be nothing stopping the Islamic Republic from realizing this potential.

The U.S., for its part, has pledged to put in place rigorous inspection practices, which would guarantee the West at least a year to detect any violation of the agreement. Would such an agreement guarantee, to any extent, a change in Iran’s nuclear aspirations? It seems the opposite is true. In the near future, the agreement will only fuel Iran’s desire to realize the potential outlined and legitimized by the deal. The hope that the agreement will somehow breed a positive process in Iran has no hold in reality.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appears eager for his country to obtain nuclear weapons. In fact, there is no debate within the Iranian leadership on whether or not such capabilities are necessary, only about the best way to go about achieving them. Only a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Iranian regime could lead anyone to believe that this or any deal will somehow satisfy the ayatollahs’ nuclear ambitions, to the point of becoming a game changer.

Is there really no military alternative that could result in a longer setback to Tehran’s nuclear program, one that could outweigh the delay outlined in the current deal?  The argument that any military strike would result in only a short-term setback in Iran’s nuclear endeavors is wrong, because the seemingly professional American calculation on the matter is purely technical.

I believe that Iran, subject to crippling sanctions, would not rush to resuscitate its nuclear program in the event it was destroyed by the U.S. It also stands to reason that Iran’s actual ability to retaliate over such a strike, other than by putting Hezbollah in play, would be limited.

An American strike could buy the West more than just a few years, but its reluctance to assume the risks involved in a military operation is understandable. Regardless, the reality is clear: The U.S. can forcibly bring the Iranian nuclear program to a halt; it simply chooses not to do so.

Furthermore, the agreement stands to have serious geopolitical repercussions. The deal with Iran is likely to lead to a nuclear arms race in the Sunni Middle East, as well as to increased belligerency from Iran and its allies, such as Hezbollah, the Houthis, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hamas.

In the long run, the deal could potentially compromise what little stability is left in the region, which in turn would lend the Shiite-Sunni struggle new and terrifying dimensions, making an already violent theater even more volatile.

Iran will try to capitalize on the regional superiority the U.S. has afforded it the first chance it gets, knowing American statements suggesting all options are on the table are nothing but hollow rhetoric.

The concept of time is a fundamental bone of contention between the U.S. and Israel and other countries in the region. A decade may seem like a long time for leaders who are elected for a limited period of time, but for leaders with historical perspectives of national security, 10 years is no time at all.

The most viable alternative should have been to continue imposing and aggravating the sanctions, while making it clear to Iran that any nuclear endeavor on its part would be limited by clear, bold, red lines, and if any of them are ever crossed, the U.S. will react forcefully.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaacov Amidror is the Greg and Anne Rosshandler Senior Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and former national security advisor to the Prime Minister.

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