Israel must oppose US-Iran ‘understandings’

Israel must highlight the dangers of the provisions being formulated.

World powers and Iran in Vienna for talks discussing the Iran nuclear deal, November 2021. Source: E.U. delegation in Vienna/Twitter.
World powers and Iran in Vienna for talks discussing the Iran nuclear deal, November 2021. Source: E.U. delegation in Vienna/Twitter.
Jacob Nagel
Jacob Nagel
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

According to all indications, the negotiations between the United States and Iran on a nuclear deal known as “freeze for freeze”—actually “quiet for money”—are on the verge of finalizing what the sides call “understandings,” as opposed to an official agreement.

The idea is to freeze Iran’s progress when it comes to highly enriched uranium in exchange for partial sanctions relief (oil sales), the release of some frozen funds and the freeing of prisoners. Presenting this as understandings and not as an agreement will likely allow the administration to avoid going to Congress, where it would face fierce opposition.

Israel must highlight up front—and loudly—the dangers of the provisions being formulated and express firm opposition even at the cost of harming the prospects of a possible deal with Saudi Arabia, which in itself is very important but much less so than concessions to Iran on its nuclear program.

Some of the reporting on this issue says that during a confidential Knesset meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel could live with these understandings. These reports stem, in my opinion, from an incorrect interpretation of his words. Such a statement is unreasonable and inconsistent with Netanyahu’s consistent positions on Iran’s nuclear program. These words were probably never said or perhaps misunderstood.

The understandings allow Iran to continue enriching its uranium to 60% purity without increasing the accumulated amount. This is de facto approval of Iran’s enrichment to that level.

Since the idea of a “less for less” agreement was first raised, Tehran has enriched massive amounts to 20%. This is the main problem, which is intensified by the understandings currently being formulated. The need to prevent enrichment to 90% has been stressed, but it is mostly semantic. Nonetheless, the assertion by Israel that enrichment to 90% would trigger a kinetic reaction was very important, and it is a pity that the U.S. didn’t join this and only opted for the wording “severe reaction.”

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency closed two cases against Iran over nuclear traces, while still having not received answers on another two open files. How can an agreement—which apparently includes a promise to close the remaining open files later—be reached without getting answers? This would further deteriorate the agency’s shaky standing.

The agreement will legitimize all previous Iranian violations and allow Iran to retain the assets obtained through the ongoing violation of all agreements and treaties it has signed while injecting billions of dollars into Iran to revitalize its economy. It will also enable the Quds Force’s continued support of terrorism in the Middle East and around the world.

How can someone agree to a freeze when Iran, under the understandings, continues to develop and manufacture advanced centrifuges and possess ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads?

Iran will also secretly continue to develop weaponization capabilities, which is what really separates it from having nuclear capacity, while its true status continues to be largely hidden.

If freezing is on the table, why is there no requirement to completely freeze the construction of the two underground sites at Natanz—one where the advanced centrifuges are stored and the other (still under construction) to be used for future enrichment to high levels?

The Biden administration’s only goal is to achieve calm through the Nov. 2024 presidential elections. The understandings will stop all action against Iran’s nuclear program, based on the mistaken assumption that it would put the nuclear issue “back in a box.” Jake Sullivan and now Barbara Leaf, both high-ranking White House officials, have already stated this belief.

The understandings will also make it very difficult for Israel to attack alone if it concludes that the time has come. It is true that under the “understandings” it will be a little easier to attack than under an agreement, but it is still going to be very difficult.

In the background, the Iranians continue with their attacks on American interests in the Gulf and in the Middle East, violate human rights and kill women and girls in Iran, lend massive support to Russia and transfer advanced weapons that help kill Ukrainian women and girls.

Instead of reaching these flawed understandings with Iran, it would be better for the U.S. to trigger the snapback mechanism that would reinstate all canceled Security Council sanctions—including a total ban on uranium enrichment—before this mechanism expires in 2025. Such action would hollow out the Saudi desire to seek legitimacy for an independent nuclear fuel cycle.

The understandings will come with a heavy price for Israel, so Israel must act against them loudly and with one voice. This critical issue must not be drowned out by the noise of political debates or compromised by the desire to reach a Saudi deal.

Iran is trying to draw Israel into a multi-theater conflagration while staying out of direct confrontation for the time being. Israel must continue to improve its military capabilities while at the same time send a clear message against the understandings being formulated. Every hint that there is anything to talk about will convey that Israel is weak—like the U.S.—and cannot be trusted. The message will reach our friends in the Gulf, those who have signed agreements with us and those who may sign on in the future, but only if Israel remains strong against Iranian threats.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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