The contours of a framework deal, currently being hammered out in Geneva, would allow Iran to enrich uranium at a limited rate, with the restrictions ebbing over time.
The Associated Press reported Monday that “several officials spoke of 6,500 centrifuges as a potential point of compromise” and that “the strict controls could be in place for 10 years with gradual lifting over five.”
Israeli officials have long contended that the final stages of uranium enrichment, necessary for weapons grade fuel, can be done in small and easily concealable spaces, increasing the risk of a covert Iranian advance to full nuclear capacity.
In recent weeks, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to argue against the deal in a March 3 address to both houses of Congress, against the express wishes of President Barak Obama, Israeli aides to the prime minister have claimed that Jerusalem was being left out of the loop on the details of the negotiations.
This assertion was backed up in a New York Times report last week, in which a European official said that the US’s top negotiator, Wendy Sherman, had told him not to disclose too much information to the Israelis because “the details could be twisted to undermine a deal.” Administration officials subsequently publicly acknowledged that not all information on the talks was being made available to Israel.
Ya’alon did not cite specific figures or terms. He said, however, that Iran is the central destabilizing factor in the region and that it sends “unbridled” terror across the world. Any such agreement signed between “the West and this messianic, apocalyptic regime” will therefore harm Western and Israeli interests, he said, “and allow Iran to turn into a nuclear threshold state and continue its terror actions.”
The agreement that is currently being cobbled together – with each moving part influencing a series of other, related parts – is “a bad deal,” he said, one that will allow Iran “out of financial straits and also to continue to enrich uranium.”
On Monday evening, as details of the looming US-led deal with Iran emerged from Geneva, Israel’s most respected Middle East affairs analyst, Channel 2 commentator Ehud Ya’ari, made precisely the same suggestion. So problematic are the reported terms of the deal, Ya’ari indicated, that Israel’s two leading contenders in the March 17 elections, Netanyahu and Herzog, need to put aside their differences and make plain to US legislators that the need to thwart such an accord crosses party lines in Israel and stands as a consensual imperative.
After anonymous sources in Jerusalem leaked to Israeli reporters in recent weeks the ostensible terms of the deal being hammered out, various spokespeople for the Obama administration contended that the Netanyahu government was misrepresenting the specifics for narrow political ends. They sneered that Israel didn’t actually know what the terms were. And they made the acknowledgement — the acknowledgement for a United States whose key regional ally is directly and relentlessly threatened with destruction by Iran — that the Obama administration is consequently no longer sharing with Jerusalem all sensitive details of the Iran talks.
And yet among the terms of the deal being reported by the Associated Press from Geneva on Monday are precisely those that were asserted in recent weeks by the Israeli sources, precisely those that were scoffed at by the Administration. Centrally, Iran is to be allowed to keep 6,500 centrifuges spinning, and there will be a sunset clause providing for an end to intrusive inspections in some 10-15 years. If anything, indeed, some of the terms reported by the AP are even more worrying than those that were leaked in Jerusalem: “The idea would be to reward Iran for good behavior over the last years of any agreement,” the AP said, “gradually lifting constraints on its uranium enrichment program and slowly easing economic sanctions.” There is also no indication of restrictions on Iran’s missile development — its potential delivery systems.
In his TV commentary on Monday night, Ya’ari highlighted that the deal could further embolden Iran as it expands its influence throughout this region, and he noted that the isolation of Iran even by Israel’s key allies was already cracking, with the firmly pro-Israel foreign minister of Australia, Julie Bishop, announcing an imminent visit to Tehran — the first Australian foreign minister to make such a trip in a decade.
The devil of such deals is generally in the detail. But the devil, here, is in the principle as well — the principle that the P5+1 is about to legitimize Iran as a nuclear threshold state. From there, it will be capable of rapidly breaking out to the bomb, well aware that the international community lacks the will to stop it.
It goes without saying that this weekend’s developments in Geneva have only bolstered Netanyahu’s determination to sound the alarm before Congress next Tuesday. It’s also still clearer today why the Obama administration has been so anxious to query his motives and seek to discredit his concerns.