The framework concluded last week on Iran’s nuclear program was doomed to disagreement. Even the “fact sheets” issued by the United States, France and Iran — all parties to the talks — didn’t agree on the facts.
Israel has made clear its grave concerns about the framework’s fundamental elements and omissions. The vast nuclear infrastructure to be left in Iran will give it an unacceptably short breakout time to building a bomb. Iran’s long-range ballistic missile program — a threat to Israel as well as the rest of the Middle East, Europe and the United States — is untouched. The sanctions on Iran will be lifted (quickly, according to the Iranians; gradually, according to the United States), while restrictions imposed on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program will expire in about a decade, regardless of Iran’s campaign of murderous aggression in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere across the Middle East; its arming, funding, training and dispatching of terrorists around the world; and its threats and violent efforts to destroy Israel, the region’s only democracy.
To justify the risks inherent to the framework, its supporters have posited three main arguments: that the only alternative is war; that Iranian violations will be deterred or detected because of “unprecedented verification”; and that, in the event of violations, sanctions will be snapped back into place. These arguments have one important feature in common: They’re all wrong.
The claim that the only alternative to the framework is war is false. It both obscures the failure to attain better terms from Iran and stifles honest and open debate by suggesting that if you don’t agree, you must be a warmonger. It also feeds and reflects the calumny that Israel in particular is agitating for war.
As Israel’s minister of defense, as a former Israel Defense Forces chief of general staff and as a combat veteran forced to bury some of my closest friends, I know too well the costs of war. I also know that Israelis are likely to pay the highest price if force is used — by anyone — against Iran’s nuclear program. No country, therefore, has a greater interest in seeing the Iranian nuclear question resolved peacefully than Israel. Our opposition to a deal based on the framework is not because we seek war, but because the terms of the framework — which will leave an unreformed Iran stronger, richer and with a clear path to a bomb — make war more likely.
The framework is supposed to prevent or detect Iranian denials and deception about their nuclear program by means of inspections and intelligence. Unfortunately, the track record of inspections and intelligence makes the framework’s outsize reliance on them both misguided and dangerous.
In many ways, the Iranian nuclear crisis began and intensified after two massive intelligence failures. Neither Israeli nor other leading Western intelligence agencies knew about Iran’s underground enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow until it was too late. As good as our intelligence services are, they simply cannot guarantee that they will detect Iranian violations at all, let alone in time to stop a dash for a bomb.
Twenty years ago, inspectors were supposed to keep the world safe from a North Korean nuclear bomb. Today, North Korea is a nuclear weapons state, and Iran isn’t complying with its existing obligations to come clean about its suspected efforts to design nuclear warheads. There is no reason to believe that Iran will start cooperating tomorrow, but the deal all but guarantees that it will nonetheless have the nuclear infrastructure it would need to produce a nuclear arsenal. Intelligence and inspections are simply no substitute for dismantling the parts of Iran’s program that can be used to produce atomic bombs.
Finally, there are the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. These took years to put in place and even longer to become effective. Once lifted, they cannot be snapped back after future Iranian violations. It is fantasy to think the sanctions can be restored and become effective in the exceedingly short breakout time provided by the terms of the framework.
Though we have a serious policy disagreement with the United States regarding the framework and its implications, I am nevertheless confident that the friendship and alliance we share will not only weather this difference of views but also emerge even stronger from it. This is precisely what has happened in the past. Israelis know that the United States is Israel’s greatest friend and strategic ally. No disagreement, not even about this critical issue, can diminish our enduring, profound gratitude to the president and his administration, Congress and the American people for all the United States has done to enhance the security of the Jewish state.
The choice is not between this bad deal and war. The alternative is a better deal that significantly rolls back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and links the lifting of restrictions on its nuclear program to an end of Iran’s aggression in the region, its terrorism across the globe and its threats to annihilate Israel. This alternative requires neither war nor putting our faith in tools that have already failed us.
Moshe Ya’alon is Israel’s defense minister.