As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees it, almost any deal between Iran and the West to limit Tehran’s nuclear program would be a bad deal.
Before anything could be finalized in Friday’s nuclear talks in Geneva, the Israeli leader was already warning that a rumored accord was a “grievous historical error.” He said Israel “utterly” rejected the accord, which would freeze much of Iran’s nuclear program for several months in return for limited relief from international sanctions, while further talks sought permanent, verifiable curbs.
Netanyahu was jumping the gun, since there is no agreement yet.
But to the Israeli leader, the only deal that makes sense is one that totally ends Iran’s nuclear program — full stop. He distrusts the dramatic overtures to the West made by the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, and he calls for more draconian sanctions to be imposed on Tehran. His position has strong, bipartisan support in Congress, where new sanctions are under debate.
Before they rev up the pressure, U.S. legislators ought to consider whether an all-or-nothing stance toward Tehran will hurt U.S. and Israeli interests more than it helps.
After years of threats from Tehran and its Hezbollah ally, Israel wants to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, including a ban on any uranium enrichment, even for energy or research. But can such a maximalist deal be reached at the negotiating table? That is the question that must be honestly addressed.
“Not achievable,” said Robert Einhorn, until recently a top State Department adviser on arms control. “I don’t think any Iranian government could sell that deal at home,” he added during a conference call hosted by the Israel Project, a nonprofit that promotes Israeli security.
While Rouhani and his team are willing to limit enrichment, they won’t end it entirely. Einhorn believes that harsher sanctions would not budge them on this point, despite Rouhani’s urgent desire to ease the burden of sanctions on Iran’s economy. In conversations with numerous Iran experts, I’ve found widespread agreement with that view.