Iran nuclear deal – what is the alternative?

Let\'s start from the beginning and review this stage by stage.
August 4, 2015

Let's start from the beginning and review this stage by stage;

We are where we are because the well intentioned Obama administration refused to listen to anyone, who among other things, warned that it should not start negotiating before Iran was ready to beg, it should not agree to Iranian uranium enrichment, and premature negotiations could result in the fragmentation of the international coalition (remember this one?).

The administration felt otherwise and what is done is done. I suspect by now pretty much everyone recognizes that this is not a good agreement, even if they don’t admit it outright. The best defense the administration itself is offering is that “this is the best deal we could get”, or, “If we don't take this deal the alternative is war”. Letting alone the fact that both assertions are wrong, what the position implies is that even the administration knows that this is not a good agreement but it’s the best it could get.

But why is it so bad? There are about a 159 pages worth of reasons, but they won’t fit in this short essay, so let’s just look at what I consider to be its single biggest flaw: The agreement leaves [almost] the ENTIRE nuclear infrastructure under the ultimate control of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). It does, to its credit, have a relatively strong INSPECTION mechanism and a relatively good VERIFICATION method (despite the 24 day delay, and not accounting for any other flaws that may be discovered in the IAEA side deal). But the most important provision that such agreements need, and this one lacks, is an ENFORCEMENT mechanism. At any given moment, whether it's 10 years from now or 10 months from now, the IRI can decide to proceed to developing its nuclear bomb and while the inspection and verification mechanisms MAY detect Iran's cheating there is nothing in the agreement that can actually stop it.

Either we believe the IRI when it says it does not wish to develop a nuclear weapon, in which case there was no need to get into an agreement that gives it the biggest concessions in human history in exchange for nothing (and it would be nothing if they weren’t going to develop the bomb anyway), OR, we don’t believe them and felt that we needed to negotiate an agreement that will stop them.

But THIS agreement does nothing of the sort and leaves the military option as the only viable way to do so. The difference is that without the agreement we had a strong sanctions regime in place, so if we ever had to use military force we would have faced a country that was isolated internationally and on the brink of bankruptcy at home. But with this agreement we will be facing an Iran that has just gained major international legitimacy and backing, will be strong economically in a few short years, will get out of the arms embargo, will become a regional super-power and could use its new found economic and military might to expand its hegemony and spread conflict, terror and hateful ideology. In other words: a far more dangerous and formidable foe to attack militarily.

There are many other good reasons that point to this being a very bad, in fact a disastrous agreement, but I will leave those for another time.

So the quality of the agreement notwithstanding, the question facing us now is: considering that the rejection of the agreement could cause the collapse of the sanctions regime, is it better to approve this agreement or to reject it? This is what the honest debate should be about. The proponents’ claims that this is a good agreement, which will stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons or one that will make Israel and the Gulf allies safer, are neither true nor honest. Case in point the recent rush of the Gulf allies to purchase tens of billions of Dollars in arms and “peaceful” nuclear technology.

The only honest arguments being presented in favor of approving the deal despite its obvious shortcomings are twofold: First, that regardless of what we do the sanctions regime will no longer hold but our rejection will allow the IRI to go back to its 19,000 centrifuges (instead of the 5,000 we negotiated) and march rapidly towards the bomb. And the second, is that in such case the alternative to this agreement will be war.

While both of these arguments have some merit to them they are both wrong; 

The way the international sanctions came to be in the first place was that the U.S., due to its economic clout, was able to tell every major company and financial institution in the world that it can either do business with Iran or do business with us. The overwhelming majority preferred dealing with us. So basically aside from not dealing with Iran ourselves we compelled everyone else to stop dealing with them too. WE CAN STILL DO THAT. Experts estimate that on our own the U.S. directly controls about 50-60% of the weight of the sanctions. If, by threatening and/or incentivizing major foreign companies we can be halfway effective with the remaining 40% of the sanctions’ weight carriers, then at least 80% of the sanctions will remain in place.

Next, Iran has not developed the bomb not because it couldn't but because the cost/benefit calculus of the actual development was not penciling out. President Obama himself has said that Iran currently has enough enriched uranium for ten bombs. The IRI does not want the risk of a military attack from the United States, but it does want the ability to project the capacity for delivering a bomb in a relatively short period of time in order to be able to intimidate its neighbors and the region. This agreement gives Iran exactly that.

At BEST, if the IRI decides to voluntarily adhere to all of its provisions, for the first ten years or so the agreement will extend the time it takes Iran to develop a bomb (not stop it) from two months to one year (experts say even this is not correct because the agreement assumes only 5,000 old centrifuges will spin even if the IRI decides to cheat, in reality, the agreement allows Iran to hold 19,000 of them in its basement as well as continue research on newer and faster models), but more importantly, if Iran chooses to move closer to the bomb, the unfortunate fact remains that the only viable way for stopping it would be through the use of military force ANYWAY. So this agreement IS NOT AN ALTERNATIVE TO WAR. In fact because it emboldens Iran it could make war MORE likely. 

This agreement is not an alternative to war and war is not the alternative to THIS agreement. It may in fact prove to be a byproduct of it.

So what is the alternative to this agreement? Simple:

Keep up as much pressure on the IRI and continue weakening it as much as possible, maintain a very strong military posture and make it clear that the military option is SERIOUSLY on the table (this more than anything else has the chance of preventing war), strongly confront the IRI on all of its international adventurisms including support of terrorism, arms shipments, interferences in its neighbors’ affairs, global influence buying (from South and Central America to South-East Asia) and so on, highlight the extremely corrupt nature and structure of the regime to the Iranian people through an unrelenting public diplomacy campaign aimed at shaking the foundations of the regime, and; promote democracy and human rights inside Iran.

The problems we have with the IRI cannot be ignored nor can they be wished away. We can deal with them now or deal with them later at a much higher cost.

Sam Kermanian is the senior advisor to the board of the Iranian-American Jewish Federation and its former secretary general.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.