Please, let’s not miss this opportunity

To my Israeli friends:

The deal between the P5+1 and Iran is extremely good for Israel. It is vastly better than the world we will face together if the US Congress prevents my country from signing on. For example, a maximum 24-day delay for inspections anywhere is vastly better than no inspections, no-where, no time. It takes much longer than 24 days to build up to, or clean up from, an enrichment facility. 5060 centrifuges and 300 kg of 3.5% enriched uranium hexafluoride are much better than 25,000 centrifuges and 12,000 kg of UF6. Zero weapons-grade plutonium production is much better than one or two bomb’s worth per year.

Please, let’s not miss this opportunity to contain Iran’s nuclear program.

What happens if the US does not sign?

If Congress scuttles the deal, both the international sanctions and the monitored limits on Iran’s program will quickly evaporate. This is the worst of all possible worlds. There will be no coherent restraints on Iran, and Iran will want to show its resolve, just as it has done before. So in a few months we will be back at the red line PM Netanyahu warned about at the UN in 2012.

PM Netanyahu at UNGA in 2012. Text and blue line added.
PM Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly. Text and blue line added.

Then the two options we will have will be military, and they are both unattractive. The US and Israel could bomb Iran’s nuclear program, and then bomb it again every few years as it becomes harder and harder to find, and digs itself deeper and deeper under mountaintops. This story line eventually leads to an Iranian nuclear test and a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The other option, full-scale invasion and occupation to impose regime change, is not particularly attractive either. Consider Iraq, or Lebanon.

Military options, unattractive as they are, do make sense if Iran signs the deal and then tries to break out from it. However such options do not make sense – and would gain no international support – if Iran had agreed to be monitored and constrained, as they have, but the US failed to sign the deal.

What about the consequences of sanctions relief?

The deal will provide increased funds to the Iranian government, and economic growth to the Iranian people through increased trade. This is a two-edged sword. Increased communication with the West may help moderate Iran’s view of the United States and even of Israel. But increased financial resources will certainly allow Iran to increase its aid to our common enemies, including Hezbollah and perhaps Hamas. The US will need to counter that aid with increased aid to Israel. The US also certainly needs to work closely with Israel to strengthen her missile defenses to the point where the likelihood of a successful Iranian nuclear strike is as near zero as possible. This will take time that the deal will buy for us.

In the very long run

Under the deal, Iran will eventually have more centrifuge capability than it has today, so its breakout time will be short. However we will have the Additional Protocol with real-time monitoring of enrichment for at least 15 years. The US should work to gain agreement by the Board of Governors of the IAEA to make this the norm within all countries’ Additional Protocols, and so in Iran’s not only until 2030, but forever. This  will mean that the world will know in hours, not days, if Iran begins to cheat on its NPT commitments in declared facilities. (Days would probably be good enough, but hours would be better.) And, under the Additional Protocol, we will have adequate access to determine if Iran is constructing clandestine facilities. Furthermore, unlike in North Korea, western eyes will be all over the country. All options will still be on the table, as President Obama has stated, if Iran violates the deal or, in the long run, its Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

What should Israel ask from the US Congress?

Israel should surely request that the US Congress increase aid to help her combat (or better, deter) Iranian-sponsored terrorism, and that the US help even more with Israel’s missile defense. Feel free to ask our government to work to make real-time enrichment monitoring an international norm in all countries’ Additional Protocols. Ask our Congress to watch carefully over Iran’s compliance and to make clear that sanctions snap-back is the least of the risks Iran will face if it violates the deal. But please don’t ask our Congress to throw all of us into the untenable world where Iran is neither under monitored limits, nor under international sanctions.

About the Author
Rob Goldston is a professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. He teaches and writes about nuclear energy, with special focus on nuclear proliferation risks. He was director of the US Department of Energy Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory from 1997 to 2009. He won a 2014 "Leading Global Thinkers" award from Foreign Policy Magazine for his work on arms control.
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