Israel’s political leaders seem to agree on very little these days. But one thing does unite nearly all of them, which sounds good until you realize that they are all wrong.
I’m referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — better known as the Iran nuclear deal — which was signed three and half years ago. Nearly all of Israel’s political parties agree that this deal is bad for Israel, will not stop the Iran nuclear arms programme, and should be scrapped.
In general, they are all grateful to US President Donald Trump for the steps he has taken to bring an end to the deal. Even politicians who don’t particularly like Trump think he’s done Israel (and the world) a service by trying to bring an end to the JCPOA.
I think the only Israeli politician to offer an unqualified statement of support for the JCPOA was Dov Khenin from Hadash, who said that “the international agreement on the nuclear issue was the right move, and it must continue instead of leading to a terrible regional war that no one will win.”
Unfortunately, Khenin is retiring from the Knesset, so it is likely that following the vote on 9 April, Israel may be left without a single parliamentarian who supports the JCPOA.
It’s worth stepping back for a moment and trying to understand what this deal is, how it came about and most important, how it is working in the real world.
The JCPOA came into existence in 2015 because the entire world, led by the United States, felt threatened by the possibility that the Islamic Republic of Iran would soon have control over a nuclear arsenal. To its credit, Israel played a role in awakening the world to the danger of a nuclear armed Iranian regime.
The Tehran regime is headed up by a gang of authoritarian thugs who, when not busy terrorising their own population, are scheming to destroy Iran’s enemies in the region. At the top of that enemies’ list is, of course, Israel. But we are not the only ones threatened by the possibility of an Iranian nuke. That’s why the US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the rest of the European Union pushed so hard to get the Iranians to stop their nuclear arms project.
The JCPOA was quite specific about what Iran had committed itself to doing. Over the course of several years, Iran obligated itself to reduce its uranium stockpiles, to cut the number of gas centrifuges, not to build any new heavy water facilities, and so on.
In exchange for agreeing to take concrete steps which would clearly hinder any nuclear arms programme, the signatories to the agreement began to wind down sanctions which were crippling the Iranian economy.
No one trusted the word of the Iranian leadership, and instead of trust, the agreement gave the task of monitoring and verifying Tehran’s compliance to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
So is the JCPOA working? According to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, “the IAEA now has the world’s most robust verification regime in place in Iran. We have had access to all the locations that we needed to visit … IAEA inspectors now spend 3,000 calendar days per year on the ground in Iran …
As of today, I can state that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments.”
The only world leaders who disagree with that assessment are Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Many in Israel, and not only on the political right, believe that this is the case because Trump and Netanyahu are realists. They don’t live in a fantasy world where the Iranian mullahs are to be trusted. They don’t believe these agreements are worth the paper they’re printed on.
But that same “realist” Donald Trump seems perfectly happy to make wide-ranging concessions to the North Korean regime in the hope that they too may someday get rid of their nuclear arms programme.
The North Koreans, unlike the Iranians, actually have nuclear weapons, which they have tested. They have exploded a very powerful device which they claim was a hydrogen bomb. They have long-range missiles capable of striking parts of the United States, including possibly the mainland. And they have a human rights record that makes Iran look like Switzerland.
The IAEA once did have inspectors in North Korea, but they were expelled ten years ago. Today there is not a single inspector there. But President Trump has no problem with this, and is happy to make extensive concessions to the Pyongyang regime.
To trust Kim Jong Un, but not to trust the IAEA, is not the work of a political realist. Donald Trump is ignorant and impulsive, according to the Secretaries of State and Defence who have left his administration. His actions are making the world a more dangerous place. And he has the full support of our prime minister and most leading politicians in the country.
Where are the political leaders in Israel with the courage to stand up and tell the truth? Because this we know for certain: The Iran nuclear deal is the best hope we have of averting a catastrophe in our region.