Gershon Baskin

A bad agreement is better than no agreement


Gershon Baskin. Photo: Otmar Steinbicker

I never really understood the “truism” voiced so many times over the past months that “no agreement with Iran is better than a bad agreement.”

Until July 14, 2015, there was no agreement with Iran. International sanctions damaged Iran’s economy, making things nigh unbearable for the Iranian people. International investment dropped to zero and Iran had no ability to interact with the international banking system. Despite this insufferable reality, Iran continued to enrich uranium, added new centrifuges enriching additional quantities of uranium, continued to develop it ballistic weapons program and maintained its support for proxy militias in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Without an agreement Iran’s ayatollahs continued to espouse their hateful language against the big and small devils – the US and Israel – and never stopped threatening to wipe “the Zionist regime” off the map.

Of course a good agreement, one that totally dismantles Iran’s nuclear program, removes all of the centrifuges, closes Natanz, Fordo and the plutonium reactor at Arak, and removes all of the enriched uranium already stockpiled in Iran along with a verification regime that allows total access to every site at any moment would have been preferable to what was achieved. These demands are Israel’s, and everyone in the world knew would be impossible to achieve. No country, including Israel, would accept the demands Israel was requesting the international community make of Iran.

The main problem with the agreement reached is that there is no reason the international community should trust the Iranian regime; it has never earned the trust it has demanded in the negotiations. Iran has lied and has been caught lying repeatedly over the years. But that is essentially the point here: Iran lied, but was caught lying. Now the question becomes: does the agreement signed enable the international community to take action against Iran if it is caught lying once again? By all estimates, Iran will be pushed back at least a year from the nuclear breakout point. That should be sufficient time to ensure that if Iran cheats on its commitments the international community will be able to catch the violations in time. The sanctions regime can be reemployed, but its effect would probably not be immediate or sufficient to stop the regime if it in fact makes the decision to push forward to having the bomb.

In that case there would be just cause for military intervention, which would surely receive the support of the UN Security Council, or in case of a Russian veto, enough Western support to justify an American-led attack against specific Iranian nuclear facilities.

Iran has had a nuclear program for decades and unlike the less sophisticated Pakistan never constructed an atomic bomb. This is not due to lack of ability, or even because of the mysterious assassinations of nuclear scientists or clandestine computer viruses. Iran did not achieve nuclear weapons status mainly because it has not yet made the decision to build the bomb. Otherwise, Iran probably would have achieved nuclear weapons status years ago.

Now, under the international agreement, it is less likely to make the decision to charge forward with a nuclear weapons program – at least for the next 10-15 years.

We can assume that during this period Israel will continue with its own programs of defense through its very advanced anti-ballistic rocket systems, its best-in-the-world intelligence program and what is reported to be a very significant nuclear stockpile of its own. We can easily assume that Israeli nuclear- powered and likely nuclear-armed German-built submarines will continue to patrol the Persian Gulf and other areas, with the ability to strike any and every site in Iran. We can also assume that the Israel Air Force will continue to prepare for the possible need to strike Iranian nuclear facilities at any time.

Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated stated, will continue to be on guard to defend itself, by itself in the face of any potential danger.

But let’s just imagine for a moment that the bad agreement actually works. Let’s imagine that Iran actually does implement all of the details of the agreement and removes itself from the race toward a nuclear weapon. Let’s imagine that the end of economic sanctions allows the people of Iran to enjoy economic growth and even some prosperity. The reemergence of a powerful and moderate middle class would certainly be in the interests of peace.

It is impossible to predict what will happen in Iran following the eventual death of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. No one knows who will replace him or in what direction Iran will head once there is a new leader. The first uprising in the Middle East prior to the so-called Arab Spring was the Green Movement in Iran in 2009 which probably led to the victory of a moderate president, Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose victory was squashed by the brutality of the Revolutionary Guards under the direct authority of the supreme leader.

Even though just this past week we were once again witnesses to the insanity of mad masses screaming death to American and death to Israel, Iranian insiders and analysts actually believe that a majority of Iranian citizens no longer want the regime of the ayatollahs to continue and would prefer once again embracing the Western world.

There is no guarantee that Iran will become more moderate as perhaps US President Barack Obama hopes. But it seems pretty clear that without an agreement, with continued sanctions and an Iranian regime continuing to challenge the world with its nuclear program, Iranian moderation is not at all possible to even imagine.

I don’t propose that we be naïve regarding Iran.

The world, and particularly Israel, must be extremely vigilant and ensure that Iran complies with the agreement that it signed. But I would propose a moment of naiveté, or a moment of dreaming, that the current agreement could actually be the first step in creating a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction. Yes, it sounds far-fetched, but that would be the best guarantee for Israel’s security – far better than having weapons of mass destruction in Israel’s stockpiles against numerous nations with clandestine dreams and plans to have stockpiles of their own.

Gershon Baskin is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book, Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel, has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew.

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