Last week at the seders we asked The Four Questions. This week, in the wake of the framework agreement between the Western powers and Iran, Israel has submitted 10 questions to the U.S.-led negotiators that point out the dangers and gaps in the deal as it now stands.
The key points in the document released by Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, ask why the economic sanctions against Iran would be removed immediately after the final agreement is signed (a claim Iran has made); why inspectors cannot visit sites anytime and anywhere; why Iran would be allowed to continue research and development on centrifuges; why there is no mention in the agreement of Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, whose sole purpose is to carry nuclear arms; how this deal will differ from the one signed with North Korea, which broke its promises, produced the bomb, and suffered no significant consequence.
Steinitz asserted that the framework deal “does not block Iran’s path to the bomb.” Rather, “by removing the sanctions and lifting the main restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade, this framework paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
President Obama has been actively making his case, through media interviews, to Congress and the American people, saying that “this is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” He is also seeking to reassure Israel of America’s protection. But as Elliot Abrams, a Mideast expert, noted in his thoughtful blog, Pressure Points, the president, who is known for his oratorical eloquence, chose curiously imprecise language in discussing security for Israel.
“What we will be doing even as we enter into this deal,” Obama told Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, “is sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.”
Sounds sincere and supportive, but vague. Just what “messes with Israel” means remains unclear. Abrams asks if Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, or attempts to blow up Israeli embassies, qualify as messing with Israel. And how will America “be there?” With arms? With bandages? With the diplomatic protection [the] administration is now considering removing at the United Nations?”
Much of the sharp debate in Washington and Israel these days comes down to trust. Do you trust the president to make good on his claims, however well intentioned? Do you trust Iran to adhere to any agreement it signs? If Iran breaks its promises, do you trust the Western powers to identify the violations and act on them in a timely and forceful manner?
As the battleground turns to Congress, Israel appears to be both pressing to thwart the framework agreement and to moderate it, as well as to bolster an effort that would give Congress a say in its ultimate passage. The administration is insisting that it can make an Iran deal without congressional approval since it is not a formal treaty.
We appreciate Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deep and legitimate concerns about the deal as it exists, and credit him for making the dangers of a nuclear Iran a vital international issue. He also led the campaign for international sanctions against Iran, a move the U.S. did not support initially. But it is time for the prime minister to adjust his approach to the White House from confrontational to collegial. He has made his case on the dangers of the deal; now it is time to work with Washington to address those dangers in ways that can effect real change.