The agreement over Iran’s nuclear program marks the end of an era. The 20-year-long effort to strip Iran of any ability to dabble in nuclear science or weapons has officially failed.
Now let’s move on. It’s in everyone’s interest to make supreme efforts to make this work, instead of harping about its perceived shortcomings and practically hoping for an “I told you so” disaster. The new accord has all the elements of success and all the elements of failure. It’s up to us to choose, even more than it’s up to Iran.
As a whole, the 159-page agreement imposes a regimen that is more limiting and restrictive than any other international accord I have read — and I’ve read many.
This theme in the first section appears several times: Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.
Here’s a direct quote: “Iran will not engage in the following activities which could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device,” followed by four paragraphs minutely detailing what Iran isn’t allowed to do.
Pages and pages list restrictions for every stage in the process.
There is a clearly defined enforcement procedure. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors get widely defined access. Critics complain there can be a 24-day waiting period before extra inspections are allowed, as if nuclear material is dirty underwear that can be shoved under a bed. It can’t — 24 days is nowhere near enough time to hide illicit nuclear material.
And on the next-to-last page, there’s this reference to the option of reinstating sanctions if Iran violates the accord:
23. UNSCR (UN Security Council resolution) Termination Day will occur in accordance with the terms of the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], which is 10 years from Adoption Day, provided that the provisions of previous resolutions have not been reinstated.
Critics worry that Iran can begin making nuclear weapons in 10 short years, even if it lives up to the accord, while assuming that Iran will violate it, because Iran cannot be trusted.
The proper way to relate to the 10-year period is to use the decade — an eternity in modern politics — to make it worth Iran’s while to maintain an open economy, trade its oil and benefit its citizens through relations with the West, with the full realization, as stated in the agreement, that violations could set it right back to where it is now — with its economy in ruins because of sanctions.
Naturally, Iranians are ecstatic about the agreement. Their lives are about to improve. What’s puzzling is why that bothers us. Would Iran be more likely to honor an agreement that the people reject and the leaders consider oppressive? Of course not. So let them celebrate.
For Israel, Iran is still a dangerous enemy, and even President Obama admitted that “Israel has legitimate concerns about its security” here. Rejecting the accord, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implied that Israel might take military action against Iran, though an attack would certainly trigger a region-wide war and make Israel a pariah state, just as Iran is emerging from that sorry status.
Netanyahu and others justify the option of a military strike by pointing to the fact that Iran threatens Israel’s existence.
Except that it doesn’t, rhetoric aside. Even if Iran tested a nuclear weapon tomorrow, it would take years to refine it into a warhead for a missile. Then it would encounter the Arrow, a joint U.S.-Israeli anti-missile system. And then Iran would suffer Israel’s doomsday second-strike capability. So even if everything goes south, even if the critics are right, Israel can deal with it.
Now let’s take a worst-case scenario. Soon after the signing, Iran begins to violate the accord. The emasculated world waffles on its obligations and does not crack down on Iran in punishment. Instead, it continues to trade with Iran, developing relations and interdependence.
One bright day, Iran has a nuclear weapon. Its leaders, whether ayatollahs or moderates, understand than even testing it, much less using it, will bring the whole world crashing down on Iran, militarily and economically. So it keeps its bomb on the shelf.
There is a precedent even for a major treaty imploding with no discernible harm done to the rest of the world.
In 1973, the U.S. and North Vietnam signed a peace accord that ended the war in Vietnam. It had clauses about what North Vietnam was allowed to do and what it wasn’t. No matter. After U.S. forces withdrew from South Vietnam, North Vietnam took it over.
Did the world collapse into disarray? No, the region realigned itself and went on with its life. So did the rest of us. A few days ago I found myself shaking hands with a Vietnamese scientist. Once this guy would have been considered my bitter enemy. Now here we were, shaking hands in Israel.
Can we learn from looking backward at Vietnam, as a way of looking forward at Iran? Can we put aside our mostly unwarranted fears? Can we convert them into efforts to bring Iran into the 21st century as part of the developed world?
Or will we promote our own hostility to magnify Iran’s, carry out covert and overt attacks, trumpet perceived or imaginary slights — a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy to insure that the agreement will fail, and we will fail along with it?
There’s only one reasonable answer: Let’s move on.
Mark Lavie has been reporting from the Middle East since 1972. His book, “Broken Spring” (Gefen), evolved from his four years in Egypt. He lectures in North America about media distortions in Mideast coverage.