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The Opinionator: Should the US Withdraw from the Iran Deal or Not?

Gedalia Guttentag

“The Iranians want nuclear weapons, but on the cheap, and safely”

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

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hree years after it was signed, the Iran deal is back in the headlines. Designed to stop the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has proven highly contentious. Its advocates, including the European Union, claim the JCPOA is working and that Iran has frozen its nuclear program. Detractors, notably led by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, point to its many loopholes including giving Iran a free hand in missile development and terror funding. On May 12th, President Trump must decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran (which will effectively kill the deal) after previously declining to certify that the JCPOA is working in October 2017. In the run-up to that decision, Mishpacha asked leading voices on the issue: Should the US withdraw from the Iran deal or not?


Former national security advisor Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror

“I was very clear about this: Either it should be fixed, or it should be nixed. There are a number of issues with the deal that must be fixed. Number one is to stop the Iranian missile tests and improvements. Second is to stop the research and development on new uranium enrichment centrifuges. Otherwise, when the accord expires, the Iranians will find themselves much better off: possessing long-range missiles and centrifuges that are 10 or even 20 times faster than those they had before the deal.

“The next thing is that they have to reveal all the military capabilities that they have — part of which were found in the Iranian nuclear archives and part of which we don’t know. The fourth is to change the system of monitoring, which is not effective, as can be seen by the revelation of the archives. The fifth is to change the circumstances of the sunset period, totally. This means that they should continue with the regime of the supervision after the sunset, for eternity. They should not have a nuclear capability.

“What comes next depends on what the West will do. The Iranians said no to any negotiations, but they were forced by the West’s sanctions. So they know how and when to be flexible. Their knowledge will remain, but the ability to use their knowledge will not.”

Dr. Emily Landau, Tel Aviv University Institute of National Security Studies

“I have been consistently on record that unfortunately it’s too late to do away with the deal and what must be done is to strengthen it on those problematic provisions and get deterrence back on track vis-?-vis Iran. Doing away with it would only be lose-lose.

“The deal is highly problematic and the fact that it achieves a delay is not good news if it puts everyone to sleep, only to wake up when it expires and find no tools to stop Iran becoming a nuclear state. Unless that delay is used to strengthen the deal and get different messages across to Iran that the US, Europe, and other countries are not happy about its aggressive activities across the region and its ballistic missile work.

“With regard to ruining the reputation of the US if it were to leave the deal, that’s not an issue at all. This is a different administration that views the deal as highly dangerous.

“As far as what will happen if Trump does exit the deal, it won’t be a doomsday scenario. The Iranians will not race to a bomb, because it’s not in their interests to do that now, because they’re getting lots of benefits. It allows them to keep their nuclear breakout capabilities; it grants legitimacy for their uranium enrichment program, which was previously sanctioned for years; they’re getting a lot of money. They’re going to put their energy into keeping the deal, along with the Europeans who want to keep it for economic reasons. What needs to happen is not a deal with the Iranians, but one with the Europeans — who want to go back to doing business with Iran — to delineate areas that they will sanction Iran for if they cross the lines that they’ve set.


“The alternative to a bad deal was never war — that was a political construct of the Obama administration. In this problematic scenario, the only key in dealing with Iran is pressure, and so they need to put pressure on all areas that don’t impinge directly on the deal for human rights violations and missile work.”


 Meir Javedanfar, Lauder School of Government, IDC Herzliya


“I don’t think that the US should withdraw because then Iran could withdraw from the deal and could enrich uranium back up to 20%, thus shortening the breakout time for making a nuclear weapon.

“Also thanks to the deal we have a very tough inspection regime in Iran that we didn’t have, with the IAEA inspecting numerous sites and given greater powers and mandate. We could stand to lose that.

“Even if the Iranians don’t withdraw and continue to work with the Europeans, that creates a division between Israel, the US, and Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and the Europeans.

“The deal freezes the Iranian nuclear threat for the next 10–12 years because for 15 years Iran cannot enrich more than 300 kg of low-enriched uranium and you need much more than that to make a nuclear weapon.

“Also, once that clause sunsets, the inspection regime has no expiration date. If at any time the Iranians are caught cheating, the sanctions will be reimposed. It’s a fundamental mistake to believe that the Europeans want Iran to have nuclear weapons any more than Israel. What will block Iran is knowing that there is an international coalition against them, with possible military action. If Trump walks away, that coalition will be torn apart.

“The inspection regime has made things tough for Iranians. The revelations by the Mossad will make them more paranoid that they’re being watched. When you put these factors together, then when the uranium enrichment clause expires in 2030, they will be deterred.”


Prof. Uzi Arad, former national security advisor

“The deal as signed was flawed — partly because Israel walked out of the negotiations. But I’ve argued to use the leverage of nixing in order to fix the deal. There is nothing at all preventing us from telling the Iranians that we want to talk about missile development, terrorism in Syria and Lebanon.

“The agreement currently slows down the Iranian nuclear program. They’ve had to destroy some of their inventory, and they’ve been frozen in their tracks relative to the course before. If they restart the program, then thanks to intelligence and verification systems, the likelihood that they’ll be caught is not negligible. That is why they will take into consideration whether it’s worth their while. If they do so in defiance of the agreement, they risk sanctions being reimposed extremely fast, and risk a preemptive attack. Of course the Iranians want nuclear weapons, but on the cheap, and safely. This dilemma has been placed with them, and for the moment they’re sticking with the deal.

“They’re not moving forward, not even secretly, because all of their secrets have been revealed in the past. They’ve not successfully hidden anything — sooner or later, they were caught in flagrante. If they decide to be reckless, there is time to act preemptively. They will not become nuclear from one day to the next; there is some breakout time. That is what will keep the Iranians honest.”

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 709)

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