Constructive Israeli action, not lobbying, seen vital in wake of Iran deal
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Constructive Israeli action, not lobbying, seen vital in wake of Iran deal

Experts say Netanyahu must focus on hindering regime’s push for hegemony and blocking its path to the bomb, including with expanded intelligence-gathering

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in a speech warning against the then-looming US-backed deal with Iran. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of the United States Congress in the House chamber at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in a speech warning against the then-looming US-backed deal with Iran. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Over the next three months, in advance of the June 30 deadline, Israel will engage in “furious lobbying” to reshape or cancel the nuclear framework agreement reached in Lausanne last week, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a document obtained by the wire service, will push back against sanctions relief, call for tighter inspections, including in military installations, and rally the international community to include Iran’s ballistic missile program in the parameters of the deal. Netanyahu began precisely such a process later Sunday, highlighting in a CNN interview the Iranian missile threat to the US.

These and other factors, including the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, are all legitimate Israeli reservations. But some in Israel believe that such a course of action is bound for failure. Netanyahu the lobbyist will be fighting a losing battle, these experts said. What is needed is Netanyahu the constructive, practical actor.

Iran is a nuclear threshold state, said Raz Zimmt, a researcher at the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University and a fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking. The interim deal in Lausanne, he said Sunday, preserving Iran’s nuclear infrastructure but limiting its ability to push ahead toward a weapon, bestowed international recognition on that status last week. Any gains Israel might make in whittling away at Iran’s achievements would only be “on the margins.”

Instead, Zimmt and others argue that Israel should shift course, taking concrete steps to combat Iran’s push for regional supremacy, on one hand, and constructive action to block a possible sprint toward the bomb, on the other.

And those objectives, he said, “require an entirely different toolbox.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif (right). (photo credit: AFP/Brian Snyder, Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif (right). (photo credit: AFP/Brian Snyder, Pool)

The first tool relates to sanctions relief and regime change, which Zimmt said was the only real “solution” to Iran’s nuclear ambition.

Sanctions relief, the prospect of which forced Iran back to the negotiating table, proved effective over the past several years, he said, but should now be viewed in a different light. “The full lifting of sanctions could constitute a double-edged sword for the regime,” he asserted, explaining that relief would empower the middle class, which is an agent of change in Iran, and would curtail the economic growth of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which seized large chunks of the economy during the years of international isolation.

Additionally, he said, rescinding restrictions on international study for university students, who would return home with a widened horizon, and opening the market to an array of international corporations, would loosen Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s grip on a population that has grown weary of at least some elements of the Islamic Revolution.

The United States, he said, remains deeply distrusted in Iran, but encouraging European non-governmental organizations to operate in Iran is in Israel’s interest.

Iranians flash the victory sign as they hold their country's flag while waiting for arrival of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif from Lausanne, Switzerland, at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 3, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranians flash the victory sign as they hold their country’s flag while waiting for arrival of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif from Lausanne, Switzerland, at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 3, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

More immediately, Zimmt said, Israel should patch up relations with the Obama administration so as to create a joint early-warning apparatus to block a sprint to the bomb and work together to prevent further nuclear proliferation in the region. The prospect of a Saudi Arabian bomb, followed by regional proliferation, is a distinct possibility and a grave concern, he said.

Raz Zimmt (photo credit: Facebook)
Raz Zimmt (photo credit: Facebook)

Yoel Guzansky, a former member of the Iran team at the National Security Council and a researcher at the INSS think tank in Tel Aviv, also said a mending of ties with the US was imperative. If the main channel of communication between Jerusalem and Washington is clogged, he said, then the other levels of communication, including the exchange of intelligence, “without a doubt” suffer, too.

The framework deal is a “game changer,” Guzansky said, and it demands a more effective and upgraded intelligence-gathering regime on Israel’s part. He refused to be more specific but said it was imperative that Israel be privy to US intelligence information and that it expand its own capacity so as to block any Iranian moves toward the bomb – a field in which the US has had a less than stellar track record, missing both the Pakistani and North Korean pushes across the threshold.

As for Iran’s hegemonic aspirations, Zimmt said, Israel should do all within its power, leveraging its regional ties, to tug actors such as Hamas — which has vacillated between its natural allegiance to the Sunni states, and its devotion to the Axis of Resistance’s undimmed notion of destroying Israel — back toward Saudi Arabia, which it supported in its counter strike in Yemen. The same is true of Sudan, he said, which was once linked with Iran and has recently slid toward the Sunni axis.

Calling for Iran to recognize Israel’s right to exist, as Netanyahu did in the immediate wake of the agreement, Zimmt said dryly, “does not help Israel stop the advance of [Kataib] Hezbollah in Iraq.”

Guzansky said the framework agreement will likely further meld Israeli and Sunni interests and, if handled properly, might go a long way toward the assembly of a regional axis to counter Iran. This, he suggested, might be called “a coalition of the concerned.”

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