Khamenei and Obama are Geneva’s winners, Netanyahu the big loser

If Iran uses the coming weeks to further advance its nuclear program, Israel’s moment of truth could be much less than six months away

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama embrace at a ceremony welcoming the US leader at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on March 20, 2013 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama embrace at a ceremony welcoming the US leader at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, on March 20, 2013 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The interim agreement announced in Geneva early Sunday morning between Iran and the world powers does not resolve the issue of Iran’s rogue nuclear power program. It is only the starting point on the way to a decisive junction that the sides will reach in another six months. Only then will it become clear how good or bad the interim agreement is for the State of Israel, the United States, Iran and its Arab neighbors. Only then will it be possible to gauge its success (or lack thereof) in reducing Tehran’s ability to attain a nuclear bomb.

Still, even at this early stage, it is possible to declare some interim winners and losers.

Tehran and its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (represented by the charming President Hassan Rouhani) are big winners, at least for the next six months. Under the deal, the international community has essentially recognized the right of Iran to enrich uranium, which has long been demanded by the regime. Moreover, the world has basically agreed that for the next half a year, Iran can continue as a nuclear threshold state — though not a nuclear state, a critical difference.

Iran will retain its stores of low-enriched uranium, quantities which today could be further enriched to produce between six and eight nuclear bombs. The financial situation in Iran is likely to improve, given the immediate release of $8 billion in assets and, in the near future, increased state revenue from the easing of sanctions. The likelihood of an “Iranian Spring,” a la July 2009, has been decreased and the public support for Khamenei and his messenger Rouhani will only increase. The Iranian president’s speech on Sunday morning and Khamenei’s statements illustrate how enthusiastically they view the achievement.

A second big winner is US President Barack Obama. Although bitterly critical voices were heard against the agreement in Israel, in the Arab countries close to the United States and even in Congress (including Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader), the White House stayed the course. The American public, entering the holiday season, is likely to welcome the deal — a “historic” alternative to what could have become a new outbreak of American warfare in the Middle East. Obama will tout the Geneva agreement as his latest foreign policy achievement, following the summer deal for the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities. And the deal does, indeed, provide for the rolling back, to some extent, of Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb: uranium enrichment above 5% will stop, and Western supervision at the Fordo and Natanz facilities will be increased with inspectors allowed in at any time.

Nonetheless, Iran’s ongoing “right” to even low-level enrichment raises serious and justified concerns in Jerusalem, Riyadh, Amman, Bahrain, and beyond. The conviction here is that Tehran has managed to fool Obama, and will use the next six months to move closer still to nuclear weapons capability. It is not clear what has been decided regarding surprise inspections at other facilities, such as Parchin. And Iran has a track record of building secret facilities which inspectors know nothing about.

The concern, anger and dismay among moderate Sunni states and in Jerusalem has only increased in light of what is perceived as an exercise in deception by Washington. According to a Sunday Associated Press report, the American government managed to keep secret for months a series of meetings it held with Iranian emissaries, which began even before Rouhani was elected five months ago.

Obama and Iran should not be contemptuous of the “losers.” Today there is an unprecedented crisis of faith between the moderate Arab states and Washington. What was perhaps regarded as a beginner’s mistake concerning the US attitude toward former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and continued in a surreal fashion with Washington’s incoherent stance on the current Cairo strongman, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, had already developed, following the deal on Syria, into a terrible sense of betrayal among Arab countries.

Relations can only further deteriorate now. This twisted atmosphere could lead some in the moderate Arab world, mistrustful of US readiness to stand up for its allies, to move closer to Moscow, and perhaps even to enter into secretive agreements with Israel, headed by the current “biggest loser,” Benjamin Netanyahu.

The prime minister of Israel has emerged battered and bruised from his struggle with the White House. His efforts, overt and covert, to dissuade Obama from signing the agreement have failed. Some US newspapers have opined that he tried to pull the United States into a war. At home, along with a fair amount of support, he has also drawn some criticism for his belligerent statements on the issue.

It is hard to know how Netanyahu and the Arab states will act with their backs to the wall. Obviously they’ll try to use every ounce of leverage to secure a permanent accord that would neutralize Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons in the long term. This will mean pressure on Obama, via the US Congress, to stand by his commitment to thwart the Iranian bomb. There is no shortage of members of Congress, Democrats among them, prepared to go head-to-head with Obama on this issue. That pressure is only expected to increase as the six months mark nears.

Finally, Iran has a history of attempting to hide elements of its nuclear program. If it becomes clear in the coming weeks that Iran is doing so again, and taking further significant steps toward the bomb, then Israel’s moment of truth will come in much less than six months.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed