Labor MK: Compared to strike, deal is ‘far superior’

Livni says Israel must now ‘look ahead’ and, bucking national trend, a former FM and a leading Middle East analyst say deal not so bad for Israel after all

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Omer Barlev (photo credit: Flash90)
Omer Barlev (photo credit: Flash90)

While an overwhelming majority of Israeli government officials vehemently rejected the interim nuclear deal six world powers signed early Sunday with Iran, some prominent voices, including a former foreign minister and top analysts, have welcomed the agreement, emphasizing that it entails significant impediments for Tehran’s race to nuclear weapons and is far preferable to a military confrontation.

“Considering the achievements such as the dismantling of [Iran’s] stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, reducing the number of centrifuges, halting construction of the heavy water facility [in Arak], all the while the sanctions of Iranian oil and banking industries continue — compared to the alternative of a military strike at this point — it is clear that the agreement reached is far superior,” Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev said Sunday morning.

While Israel should remain vigilant and be ready to intervene, even with force, if Iran violates the agreement, the deal should be judged by what it accomplished in comparison to the alternative and not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “unrealistic dreams,” said Bar-Lev, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and former commander of the IDF’s elite Sayeret Matkal battalion.

Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said that it was naive to think Iran would dismantle its nuclear program entirely in a first agreement. “We must also remember that from now on there will be day-to-day inspectors visiting the Iranian facilities,” he told Army Radio.

If Tehran is hiding additional nuclear sites from the world and this were to be revealed, the current agreement would be declared void and the Iranians would be condemned for trying to deceive the world, he said. “The ramifications of that would be far-reaching.”

Meretz chair MK Zahava Gal-on also came out in support of the agreement.

“Israeli government ministers’ attack on the agreement diverts the deliberations from the fact that the clauses of the deal include the most important goal, which is a dismantling and a setting back of the fast and dangerous track to a bomb,” Gal-on said, according to Haaretz.

“The main sanctions which will be continued to be imposed on Iran, and the IAEA’s [International Atomic Energy Association’s] continued tightening of supervision, including inspectors’ daily – and not weekly – visits prove that this is not just an American achievement, but also an Israeli achievement.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that now that the deal has been signed, Israel should “look ahead” and work to reestablish its close ties with the United States, which had been damaged by a public spat about the agreement.

“Israel must create a diplomatic front with other countries, such as the Arab states that are threatened by a nuclear Iran” to ensure a future permanent agreement would “really prevent Iran from becoming a country with a nuclear weapon,” she told Army Radio.

Leading Israeli Middle East analyst Ehud Yaari said that despite its shortcomings, the deal is beneficial to Israel. “The new agreement does not allow the Iranians to further develop their nuclear facilities,” he said. “The Iranians will be forced to dismantle their cascades of centrifuges and will have to make do with the old ones in their possession. Taking into account the knowledge the Iranians have amassed and the rate of their progress until now, there is no reason to mourn the agreement.”

Former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami also spoke out in favor of a interim deal between the international community and Tehran. On Thursday, the Labor politician, who served as foreign minister from 2000 to 2001, co-signed an statement welcoming Western engagement with the Islamic Republic and hailing the terms of the agreement.

“President Rouhani has signaled a revived interest in engaging in discussions on Iran’s nuclear program, and the interim agreement that is on the table provides a real promise for resolving this issue diplomatically. It must be given time,” read the statement, signed by 13 former foreign ministers, including the US’s Madeleine Albright.

“Clearly, the sanctions regime has had an effect, and during these negotiations the most effective and stringent sanctions will remain in place until a final and comprehensive agreement is reached. The suggestion to unblock a selection of Iran’s frozen assets is a minor concession to help achieve the deeper goals,” the statement read. “Some have charged that any negotiation is too risky. However, if we deprive ourselves of that option, that leaves only the binary choice of the use of force or acquiescence to an Iranian nuclear weapon. Clearly, giving this diplomatic track a chance is a better way forward.”

The dovish pro-Israel lobby J Street welcomed the agreement as “a significant first step in efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” In a statement released immediately after the deal was announced in Geneva, the group said it contained “several very important provisions that will effectively freeze Iran’s program and begin to roll it back.”

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