Jun. 5, 2015
Contextualizing Israeli Concerns about the Iran Nuclear Deal – Michael Herzog (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
- As a global power, the U.S. does not feel directly threatened by Iran but rather sees some of Iran’s behaviors as threatening or challenging to U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East. By contrast, Israel views Iran as its most serious and direct strategic threat. Specifically, Israel considers Iran a regional power that expresses its revolutionary ideology – an ideology that negates Israel’s right to exist – in both nuclear and hegemonic ambitions.
- On Israel’s border with Lebanon to the north, Israel has watched Iran arm its proxy Hizbullah with more than 100,000 rockets aimed at Israel. Facing such an enemy, Israel naturally sees greater risks than does the U.S. – and tends to attach more weight to these risks than to potential opportunities.
- Israel regards the Lausanne framework as essentially legitimizing Iran’s status as a nuclear-threshold state. In other words, Iran will ultimately be allowed to reach the critical breakout point associated with the production of weapons-grade enriched uranium, facilitating an unimpeded move to the bomb. The long-term implications of this status for Israel’s national security are profound, including the possibility that other regional actors would seek a similar status, triggering a dangerous cascade of regional proliferation.
- The administration’s constant refrain that “the only alternative to this deal is war” only reinforces Israeli doubts about U.S. deterrence. Why would Iran rush forward, risking a U.S. military response, unless it believed the U.S. was unwilling to use military force? Israeli ears hear “any deal is better than no deal.”
- Instead of deterrence, Israel and the Sunni Arab states see that, for the sake of reaching a nuclear deal, the U.S. has granted Iran considerable room to pursue destabilizing policies toward its goal of regional hegemony. Regional actors give no credence to Washington’s optimistic assessment that in a post-deal era Iran will change priorities and overwhelmingly direct the significant funds released as sanctions are relaxed toward fixing the economy and other internal reforms
- From an Israeli perspective, the U.S. has essentially shifted the focus of its policy from prevention of a nuclear-armed Iran to containment of a nuclear-threshold Iran. It is hard to find anyone in Israeli decision-making or policy circles who believes that the current U.S. administration would actually stop Iran militarily if faced with an imminent Iranian bomb. Israel’s basic instinct of self-reliance on critical national security matters has only been reinforced throughout the diplomatic process.
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog, an International Fellow at The Washington Institute, served as head of IDF strategic planning and as senior military aide and chief of staff to four Israeli ministers of defense.