Why Israel really opposes the Iran nuclear deal

Israel’s vehement condemnation of last week’s Geneva deal on Iran’s nuclear program was a surprise to no

Sharif Nashashibi
Sharif Nashashibi
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Israel’s vehement condemnation of last week’s Geneva deal on Iran’s nuclear program was a surprise to no one as it had been lobbying hard against such an agreement from the outset. However, the stated basis for its opposition lacks any credibility whatsoever.

“This is a bad agreement that... allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium, leaves the centrifuges in place and allows it to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. His Economy Minister Naftali Bennet added: “Iran is threatening Israel, and Israel has the right to defend itself.”

Tel Aviv is conveniently ignoring a central part of the deal. Tehran’s commitment to halt uranium enrichment above five percent purity would keep its enrichment level “well below the threshold needed for weapons-grade material, which is more than 90 percent enrihment,” Al Arabiya journalist Saffiya Ansari pointed out.

Netanyahu can make as many cartoon-like drawings of bombs as he wants, but even he knows that the Geneva deal negates the possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear threat to Israel or any other country. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was right to state that the agreement “will make our partners in the region safer. It will make our ally Israel safer.”

Tel Aviv’s opposition has nothing to do with its safety (though the media has been happy to give ample space and credence to its propaganda). It has everything to do with its regional hegemony being challenged.

The partial lifting of sanctions against Iran (to the tune of $7 billion) will help its struggling economy. The deal leaves room for the possibility of further relief and benefits in this regard, depending on successful implementation and cooperation from Tehran. The potential for a complete lifting of international and unilateral sanctions would be a tremendous economic boost.

Netanyahu can make as many cartoon-like drawings of bombs as he wants, but the Geneva deal negates the possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear threat to Israel or any other country

Sharif Nashashibi

The agreement also paves the way for a thawing of relations with key Western powers that were involved in brokering it: the United States, UK, France and Germany. All are important allies of Israel (Washington particularly) that have had strained relations with Iran since its Islamic revolution of 1979.

If Tehran has managed to pose a challenge (albeit an exaggerated one) to Israel’s regional hegemony even under crippling sanctions and tensions with world powers, the Geneva deal could enhance Iran’s economic, political, and even conventional military standing, and thus its overall position in the Middle East.

It will also make it much harder for Israel to carry out its repeated threats of military action against Tehran, when the latter has agreed to limit uranium enrichment to levels well below those required for weapons-grade material.

An attack under these circumstances would be seen worldwide as brazen, unwarranted aggression. Israel’s allies would be unable to defend it, and may even openly condemn it, not just for the dangerous implications of military action, but for the undoing of the arduous work involved in reaching the Geneva deal.

Nuclear spotlight

Another fundamental reason for Israel’s opposition to the agreement is that it turns the spotlight back on its nuclear weapons. It also highlights the hypocrisy of the Middle East’s only nuclear power complaining about others in the region obtaining them, and the subsequent absurdity of its constant self-portrayals as vulnerable and existentially threatened by its neighbors.

Indeed, since the Geneva deal, calls for international pressure on Israel’s vast nuclear arsenal have resurfaced, either directly, or via general statements urging a Middle East free from WMD.

“It seems a touch unbalanced to have so much concern about nuclear bombs that do not yet exist, and so little apparent concern for the thousands of nuclear bombs that already do. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is an obvious example of this because of its status as the only country in the Middle East actually with nuclear weapons,” wrote Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Even Saudi Arabia, which has long been wary of Iran’s nuclear intentions, responded to the Geneva deal by calling for a comprehensive solution that leads to the “removal of all weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear, from the Middle East and the Gulf.” This is as direct a reference to Israel as one can get without mentioning it specifically.

The Geneva deal was signed soon after the Syrian government’s decision to give up its chemical weapons. Libya agreed 10 years ago to dismantle its WMD programs, and Iraq gave up its own ambitions in the 1990s.

With Israel no longer threatened by WMDs, the rest of the region calling for a Middle East free from such weapons, and Tel Aviv’s undoubted conventional military superiority, it can no longer rely on its already-spurious excuses of self-defense and deterrence. Israel’s concern is not about being threatened, but about being able to impose its will on the region unchallenged.

After the signing of the Geneva deal, Iran’s recently-elected President Hassan Rowhani said some countries had tried to isolate his, but instead, “now our enemies are isolated.” In referring to “an illegitimate, occupier regime,” he obviously meant Israel. It remains to be seen what the long-term implications of the deal will be on Iran, Israel and the rest of the region, but for now at least, Rowhani has out-maneuvered Netanyahu.


Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East." He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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