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Did Israel Inadvertently Make Case for Staying in Nuke Agreement?

There is something tragic about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The harder he tries, the more he fails. That has been the case with many of his attempts to sabotage diplomacy with Iran and push the US to take military action against the country. And that was certainly the case with his underwhelming powerpoint presentation Monday. What was supposed to be a smoking gun to once and for all nix the Iran nuclear deal, inadvertently made a powerful case [1] as to why the the deal must remain in place [2].

The Israeli government had promised “significant new revelations” about the nuclear program. Yet Netanyahu offered nothing new. The bulk of his presentation focused on what the world already knew: That between 1999 and 2003, Iran had engaged in activities with possible military dimensions.

As I describe in Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy [3], these past Iranian activities constituted a tricky dilemma during the nuclear talks. If it was revealed that the Iranians had indeed engaged in illegal military research, that could jeopardize the entire agreement, as voices would be raised to have it punished for its past violations. Completely disregarding it without allowing the IAEA to complete its investigation—which the Iranians had not been cooperating with—was also not an option. What it came down to was a choice between punishment for Iran’s past violations and guarantees that those violations would never be repeated in the future.



The obvious choice for Obama was the latter: punishing Iran for its past errors was of little value if punishment came at the expense of a deal that would prevent Iran from building a bomb. Politically, however, this choice was feasible only if the IAEA could complete its investigation—with the cooperation of the Iranians—to make a final judgment on the issue and close the file. The P5+1 needed neither an admission of guilt nor a guilty verdict; they just needed Iran’s cooperation to complete the investigation.

The Iranians feared that giving the IAEA more access would only lead to more demands and investigations. To Iran, it was critical that any investigation would be time-limited, so it couldn’t drag on indefinitely, and delinked from the sanctions relief process, so that the decision to lift sanctions couldn’t be held hostage to the PMD investigation.

Eventually, a compromise was reached in which the Iranians would make their documents accessible and their scientists available for interviews for the purposes of producing a time-limited report that would contain both the IAEA’s assessments and Iran’s responses and contributions. The report would essentially include two narratives, which meant that there wouldn’t be an authoritative judgment. More importantly, the sanctions relief process would be linked to the completion of the IAEA investigation and not its conclusion. That is, the IAEA would have to report only that Iran had cooperated with the investigation and that the IAEA’s questions were answered in order for the green light for sanctions reform to be lit.

On July, 2015, the head of the IAEA flew to Tehran and concluded a final agreement that established a timeline for resolving the question of Iran’s past activities whereby Iran would turn over all information requested by the IAEA, and the IAEA would provide its final assessment by December 15 of that year.

The IAEA issued its report [5] on December 2, 2015 concluding that Iran had pursued a nuclear weapons program prior to 2003, but that this organized program ended that year and that there was no evidence that any undeclared activities had taken place since 2009.

Following the report, the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors voted unanimously to conclude the investigation into Iran’s past weaponization work. The case was officially closed.

Now, without presenting any new information – and without even attempting to claim that Iran’s undeclared activities had continued beyond 2009 or 2015 – Bibi wants to convince the world that he has discovered something new.

He hasn’t.

As one former IAEA official publicly commented [6]: “I just saw a lot of pictures I had seen before.”

Iran’s past military activities is precisely why the JCPOA is needed: The deal significantly limited Iran’s program and closed off all of Tehran’s pathways to a bomb. And thanks to the inspections regime, Iran cannot engage in any such clandestine activities without getting caught.

All of these restrictions, limitations and inspections will be lost if Donald Trump follows Netanyahu’s advice and kills the deal on May 12.

And therein lies the tragedy of Netanyahu.

By helping to kill the Iran deal doing so, Netanyahu may advance his own political interest, but only by undermining that of Israel. Bibi may consider himself the biggest political winner of the Iran deal’s collapse. Yet, Israel will count among some of the biggest losers of this diplomatic travesty.

Trita Parsi is the author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy [7] and president of the National Iranian American Council [8].

19 Comments (Open | Close)

19 Comments To "Did Israel Inadvertently Make Case for Staying in Nuke Agreement?"

#1 Comment By Mark Bruijn On May 2, 2018 @ 12:07 am

How I see it, there is the deal and there is war, as in a zero sum game. Killing the deal would only make sense when followed by war. Because Iran will pursue nukes when the deal has been killed and the only way to make sure that does not happen is war. A child could do the math.
So Bibi wants the US to attack Iran or maybe he wants the green light from Trump for Israel to attack Iran or maybe even he is dreaming of a combined US-Israeli attack.
Boy, if I was a Saudi or a Gulf State Sunni Arab, I would be nervous. Because that is where Iran will retaliate to hit the West/US and play the West/US and Israel out against eachother. Goodbye flow of oil from the ME. A child could do the math.

#2 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On May 2, 2018 @ 12:15 am

Every time the organ-grinder in Jerusalem starts playing his song, the American monkey starts dancing to his tune. The US is now a banana republic with Trump playing the role of the local buffoon propped up by foreign parasites in Jerusalem and Riyadh.

#3 Comment By PAX On May 2, 2018 @ 5:26 am

Good article. I would think peace in the middle east would be good for all. Especially the USA. If the neocons want this bad enough, they will get the Iran treaty torn up by Trump. Best we can do is write to our elected officials and complain. That won’t amount to much when it comes to something Israel initiates. We should try.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 2, 2018 @ 7:06 am

I don’t get it. Iran is said to have engaged in illegal military research. I’d like to think that sort of thing is illegal for any of us. But it’s not, is it? Why is it acceptable to make the law applicable only to others? Obviously, that template applies to treaties – only one party is expected to abide by it.

As an American Indian – no surprise.

#5 Comment By Fred Bowman On May 2, 2018 @ 9:32 am

Bibi only concern is to convince Trump and his minions to break the agreement, and unfortunately Trump is more than willing to go along with Bibi’s wishes. Wish it wasn’t so, but there it is.

#6 Comment By Uncle Billy On May 2, 2018 @ 11:03 am

Israel has over 100 nukes and the ability to deliver them to Iran. Everyone seems to gloss over this fact and pretend that Israel, with its 100+ nukes backed up by the US who has thousands of nukes is totally defenseless.

Does anyone seriously believe that Iran can nuke Israel with no consequences? The Iranians know well that if they tried to nuke Israel, it would be the end of Iran. Why does no one seem to get this?

#7 Comment By V montpetit On May 2, 2018 @ 11:30 am

All Bibi had to do was convince Trump. And seeing that Trump is a simpleton, he believes everything that that he was told.

#8 Comment By Rossbach On May 2, 2018 @ 11:45 am

Israel has always been successful in getting the US to fight its wars of choice in the Middle East. The coming war with Iran will be no exception. One possible silver lining to this is that such a war could be so costly to the US as to trigger a political revolt among US voters, possibly ending the US “alliance” with Israel and causing the final withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East.

Unfortunately for him, the Iranian War would probably also make Donald Trump a 1-term president, but that’s his choice to make.

#9 Comment By Sid Finster On May 2, 2018 @ 11:58 am

You are absolutely correct, not that it matters. Tel Aviv and Riyadh are looking for a war, and Washington is looking for an excuse to be dragged in. It seems that circumstances force me to trot this out once again:

“A wolf, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the Wolf’s right to eat him. He thus addressed him: ‘Sirrah, last year you grossly insulted me.’

‘Indeed,’ bleated the Lamb in a mournful tone of voice, ‘I was not then born.’

Then said the Wolf, ‘You feed in my pasture.’

‘No, good sir,’ replied the Lamb, ‘I have not yet tasted grass.’

Again said the Wolf, ‘You drink of my well.’

‘No,’ exclaimed the Lamb, ‘I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother’s milk is both food and drink to me.’

Upon which the Wolf seized him and ate him up, saying, ‘Well! I won’t remain supperless, even though you refute every one of my imputations.’

Moral: The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.”


For a few more years, the US will have absolute power over other people and we will use that power in an absolutely corrupt way at the behest of our overlords in Riyadh and Jerusalem.

When retribution finally comes our way, no one will shed a tear for us.

Nor should they, for of late we have done little good and much evil.

#10 Comment By john On May 2, 2018 @ 5:24 pm

The American Congress is, as Pat Buchanan observed, Israeli occupied territory. The president is no more than the Israeli Viceroy. And Israel is willing to fight to the last American drop of blood and the last American dollar, and the quislings in the Congress and the White House will fall in line. But, Iran is not Iraq, and it is America and its military that will feel the fire and fury. This is especially true if Russia arms Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah with more advanced weapons.This is s distinct possibility as American victory will put the American military on Russia’s Western and Southern border. This might be a bridge too far. We will see.

#11 Comment By islander800 On May 2, 2018 @ 7:43 pm

An Israeli/American war with Iran will draw in everyone else, including the Russians. Numerous articles have pointed out that Washington military and think tank war games with America and Iran end, in the majority of simulations, in all-out thermonuclear war between Russia and America.

Trump and Israel, cheered on by the Saudis, are playing a very dangerous game with all of our lives here.

#12 Comment By Ken On May 2, 2018 @ 7:46 pm

Boneheads have been predicting war with Iran for decades and it never happens. Most of these boneheads are antisemites, pro-theocratic Iranians or conspiracy theorists.

There will be no war but maybe, hopefully the Iranian citizenry will rise up against its theocratic adventurers and make Iran a decent neighbour.

#13 Comment By greg On May 2, 2018 @ 9:18 pm

Tel Aviv and Riyadh may be in the chain , however it really points towards the City of London and perhaps one step beyond them.

#14 Comment By perchance to dream On May 3, 2018 @ 5:34 am

Netanyahu wasn’t trying to inform world opinion. He was playing to his bizarre American base of dual citizens, Israel Lobby employees, Christian Zionists, and the elected US politicians Israel buys and/or intimidates. A sad, stale routine, more Borscht Belt than Royal Shakespeare Company, with canned applause from a visibly doddering claque.

#15 Comment By dave On May 3, 2018 @ 11:36 am

With the wonderful news of Korean denuclearization talks
do you hear anything from Israel in wanting to denuclearise the middle east? Hell no
They want all their 200+ nuclear tipped warheads all to themselves.
BTW some ignorant commenters have referred to Trump as stupid or the like.
Trump us being relentlessly pressured just like poor Harry Truman was by those same creatures who Jesus said at John 8:44

#16 Comment By Lesley On May 4, 2018 @ 12:24 pm

It’s sort of ironic that Netanyahu seems to think there is some kind of deep-seated Protocols of the Elders of Zion style global conspiracy to eradicate the state of Israel and liquefy the Jews.

Antisemitism is a real and credible threat. The state of Israel has real enemies who would hurt if they could. The US is dedicated to helping to protect it from those threats.

It does not mean that every time some crazy people in Iran burn some flags or the US talks to some ayatollah about ramping down hostilities that the mass murder of the Jews is nigh.

#17 Comment By Ed On May 4, 2018 @ 2:43 pm

“Iran’s past military activities is precisely why the JCPOA is needed: The deal significantly limited Iran’s program and closed off all of Tehran’s pathways to a bomb. And thanks to the inspections regime, Iran cannot engage in any such clandestine activities without getting caught.”

Why do supporters of the deal always leave out the part about how it’s good for 10 – 15 years? The ultimate success of the deal is predicated on better relations with Iran, which simply won’t happen as long as the Islamic regime’s in power. Obama constantly harped about how he hoped for better relations with Iran, while at the same time disassociating such an outcome with the deal, insisting it was about preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, nothing more.

As long as Iran seeks to undermine America and de-stabilize the Middle East to pursue their own interests, the nuclear deal will always be a failure in diplomacy.

#18 Comment By sayonara On May 5, 2018 @ 4:47 am

“As long as Iran seeks to undermine America and de-stabilize the Middle East to pursue their own interests, the nuclear deal will always be a failure in diplomacy.”

Agreed. And what’s true of our diplomacy with Iran is as dismally true of our diplomacy and foreign policy elsewhere in the Middle East. We have proven to be a horrifically destabilizing force there, ever since we stupidly allowed ourselves to be dragged into the Israel/Palestine mess. A disaster for us and for the Middle East. We should get out and stay out. We lack the basic competence to change things for the better there, nobody trusts, believes, or even fears us anymore, we’re constantly being jerked around by parasite client states who take our money and don’t fight, and we now have much more urgent matters to focus on here at home.

Let the regional players and other major powers sort things out to their own satisfaction. We’re done.

Come home, America.

#19 Comment By Who’s Hiding the Salami? On May 5, 2018 @ 10:13 am

When are we finally going to do something about Israel’s outlaw nukes?

My understanding is that Iran doesn’t have any nukes but that Israel does. Lots of them.

So why are we talking about “the Iran deal” while doing nothing about Israel’s arsenal of outlaw WMDs?