Emily B. Landau is senior research fellow and head of the Arms Control Program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
When considering the dangers of a bad nuclear deal with Iran, it's time to depart from the drama surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress and get back to the issues, as Mr. Netanyahu himself did in the speech.
The deal at stake has many flaws and is likely to leave Iran with the ability to move to nuclear weapons capability at a time of its choosing. With so little time to react to an Iranian violation, the international community will be powerless to stop Iran in time. This situation was never meant to be, but it could very likely come about if the holes in the deal are not closed.
The problems begin with the thousands of centrifuges that the permanent five UN Security Council members and Germany are poised to allow Iran to maintain and the R&D into more and more advanced generations of centrifuges that will spin much faster than those currently in use. In addition, the known facilities of concern – the reactor at Arak and the enrichment facility at Natanz – will not be shut down, as demanded by the P5+1 only a short time ago.
Even more worrying is the situation regarding Iran's work on military aspects of its nuclear program and Iran's defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency in this regard. Iran has been stonewalling the IAEA investigation into the military dimensions of its program for years, and this intransigence has continued over the past 13 months of negotiations, as the agency itself recently reported. When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the extension last November, he praised Iran's co-operation with the Joint Plan of Action agreed to in late 2013, but he failed to say a word about the more important IAEA investigation. In fact, the P5+1 resist squarely confronting Iran with the evidence of its years of cheating and deception, and are allowing Iran to continue to claim that it has done no wrong in the nuclear realm, which is an out-and-out lie.
If Iran's lies and violations were exposed, the case for massive dismantlement of its nuclear program, due to lack of any ability to trust Iran not to cheat, would be that much stronger. If exposed, the absurdity of the sunset clause of any pending deal would also be quite evident – why envision any period of time after which all restrictions on Iran will be lifted when Iran harbours military ambitions that have not been exposed or checked? This is especially the case when we take into account Iran's aggressive regional behaviour, support for terrorism and threats that Israel should be annihilated. And if weaponization activities were exposed, the demand for the most intrusive inspections – "anywhere, any time" – would be obvious, because Iran very likely has additional clandestine facilities, and certainly might be thinking of building more.
Iran's vast ballistic missile program – a critical component of a deliverable nuclear weapon – is also not under consideration by the negotiators. Iran has declared such missiles to be "non-nuclear" even though a UN Security Council resolution from June, 2010, specifically demands that Iran not be allowed to work on missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Yet the P5+1 are not demanding that this issue be addressed.
In the face of these gaping holes, the U.S. administration is attempting to deflect criticism of its negotiation by marginalizing the criticism now coming from many directions: Israel, Arab states, congressmen, statesmen like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, and a particularly knowledgeable group: nuclear experts.
Rather than carefully considering the criticism raised by people no less knowledgeable than the administration, the critics are dismissed as "hawks," "warmongers" and people who lack knowledge and understanding of the issues. The administration adamantly claims that the alternative to the precise negotiation it is leading is either Iran moving quickly to the bomb or war. Such framing eliminates any prospect of criticizing not the fact of negotiations, but rather how they have been conducted – all the mistakes that have been made. The critics have legitimate concerns; they are not warmongers.
The time to insist on mechanisms to maximize the prospect that Iran cannot move to nuclear weapons is now. But when Congress asks to weigh in on the deal, President Barack Obama threatens to veto the legislation. No role for Congress, no criticism.
Will the negotiators wake up to the fact that they have made some serious mistakes in this negotiation? Will they finally begin to listen to legitimate concerns and make corrections before it is too late?