Emily Landau is senior research fellow and head of the Arms Control Program at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University
The deal that has been secured between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States – plus Germany) is the culmination of negotiations that have been ongoing in different frameworks and formats for 12 years, since 2003. If the outcome is not what many had hoped for, it is due to mistakes that were made from the start.
One of the major problems along the way was that it took the international community nine long years to put in place the kind of biting sanctions that finally brought Iran to the table looking for a deal. In the meantime, Iran was not idle, but rather used those years to build up its vast nuclear infrastructure, while being careful to avoid high costs.
Only with the sanctions of 2012 did the P5+1 gain true leverage over Iran, because the latter could not secure desperately needed sanctions relief without coming to an agreement with the world powers.
But the deal Iran was looking for was about sanctions relief, not changing its nuclear goals. This is the backdrop for two years of tough bargaining that Iran ultimately succeeded in playing to its best advantage.
The international negotiators – who had said very clearly that their goal was to prevent Iran from ever attaining a nuclear-weapons capability – ended up agreeing to a deal that in the best-case scenario will stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons for 10 years. In a less favourable scenario, it could happen even sooner. This is because of fundamental flaws in the deal, first and foremost with regard to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The verification regime was meant to be the solid anchor of any nuclear deal. But what started out as a clear understanding that when facing a violator of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the order of the day was "any time, any place" inspections, the negotiators ended up acquiescing to "managed access" that would be discussed in a committee including Iranian representation.
Other problematic issues are that parts of Iran's nuclear infrastructure will be mothballed, not dismantled, and no facilities will be closed. And Iran will be allowed to continue R&D – including testing – of all of the advanced centrifuges that it has been working on up till now; and after a period of time, Iran will be allowed to work on even more advanced generations.
There is also the issue of Iran's past weaponization activities that have still not been cleared up, and all that seems to have been achieved in this regard is a new work plan with the IAEA. Been there, done that. The most cynical aspects of the deal go to decisions regarding the arms embargo and restrictions on missile work, issues that Iran put on the table at the eleventh hour, extracting concessions.
But the focus now shifts to the next stage: how to ensure that Iran remains non-nuclear. The most important task for the international community is to continue discussions about how to quickly detect and effectively confront possible Iranian violations, or an Iranian decision to quit the deal at some point, while accusing the West of bad behaviour.
Israel should also be preparing to enter into focused discussions with the United States and other countries on these issues. Another avenue for Israel to pursue is enhanced dialogue with its regional neighbours, who are equally concerned about Iran's behaviour and nuclear aspirations.
At the end of the day, it should not be forgotten that Iran has not backed away from its military nuclear ambitions – a message that was ironically underscored by the U.S. administration every time it claimed that the alternative to its negotiation was either war or Iran rushing to the bomb.
Iran also has regional hegemonic aspirations that come at the expense of other states in the Middle East, and these states are giving clear expression to their fears. In fact, Iran's aspirations go beyond the Middle East, concretized by its work on ICBM capabilities.
Most importantly, Iran's Supreme Leader could not make it any clearer that he has absolutely no interest in changing the nature of Iran's relations with the United States. Nor has Iran shown an interest in peacefully integrating with the world.
As such, this deal is not likely to be the harbinger of changed relations; rather, it is more likely to further consolidate the Iranian regime's harsh and uncompromising approach. Is this really a regime that should have been granted a deal that legitimizes its status as a nuclear threshold state?