After a decades-long standoff, Iran and the West (plus China and Russia) have signed an interim agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. While some are calling it a historic breakthrough along the lines of Nixon’s visit to China, the U.S. media has been mostly skeptical. And in a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress is already looking for ways to derail the deal by passing legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran and tie the President’s hands for future negotiations. Despite the fact that President Obama has successfully passed tougher sanctions on Iran than any previous administration, the U.S. media in lockstep with Congress continue to thumb their noses at anything that resembles diplomacy when it comes to Iran. And while other U.S. allies in the region—primarily the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia—have expressed their concerns over this deal, few Americans care about what the Saudis think. As representatives of the American people, what Congress really cares about is what Israel thinks.
That’s where things get dicey.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has wasted no time in calling the deal a “historic mistake.” Consistent with his hard-line views on Iran, Netanyahu believes that Iran has bamboozled the world, and has ramped up the rhetoric for a unilateral military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. And because the Israeli Prime Minister gets to send his spokespeople to talk to the U.S. media, it would be very easy to conclude that the “Israeli perspective” is to prefer military action instead of diplomacy.
That conclusion is wrong.
The Israeli military establishment and intelligence community have long been at odds with Netanyahu on how to handle the stand off with Iran. Israeli intelligence has concluded that Iran has not yet made the decision on whether to build a bomb , and that a military strike on Iran would lead to further destabilization of the region, while (at best) delaying the nuclear program by a year or two. In essence: not only would a war with Iran tank the world economy and send oil prices skyrocketing. It wouldn’t even accomplish its objective. Israeli investors seem to agree with the military establishment. After news of the deal, the Israeli stock market went up, showing that Israeli investors see the deal as diminishing a risk of a military confrontation, rather than augmenting it.
Those opposed to the interim deal with Iran should consider what would have happened had there been no deal at all at the Geneva talks. According to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, in 2003 Iran approached the United States with an offer to talk about its nuclear program, but the Bush administrated believed that Iran, having been battered by sanctions, would either capitulate or collapse if Washington stayed the course. The result was that Iran had 164 centrifuges operating in 2003. Today it has 19,000 centrifuges. Given that the interim deal is the first time in a decade that Iran has halted any aspect of its nuclear program, it appears that talking has a better success rate than not talking.
Does this mean that the U.S. and its allies should trust Iran? No. It doesn’t. And given that both parties in Congress are actively trying to derail this deal by unilaterally imposing harsher sanctions, Iran has good reasons for not trusting us either. But that’s why the interim deal, though far from perfect, is at least the start of something good. It opens up Iran to unprecedented levels of inspections, forces them to neutralize uranium enrichments beyond what is needed for electricity, and puts them in a position to where if they decided to cheat or renege on their end of the deal, they would have to do so openly in the eyes of the world. Up until now, Iran could claim that U.S. style diplomacy is do-what-we-say-or-we’ll-strangle-you. At least now, if Iran balks, the U.S. and its allies can credibly say that they gave peace a chance.
Before Congress jumps the gun, it needs to take a deep breath… and let the diplomatic process continue.
Aaron Taylor is on the steering team of Evangelicals for Peace, a network of Evangelicals dedicated to the principles of just peacemaking. This article appeared on Sojourners.