Israeli support for the 2015 nuclear deal, which empowered Iran and allowed it to deepen its grip in the Middle East and become a bigger threat to Israel, is puzzling • The U.S. decertifying the deal could defer war on Israel’s northern border.
A recent interview with Brig. Gen. (ret.) Uzi Eilam, former director of the Atomic Energy Commission at the Prime Minister’s Office, has all but slipped under everyone’s radar.
During the interview, Eilam let it slip that in early 2015, when the fight against the nuclear deal with Iran was in full gear, he traveled to Washington to lobby support for the deal among Democratic senators and congressmen. Recently, we also learned that former National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and former Israeli Consul General in New York Alon Pinkas are part of a campaign by the left-wing Jewish lobby group J Street, which purports to be pro-Israel, to preserve the deal.
If the 2015 deal is so good, why is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so eager to amend it? And why did he so vehemently oppose it to begin with? If the deal is solid, why do the moderate Sunni states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia oppose it? Why is U.S. President Donald Trump against it? Does the Israeli public really have to trust the judgment of former defense and diplomatic officials?
The truth is that it is quite bewildering that experts continue to insist on sticking to the deal when, two years in, the results are clear: Iran has massively infiltrated Syria and a new threat to Israel has emerged from the north. Those who supported the agreement apparently failed to fully understand its implications, or they knowingly covered up then-President Barack Obama’s rapprochement attempts with Iran at Israel’s expense.
Meanwhile, the Iranians have successfully taken over not only Damascus and Beirut, but also Iraq, Yemen and the Bab el Mandab Strait, a strategic waterway between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. A senior intelligence official told me a month ago that there was a clear link between the approval of the nuclear agreement in July 2015 and the Russian invasion of Syria two months later. If anything, there is no doubt that Obama’s policy and the nuclear agreement paved the way for an Iranian-Russian takeover of the war-torn country.
The Israeli media all but ignored Obama’s moves over Iran. The Israeli and American intelligence agencies conducted effective warfare to sabotage the secret networks through which Iran built its nuclear program, but Obama vetoed these efforts, effectively terminating cyber warfare against Iran and lending international legitimacy to the Islamic republic’s nuclearization effort – efforts by a nation that has openly and repeatedly announced its clear intention to annihilate the State of Israel.
Above all, the nuclear agreement lifted the economic sanctions the international community had imposed on Iran. These sanctions, imposed due to American and Israeli pressure, had pushed into a corner, isolated it and placed it under constant international pressure. Obama freed Iran from this yoke and all but launched a campaign that delegitimized Israel, its government and its leader. Yet all of it was covered up by senior Israeli security officials and the Israeli media.
If Trump makes good on his threat and decertifies the nuclear deal, it will be the first step toward rectifying the situation and putting Iran back on the defensive. This would benefit Israel by pushing back the threat of an armed conflict on the northern border.
At this time, the effort to change the 2015 agreement in a way that prevents Iran from pursuing nuclear armament within eight years should be clear to the intelligence and security sages who are so supportive of the deal. North Korea barreled through two nuclear agreements negotiated by Wendy Sherman, the chief American negotiator with Iran, and emerged as a menacing nuclear threat.
Between the cabinet and the battlefield
The meeting between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin in August, the massive military exercise in the northern sector in early September, the strike on a chemical weapons facility near Damascus last month, and defense officials’ publicly-voiced concerns about Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria, all made various pundits catch a whiff of napalm in the morning. But contrary to the perceived rise in security tensions in recent weeks, the IDF believes that chances of a flare-up on the Lebanese-Syrian front are waning.
One can argue about the scope of the strategic impact the Russian-Iranian alliance has on Israel. American analysts, who understood early on where Obama was heading with respect to Iran, believe the Russian-Iranian axis is very bad news for the United States as well as for Israel.
But the IDF has a different assessment, at least for the foreseeable future, according to which the Russian presence in Syria is deferring a potential conflict. Moreover, the Iranian presence in Syria appears less menacing when Revolutionary Guard soldiers are replaced by random Shiite militias.
The military says its multi-year work plan continues to evolve according to the dynamic map of threats from the north and it rejects claims that it is leading the IDF down the wrong path. According to a report by the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Subcommittee on the Defense Doctrine, which is an important intellectual venture led by Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, the preparatory work done by the IDF to compose the multi-year work plan and its implementation so far are indeed impressive.
Nevertheless, even the apparently flattering report alludes to the fact that 11 years after the Second Lebanon War, the ground forces have yet to fully stabilize, while the Israeli Air Force has undergone a tremendous process of reinforcement. This is the military arm decision-makers continue to rely on, in conjunction with the IDF’s special forces, at the moment of truth.
Still, a critical review of the report reveals a serious problem that has not been resolved in Israel’s political reality: the interface between the political leadership and the IDF. The report criticizes the political echelon, saying it fails to provide the military with clear, written instructions and objectives. This makes it difficult for the military to adapt, outline its operational plans and build its strength.
Committees and cabinet meetings will not bring salvation. The IDF’s senior echelon must consider the fact that cabinet ministers cannot serve as a collective commander of the IDF’s operations in wartime. The cabinet was designed to supervise military moves, and while it can be called upon to decide on various operational alternatives before and during a conflict, it is up to military commanders to assume operational responsibility. The desire by lawmakers who see themselves as military experts to be involved to the point of making the military’s decisions for it is very unhealthy.
But there is one thing that can be expected from the political echelon: a decision on the strategic concept with respect to Hezbollah. Is Lebanese infrastructure a legitimate target in a potential future war, or is the IDF required to surgically deal only with Hezbollah elements? The answer to this question is not as simple as the hawks in the government would have the public believe.