Since the Iran nuclear deal was announced last week, we’ve heard many Israelis, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, issue dire warnings and statements explaining why this deal is a catastrophe for Israel.
However, in recent days, a steady and growing number of voices speaking in favor of the deal has begun to emerge, including former top officials of the Israeli security services and military – men like former Mossad Chief Efraim Halevy and former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon.
For the pro-Israel community in the United States, the security of Israel and of the Israeli people are always front and center. After all, it is our friends and family in Israel who live in the shadow of all the regional threats.
As we voice our support for this deal, we do it precisely because we believe it’s the best way to deal with the very serious threat to that security of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.
Opponents of the deal are concerned, and with good cause, that Iran is about to reap a significant windfall of over $100 billion once its accounts in the United States and elsewhere are unfrozen. Though the Iranian economy is in a shambles and much of this money will go to meet domestic economic needs, it is not unreasonable to fear that a portion will wind up in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard to be used to arm Israel’s enemies and to plan operations that threaten its citizens at home and abroad.
An Iran no longer boxed in by sanctions, opponents argue, will be able to expand its regional sway, tilting the strategic balance in the Middle East away from Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Halevy, Ayalon and other Israelis acknowledge that these threats are real. But they still believe this deal makes Israel safer. Why? Because, simply put, under this deal, Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years and probably much longer, and an Iran without nuclear weapons is vastly preferable to one with such weapons.
“In the Middle East, 10 to 15 years is an eternity,” Ayalon said in an interview with the Forward. “And I don’t believe that 10 or 15 years from now the world will stand by and watch Iran acquire nuclear weapons.”
Halevy, writing on Ynet News, was even more forceful, arguing that Israel should not seek to destroy the agreement. “Without an agreement, Iran will be free to do as it pleases, while the sanctions regime will anyway crumble, as many of the world’s countries will rush to Tehran to sign profitable contracts,” he wrote.
Whatever threat Hezbollah and other Iranian-sponsored terror groups poses to Israel – and they do pose a threat – would be infinitely worse if they were protected under an Iranian nuclear umbrella.
The other threat to Israel as a result of this crisis, pinpointed by a growing number of analysts, is the danger of allowing its crucial relationship with the United States to deteriorate even further – a danger to which Netanyahu seems indifferent.
“Since the beginning of the talks, Israeli policy has been mistaken,” Ayalon said. “We should have stayed by America’s side. First, to ensure the agreement was as good as possible. And second, to ensure that we remained in the picture, to ensure that intelligence is shared. The level of intelligence cooperation is the most important factor in the implementation of this agreement. And you can’t achieve maximum intelligence cooperation without a close relationship of trust between the leaders.”
Halevy agrees: “Before we storm Capitol Hill, led by the Israeli ambassador to Washington, it’s important to hold a profound debate in Israel on whether no agreement is preferable to an agreement which includes components that are crucial for Israel’s security. There will be no other agreement and no other negotiations. What is better, a signed agreement or no agreement?”
Israelis are right to be worried about Iran – as are Americans. And security must be the standard against which we judge the agreement.
We should be encouraged that an informed debate is now beginning to take shape in Israel, led by these brave leaders who have given so much to their nation’s defense, about what it takes to best ensure that security.