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Opinion: Israel, Iran and the ‘Deal of the Century’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011. DOD Photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011. DOD Photo

In advance of the third round of six-party talks with Iran in Geneva this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is spending a great deal of time flooding the information sphere with dire warnings that the United States and five other nations are ready to give Iran what he calls the “deal of the century.” Netanyahu contends that “the sanctions are just beginning to work” and the proposed interim agreement with Iran does not go far enough in ensuring that Iran does not have the ability to build a nuclear weapon.

Logically, Netanyahu’s position begs a couple of questions. First, if the sanctions are just starting to work, then what does the international community achieve by tightening them or leaving them in place longer? After all, the coercive goal of sanctions is to leverage the concerned parties to sit down at the negotiating table, and that is exactly what is happening. By all appearances Iran has been taking steps in the right direction, so why should that be discouraged? Second, if diplomacy and on-site inspections can’t be trusted, is there a better option?

Netanyahu’s position for dealing with Iran has always centered on the threat of airstrikes against select targets in Iran. Thus, it appears that the differences between the U.S. and Israeli positions set the stage for a comparison between what diplomacy/inspections can achieve and what a military option might achieve. There is much food for thought in such a comparison.

What can diplomacy and inspections achieve? At the conclusion of each of the historical cases in the Strategy and War course at the Naval War College, students are often asked, “Who were the winners in this conflict and who were the losers?” The responses are often surprising. For example, after the study of the 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, students often list the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq among the “winners.” That conclusion is reached after an objective consideration of the second Iraq war and the post-invasion confirmation that the decade of U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq had successfully dismantled Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Students of this chapter of history are able to compare the results of the U.N. inspectors with the now-certain knowledge that the 1981 Israeli air strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear research facility did very little damage to Iraq’s nuclear program and nothing to deter it.

What can military strikes achieve? The 1981 Osirak strike created a myth in the minds of many Israeli and American leaders that the nuclear ambitions of nations can be squelched with a few well-placed bombs. History teaches us otherwise. An airstrike can never have the same assured and measured results that on-site inspectors enjoy. Yet the myth of the military option persists despite mounting evidence that bombs and missiles do not have the ability to destroy or deter a nation’s nuclear ambitions with any degree of certainty. The results that weapons inspectors on the ground can have was demonstrated in post-Desert Storm Iraq up to the U.S. invasion in 2003. It is also being demonstrated today in Syria, where recent reports indicate that more than 1,300 tons of deadly Sarin and other chemical weapons are bagged, tagged, and prepared for incineration.

The good news for the nation of Israel, and all of humanity, is that the 1,300-plus tons of deadly weapons in Syria are being taken out of Bashar al-Assad’s hands, and are also no longer at risk of falling into any wrong hands. We can always suspect that Assad is hiding something, but one thing is certain—the massive stores of dangerous WMDs already identified in Syria are being taken out of action. Airstrikes could not have achieved this measurable result in Syria with any comparable level of assurance. That could only be done with boots on the ground, and the inspector boots in Syria did not come with the incalculable cost and risks of military invasion. Diplomacy worked and thus far, in terms of WMD removal, the effort in Syria is looking like a success.

The same positive results of the weapons inspectors in Iraq, and now in Syria, could also be achieved in limiting Iran’s suspected nuclear ambitions. As trite as it may sound, we won’t know until we try. What we do know for certain is the military options for Iran present many risks and potentially a very limited ability to achieve the objective of keeping Iran out of the nuclear weapons club. If history is our guide, diplomacy and on-site inspections are the best way to achieve the objective with any degree of assurance. Inspectors are proving that in Syria today and hopefully will be achieving similar results in Iran in the coming months.

Even Hawks such as Netanyahu sometimes must accept the fact that the hammer is not the only tool for every job. History shows us that the type of inspections and verification measures being proposed at the six-party talks in Geneva are the best option for creating a nuclear weapons free Iran. This may really turn out to be the “deal of the century” for all concerned.

  • ‘First, if the sanctions are just starting to work, then what does the international community achieve by tightening them or leaving them in place longer?’ EFFECTIVENESS across their economy. Self-worry about the regime’s survival without bloodshed
    Why would the author expect a conventional type airstrike? There are other methods available ESPECIALLY since the Wahabbis of KSA are now in league with Likud, which ITSELF changes every calculation.

    Finally without an inspection regime which Teheran has found demeaning and against their idea of sovereignty, why would ANY Israeli PM take any chance with the survival of the people? I believe this is the issue missed in ANY positive review of this ‘deal’. Neither Netanyahu nor any prospective PM, and therefore the Israeli PEOPLE are ready to accept such a ‘deal’ and that is the hand which counts. In the end, none other. The very FACT of such a deal maybe precipitate an attack.
    And worse, in the aftermath, we may well find Elbit, and other Israeli avionics in newly delivered SU-35’s and Phalcons in the skies over China. Or the like.
    NOTHING about such a denouement enhances american security

  • Dave4321

    “the coercive goal of sanctions is to leverage the concerned parties to sit down at the negotiating table,”

    Actually no. The goal is to get them to dismantle their nuclear weapons program. The Iranians will sit at the table all the way to breakout capability.

    “The same positive results of the weapons inspectors in Iraq, and now in Syria, could also be achieved in limiting Iran’s suspected nuclear ambitions.”

    You lose some credibility with your speculation that weapons inspectors in Syria will actually be effective. What will inspectors do in Iran? Watch them produce more enriched uranium so that they have breakout capability to build a bomb in a few weeks?

    If we can get weapons inspectors to watch Iran dismantle their nuclear weapons program then great, but Iran has already rejected this idea. Where does this leave your idea that has already been rejected?

  • Because the hard liners sense the US is desperate for a deal, there is no talk of human rights considerations. This is a grave mistake. You just have to look at similar Cold War deals with the Soviets where we always extracted human rights considerations. The UN General Assembly must pass a resolution reiterating its demands that Iran halt violations against its citizenry.

  • chuck

    First when does isreal get her nukes inspected ? Maybe the IAEA can stop by and get a good look at what isreal is doing ? isreal sounds like a small dog barking at the end of its leash !!

    • FlyButanol

      You are concerned about Israel launching a nuclear attack on a neighbor?

  • Sealdoc

    I am aghast at the naïveté and, to me, the somewhat superficial analyses expressed in Cmdr. Dolan’s article. Commander! The Naval War College! Egads, shades of Dr. Wilson! Clearly, nothing short of a Ph.D. level refutation might serve to refresh the Commander’s memory of the plethora of historical precedents regarding the abject failure of appeasement as a successful strategy to avert a future armed conflict…… before, during and after the dawning of The Nuclear Age and the ubiquity of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

    Is diplomacy preferable to armed conflict if it is a viable choice with a reasonably predictable outcome? Of course, after all, “civilized” nations having benefitted from historical, cultural, and ethological analyses should be able to deal with one another without resorting to a process of transitioning from political purpose to military action.

    So, philosophically, a reasoned, diplomatic approach in dealing with a nation technologically capable of producing nuclear weapons should be our modus operandi! The fact is that a twenty first century “Western Civilization” based to a large extent on the concept of individual rights and governed (theoretically) by a conceptual “higher”law structure (i.e. such as a constitution devised by humans) is dealing — diplomatically — with a nation which, despite its history and appreciation for educational excellence, is a seventh century theocratic dictatorship. This could present some practical philosophical difficulties such as a differing interpretation of the definitions in “the fine print” incorporated into the recently concluded “deal”. For example, what the definition (in Farsi, of course) of is…is! I know, I know… pass it first and then we can have our interns and staffers explain what the fine print would mean in a seminar course at Yale (my alma mater) or, heaven forbid, Harvard.

    Meticulous standards of verification of the terms of any agreement must be employed however vague some of the stipulated terms might be (which, of course, they shouldn’t be… vague, that is).
    The “Grand Diplomacy” of the 5+1 nations will, no doubt, serve each of their own interests; might guarantee each their own national honor, at least in the short term; but will it allay the justifiable fears of those nations who are most proximate to the existential Iranian threat (that might well include the U.S. somewhere into Hillary’s eight years)? Personally, I think not! Why does the number 444 days keep popping into my tired, aged brain?

    As P.T Barnum once said… There’s one born every minute. He is surely outdated now, there must be at least 50 bpm.
    Personally, I much prefer: “Si vis pacem para bellum” (Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus)

    P.L.G, M.D. (Neurosurgery)
    LCDR, MC, USNR (Long Ret.)

    • Robert Karma

      I am curious to know what specific part of the proposed agreement you define as “appeasement”? The stick has been beating on the Iranian regime and economy for a long time and the time is ripe for offering a few carrots. Those on the far-right seem to believe that a military assault on Iran is the only satisfactory diplomatic interaction. Those who have successfully negotiated nuclear arms agreements with hated and feared adversaries are always attacked as practicing Appeasement including President Kennedy and President Reagan. Yet they were successful in their endeavors helping make our world a safer and more secure place. I think President Obama is following Reagan’s sage advice to “trust but verify” in these kind of arms negotiations and agreements. It is easy to rattle the saber to appease the hardliners on the right but real progress comes when men and women of good conscience seek to forge a reasonable agreement where the negative sanctions for violations are clearly spelled out just like the benefits of adhering to the agreement are spelled out. I would refer you to JFK’s brilliant and inspirational speech given at American University in 1963 on this subject matter. Kennedy said, “I have, therefore, chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived—yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace. What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children—not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women—not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn. Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles—which can only destroy and never create—is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war—and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament—and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitude—as individuals and as a Nation—for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward—by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home. First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable—that mankind is doomed—that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade—therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable—and we believe they can do it again. I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal. Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace—based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions—on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace—no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process—a way of solving problems. With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor—it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors. So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.” View the entire speech on You Tube or read the transcript at the JFK Library website.

  • graylens

    The sanctions were not easily placed on iran and will be difficult to re establish. The idea is to maintain pressure until iran shows good faith. We already see see the iranians deny Pres. Obamas’ explanation of the terms.The question remains what happens if iran reneges There are issues about the entry of Russia as the Major player in the ME as invited by the President. Further Israel is not the only one unhappy. The saudis, UAE egyptians and sunnis are equally upset. WE may see a saudi/egyptian vs iarn nuke race

  • FlyButanol

    Continuing sanctions are a threat to the present government of Iran. Without a regime change, Iran will continue to work towards nuclear weapons. Our goal must be to undermine the Mullahs who control Iran, not to get them to talk.