The Threat From Iran Has Been Greatly Reduced

Dr. Ehud Eiran January 2016
Op-eds / Israel and the Middle East

Pessimists, like Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, say that the deal between Iran and major powers to curb its nuclear capabilities will only enhance Iran’s threat, by lifting economically crippling sanctions that limited its ability to project power directly or through proxies. Moreover, they argue, Iran will be able to develop a nuclear weapon when the agreement expires, or even earlier if it cheats.

But in a more nuanced analysis, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, chief of staff of Israel’s armed forces, admitted that while those risks are real, it is likely that for now, Iran will abide by the plan.

The deal reduces Iran’s danger in three ways. First, the existential threat Israel was about to face from an Iranian nuclear weapon is, at a minimum, delayed. It seems reasonable to accept greater Iranian regional reach in exchange for suppressing the possibility of an Iranian nuclear attack. Moreover, the regime could divert little of the deal’s financial dividends from the domestic arena, where they would preserve its legitimacy.

Second, opening the channels between Washington and Tehran can facilitate joint action in cases where American, Iranian and indeed even Israeli interests overlap, such as opposing the Islamic State. After all, in the newly chaotic Middle East, there are no friends and enemies, just frenemies: states collide on one front, but cooperate on another. More broadly, talking is always better than shooting. Since the mid-1960s, Washington’s ability to talk to Israel’s foes has benefited the Jewish state and could do so yet again.

Finally, the agreement enhances the chances, small as they are, that Iran will fundamentally alter its posture. The agreement is expected to generate greater interaction between Iran and the world as Tehran is readmitted to global networks of trade and finance. If hardliners’ concerns about foreign infiltration are accurate, Iran’s expected participation in the global economic order might moderate, weaken or constrain the current regime.

Like almost all problems in the Middle East, there are no optimal solutions to the Iranian challenge: a gain on one side of the scales is bound to create some costs on the other. Yet, at least for now, the agreement reduces the immediate threat Israel, and perhaps the region at large, faces.

(originally published in the New York Times)

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