Earlier this month, Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, Britain, France, Russia, China) plus Germany (P5+1) reached a framework agreement — the ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Programme’ — in Lausanne, Switzerland. In the only fully public details of the agreement, which was published by the US State Department, Iran will have the right to operate 5,060 of the 19,000 centrifuges it possesses within the Natanz nuclear site. A further 1,000 centrifuges will be allowed at the Fordo nuclear facility, which will be converted into a nuclear physics research complex. The agreement also provides that Uranium enrichment shall not exceed 3.67 per cent. The much debated Arak heavy water reactor, which is capable of producing Plutonium, a key element in the production of a nuclear weapon, shall be redesigned under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran has also agreed to sign the IAEA additional protocol, which gives IAEA inspectors greater rights of access. This includes any suspect location, it can be at short notice (e.g., two hours), and the IAEA can deploy environmental sampling and remote monitoring techniques to detect illicit activities. Provided that Iran abides by the agreement, it is believed that its ability to produce a single nuclear weapons will be pushed back by 12 months, compared to between two and three months now, according to Israeli and American assessments. In other words, the Lausanne framework agreement makes difficult for Iran to conduct a clandestine nuclear activities.
Notwithstanding these tough measures, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considered the agreement a “bad deal”. Although some Israelis share this view, a number of retired Israeli officers, whose opinion is generally believed to reflect that of the military establishment, argue that under the current circumstances, the Lausanne framework agreement is a good deal. Speaking to Israel Radio, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevi described the deal as a positive development. Professor Uzi Aylam, former head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, holds the view that if the agreement was implemented meticulously, Iran would be “very far away” from building a bomb. So in effect, Netanyahu seems to have less allies in Israel than in the US.
In Washington, a bipartisan scepticism is growing especially at the US Congress concerning the value of any agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme. Opponents of a deal at Capitol Hill share most of Netanyahu’s views on the Lausanne framework agreement. For them, the agreement lends international legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear programme. It tacitly recognises Iran as a “nuclear threshold” power. While there is no clear definition for this phrase, it does express very clearly the idea that Iran has the know-how, the means and the capabilities required to produce a nuclear weapon in a relatively short period of time. The “nuclear threshold” power status will eventually make the world treat Iran as an effective nuclear power. The nuclear agreement will subsequently bring about — in line with this view — a nuclear Middle East arms race, with other countries in the region, particularly, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt striving to achieve Iran’s nuclear status.
The agreement will also enhance Iran’s regional influence, end its international isolation and usher in a new chapter in Tehran’s international relations. This will also strengthen Iran’s regional allies, both states and non-state actors. There is also the concern among Netanyahu’s backers that the US may possibly provide Saudi Arabia and other regional allies with state-of-the-art military technology to mitigate their fears over the signing of the agreement with Iran and thus compromising Israel’s de-facto “qualitative military edge”, which it enjoys over the Arab countries. Finally, it will be very difficult to build up a new international consensus to re-impose sanctions on Iran or attack its military installations in the event that the agreement is violated.
Having planted all these fears in the minds of US legislators, Netanyahu seems to be making progress in limiting the ability of Obama to reach a final deal with Iran.
On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats joined forces at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and voted unanimously in support of legislation allowing Congress to review Obama’s potential nuclear accord with Iran. Despite threats by the White House that it would use the presidential veto to block the bill, Obama seems to have acquiesced. One can argue now that Netanyahu has effectively become the seventh and the strongest party within the 5+1 group. He may now be having the power to make the deal with Iran or break it.
Dr Marwan Kabalan is a Syrian Academic and writer.