Israel’s Wolf-Crying about Iran’s Bomb

Despite Israeli and neocon-led doomsday talk, the year-old Iranian nuclear agreement has achieved its principal goal of stopping Iran from getting the Bomb and has even quieted alarums from Israel, writes Trita Parsi.

By Trita Parsi

A year has passed since diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) defied conventional wisdom and struck a deal aimed at both preventing Iran from getting the bomb and preventing it from getting bombed.

At the time, the deal’s detractors were apoplectic; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” that would pave the way for Iran to obtain a bomb. But the world has not come to an end. Iran is not the hegemon of the Middle East, Israel can still be found on the map, and Washington and Tehran still define each other as enemies. These days, voices such as Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, criticize the deal for having changed too little.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own “red line” on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations in 2012, drawing his own “red line” on how far he will let Iran go in refining nuclear fuel.

But a closer examination shows that it has had a profound impact on the region’s geopolitical dynamics. Only four years ago, the Iranian nuclear program was consistently referred to as the United States’ number one national security threat. Senior U.S. officials put the risk of an Israeli attack on Iran at 50–50, a confrontation that the United States would quickly get dragged into. A war that was even more destabilizing than the Iraq invasion was not just a possibility; it seemed likely.

Today, however, the talk of war is gone. Even the hawkish government of Netanyahu has gone silent on the matter. Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, a hawk in his own right, announced a few weeks ago that “at this point, and in the foreseeable future, there is no existential threat facing Israel. Thus it is fitting that the leadership of the country stop scaring the citizenry and stop giving them the feeling that we are standing before a second Holocaust.”

Moreover, members of the U.S. Congress who have recently visited Israel have also noted that Israelis are no longer shifting every conversation to a discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat.

“I can’t count how many times I, and many members of Congress, were urgently and passionately informed that negotiation with the Iranian menace was wishful thinking and the height of folly,” Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, wrote after a recent visit to Israel. “And now? Nothing.”

Silence, Not Admission

The nuclear deal has thus halted the march toward war and Iran’s progress toward a bomb. And that certainly qualifies as significant change. To continue to argue that Israel and the region are not safer as a result of the deal would be to contend that Iran’s nuclear program was never a threat to begin with. That is a not a position that the Likud government in Israel can argue with a straight face.

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaking to the United Nations

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaking to the United Nations

Other criticisms of the deal centered on predictions that Iran would not honor the agreement. Yet the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran is abiding by its obligations under the deal. Also not borne out have been prophecies that Iran’s regional policies would radicalize, that the deal would, as The Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips wrote, “project [American] weakness that could further encourage Iranian hardliners.”

To be sure, Washington continues to view many of Iran’s regional activities as unhelpful and destabilizing, but those activities have not increased as a result of the nuclear deal. Hezbollah and Tehran’s posture toward Israel has, for instance, not become more aggressive than it already was.

Any changes that have occurred have been rooted in regional developments — the Syrian civil war or the Saudi assault on Yemen — rather than the nuclear deal. Important developments in Syria, such as Russia’s broader entry into the war or Iran’s maneuvers on the ground, are divorced from the nuclear deal and directly tied to developments on the ground in Syria.

If anything, as the European Union’s foreign policy head, Federica Mogherini, told me last December, the deal paved the way for renewed dialogue on Syria, which offers a glimmer of hope to end the carnage there.

“What we have now in Syria — talks bringing together all the different actors (and we have it now and not last year) — is because we had the [nuclear] deal,” she told me. And last month, U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry stated that Iran has been “helpful” in Iraq, where both the United States and Iran are fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).

Shifting Relationship

It is undisputable that outside of the nuclear deal, the relationship between the United States and Iran has shifted significantly since the breakthrough. That became abundantly clear in January, when ten American sailors drifted into Iranian waters and were apprehended by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps — and were then promptly released.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as he arrives at a hotel in Vienna, Austria, on July 14, 2014, for a second day of meetings about the future of his country's nuclear program. [State Department photo]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as he arrives at a hotel in Vienna, Austria, on July 14, 2014, for a second day of meetings about the future of his country’s nuclear program. [State Department photo]

An incident that in the pre-deal era likely would have taken months, if not years, to resolve was now settled in 16 hours. Direct diplomacy between Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif combined with a mutual desire to resolve the matter quickly made all the difference. The two countries had embarked on a path that could transform their relationship, and both were too committed to that path to allow the incident to fester.

“I was afraid that this [the sailors’ arrest] would jeopardize everything, not just the implementation [of the JCPOA],” Zarif admitted to me.

But for relations to improve beyond the nuclear deal, moderate elements on both sides need to be strengthened by the deal. That is one area where the skepticism of the critics may have been justified. Rather than seeing the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gain momentum after the deal, the pushback from Iranian hardliners has been fierce.

Those officials couldn’t prevent Iran from signing the agreement, but they could create enough problems to halt any effort to translate the nuclear deal into a broader opening to the United States. A swift crackdown against individuals and entities seeking to build bridges between Iran and the West had its intended effect: Confidence that the nuclear deal would usher in a new era for U.S.-Iranian relations quickly plummeted.

Moreover, challenges to sanctions relief has given hardline opponents of the deal in Iran a boost. Their critique of the agreement — that the United States is not trustworthy — seems to ring true since no major banks have been willing to enter the Iranian market. The banks’ hesitation, in turn, is mainly rooted in the fear that after the U.S. presidential elections, Washington’s political commitment to the deal will wane.

Neither Republican candidate Donald Trump nor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have signaled any desire to continue down the Obama administration’s path with Iran in general. Clinton has vowed to uphold the deal, but neither she nor Trump have made it crystal clear that they will protect the agreement from new congressional sanctions or other measures that would cause the deal’s collapse.

Clinton’s team has signaled that its priority will be to rebuild relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia and restore those allies’ confidence that the United States will counter Iran in the region. Meanwhile, the uncertainty around a Trump presidency needs no explaining. As a result, many banks deem the risk of entering the Iranian market too high due to the political challenges on the U.S. side. That has left Iranians without much in the way of sanctions relief, which is in turn costing Rouhani politically.

In other words, although the deal has been remarkably successful in achieving its explicit goals — halting, and even reversing, Iran’s nuclear advances while avoiding a costly and risky war with Tehran — its true value in rebalancing U.S. relationships in the Persian Gulf and creating a broader opening with Iran may be squandered once Obama leaves office. If Obama’s successor returns to the United States’ old ways in the Middle East while hardliners in Tehran stymie outreach to the West, these unique and historic opportunities will be wasted.

Trita Parsi is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. Parsi is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is an award-winning author of two books, Treacherous Alliance – The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US (Yale University Press, 2007) and A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2012). Parsi currently teaches at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. He tweets at @tparsi. [This piece originally appeared in Foreign Affairs.]

34 comments for “Israel’s Wolf-Crying about Iran’s Bomb

  1. Marcus
    July 27, 2016 at 19:09

    If the human race do not eventually find peace and live together with love and respect for each other we will have a nuclear war.

  2. Cal
    July 22, 2016 at 11:52

    ” Only four years ago, the Iranian nuclear program was consistently referred to as the United States’ number one national security threat”>>>>>

    I laughed myself to death every time I saw the claim that Iran was a security threat to the US.
    Notice…that those who make that claim never explain *exactly how* Iran is a threat to the US.
    And they cant and don’t explain it because its crap.

  3. Don
    July 21, 2016 at 18:59

    This is surely not one of Trita Parsi’s better articles. It has useful information, especially for anyone who has not kept a watchful eye on nuclear issues between Iran and various western nations. Parsi begins by declaring that P5+1 diplomats “defied conventional wisdom” and struck a deal with Iran over its nuclear program. Who is it exactly that defines “conventional wisdom”? This is a gross generality. Are we to conclude that some loud speaking politician who would oppose negotiations with Iran defines it? Secondly, Parsi makes the following statement: “The nuclear deal has thus halted the march toward war and Iran’s progress a bomb”. This is also a remarkable statement, for the implication is that Iran has been moving toward that goal, despite the fact that repeated National Intelligence Estimates since 2003 have indicated that Iran not only doesn’t have a nuclear bomb, but that they don’t even have a nuclear bomb program. And the Mossad agrees with that. The claim may not have been intentional, knowing Parsi’s generally moderate views on this question. He simply may have written slop, without the benefit of someone serving as QC. Witness later in the article: “In other words, although the deal has been remarkably successful in achieving its explicit goals- halting, and even reversing, Iran’s nuclear advances while avoiding……..”. That is entirely different from the first claim. Let’s hope it’s an example of sloppy and unintentional writing.

  4. Marshall
    July 20, 2016 at 23:23

    I tried. But when the author starts with the BS propaganda point of view that says that Iran was working on a bomb until the agreement stop it, I stopped reading. When the author begins with BS, its not likely that anything useful can follow.

    The entire ‘Iran is building a bomb’ was BS from US neocons and Israel. And there was no reliable evidence produced to show otherwise.

    I’ll admit, its tricky living in the middle of a massive propaganda bubble like in the US. One has to work to check what gets into your head, and make sure it actually matches reliable facts. So, I wish this author well in her own attempts to break free of the bubble, but she isn’t there yet.

    • Cal
      July 22, 2016 at 11:59

      ” I’ll admit, its tricky living in the middle of a massive propaganda bubble like in the US. One has to work to check what gets into your head, and make sure it actually matches reliable facts”>>>>>

      Indeed it is a full time job. Unless I am already familiar with the author I have to do a background check on the writer of every thing I read to see if he has any personal political agenda and is spinning on the facts.
      Very time consuming.

  5. Rob Roy
    July 20, 2016 at 14:31

    There is one false premise in this article, which a couple of comments have noted. Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program, not since 2003 when the Ayatollah sent a Swiss emissary to G.W. Bush saying that Iran will never build a nuclear weapon. All they asked in return was free trade with Europe (mostly), lift of sanctions, a little consideration of the Palestinians, and stopped being called the “axis of evil.” Bush said no way and chastised the Swiss diplomat and sent him packing. All the Iranians want with nuclear is energy and medical isotopes. Even though GW was an idiot (for what reasons is another story) and still the Iranians went about with NO nuclear weapons program since then. The whole furor was ridiculous propaganda. There is one problem…Israel, who has wanted to bomb Iran for a long time. Iran was also on the hit list by the US for regime change (there isn’t a regime change concept that Hillary doesn’t love) along with Iraq, Syria and four other countries after that. Israel has bombed many places without repercussions because the US turns a blind eye to that country’s shenanigans. Hillary still wants to accommodate Israel and even has set her sights on Russia (!). Good grief. Vote Jill Stein, the smartest and most moral candidate for president. We do no have to settle for the “lesser of two evils.”

  6. Richard Steven Hack
    July 20, 2016 at 12:46

    Iran never had any intention to have a bomb, Parsi. Try to get that through your head. The deal did NOTHING to “stop Iran from getting a bomb’ because there never was any such thing as “Iran’s progress toward a bomb”.

    Iran never had any “use case” for a bomb – except during the period when they were afraid Saddam Hussein might have had a nuclear weapons program. Iran couldn’t care less about US, Israel or Pakistani bombs because none of those could ever be used against Iran without severe geopolitical blowback. It was only a nuclear Iraq which might be an existential threat to Iran. Once the US dumped Iraq into Iran’s influence as a result of the US invasion, Iran instantly stopped its “feasibility studies” in 2003.

    It does Iran no favors to argue that the Iran deal stopped Iran from having a bomb. It merely reinforces the neocons and Israelis argument that Iran was and is a nuclear threat. But that was always bogus.

    • b.grand
      July 20, 2016 at 22:52

      Well said, but you’re not telling Trita Parsi anything he doesn’t know. He’s a sold-out gate-keeper who butters his bread inside the beltway. (Neocons, liberal interventionists….they’re all exceptional American imperialists.) All the Iranians I know despise him.

  7. Lawrence Fitton
    July 20, 2016 at 09:43

    america and israel are the most bellicose nations on the planet. both have attacked other nations recently. and in the case of america, war-making is a foreign policy.
    iran hasn’t attacked anyone or anything in 200 years.
    both the united states and israel have nuclear weapons. the u.s. has used them.
    but the author suggests iran would be a threat with one nuclear weapon.
    history suggests just the opposite. israel & america pose a greater threat. neither has a desire for world peace.
    a world without nukes should be the goal.
    and peace on earth goodwill towards men not just a christmas card.

  8. wayne johnson
    July 20, 2016 at 00:33

    here is another murderous war criminal who is murdering innocent children and palestinians they are now criminalising their children israel s bleeting about some bomb which iran does not have is just another way of keeping israels acts of genocide going
    without anything being done i see the us the un and nato is doing nothing about this genocide the us is quick to jump on anyone
    who dares to stand up to anyone thats speak up about this genocide i saw myself a little boy laying there in a pool of blood dead
    with the isralie solder that murdered him standing over him this is a disgrace why isnt the un stopping israel from murdering these poor people ans stealing their homes and the us should stop this but it wont and when hillary gets in she i know wont stop this for god sake un and nato stop the murders and open up palestine to the rest of the world to help out here

  9. Hillary
    July 19, 2016 at 18:32

    The decades old plan for all Regime changes in the Middle East always had Iran at the top of thelist.

  10. J'hon Doe II
    July 19, 2016 at 15:29

    Implicit racism is related to the inability to self-confess
    an superiority complex that rules the soul.

    Indifference is culpable to witnessing rape and saying nothing
    Apathy is the dispassionate “got my own” situational numbness.

    Steve King’s stoicism is as the dispassion of men with no soul.
    Objectivism is as the loveless social metaphysics of Ayn Rand.

    GOP Rep. Steve King asks how minorities gave to civilization
    19 July 2016

    CLEVELAND (AP) — Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, one of the most conservative members of Congress and a harsh critic of immigration, has questioned the contributions to civilization of groups of people who aren’t white.

    During an appearance Monday on MSNBC from the site of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, King responded to comments on the racial makeup of the convention crowd, which is largely white.

    “This whole old white people business does get a little tired,” he said. “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

    • Brad Owen
      July 19, 2016 at 16:13

      What about Sumeria, Assyria, Babylon, Ancient Egypt, China and India, thousands of years old, and impossible megalithic structures spanning the globe, predating the ancient civilizations I just named. The European culture/civilization is “Middle-aged” compared to these ancient cultures/civilizations. The “First Nations” (such as the Aborigines) have cultures the are tens of thousands of years old…maybe they had their fling with “civilization” then pared back to simplicity.

  11. Zachary Smith
    July 18, 2016 at 20:57

    Israel’s sock puppets in the US Congress are trying to kill a provision of the deal where the US buys Iran’s excess heavy water.

    It {House} also approved a measure that calls for prohibiting the Obama administration from buying more of Iran’s heavy water, a key component in certain nuclear reactors.

    The story doesn’t mention the dollar amount of the money they’re trying to stop: about $8 million dollars.

    Mostly the piece is a hyperventilation about Iran’s sanctions starting to expire in 2027. The neocon Times is totally shameless.

  12. JWalters
    July 18, 2016 at 20:49

    A hopeful analysis of a very positive development. However,

    “Iran deal is still imperiled by deep state – hardliners, Israel lobby, Hillary Clinton”

  13. Ted Tripp
    July 18, 2016 at 14:14

    From the evidence I can find online, it really seems that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is a fantasy fomented by real nuclear powers, Israel and the US. In other words, Iran never had a nuclear weapons program to give up in this nuclear deal. Is my understanding naive?

    • Zachary Smith
      July 18, 2016 at 15:23

      “Is my understanding naive?”

      Probably a little bit. Like virtually every other industrialized nation in the world, Iran would have looked at the nuclear weapons option. And there is a lot of evidence that some factions within Iran’s power structure spent a lot of money to give themselves that path if they chose to take it. As it turns out, Israel was able to “wag the big Uncle Sam dog” and squash that program. So far the shitty little apartheid nation-state hasn’t been able to finagle us into attacking Iran with our Air Force, Navy, and Army. Not that they’ve stopped working on that project….

    • b.grand
      July 19, 2016 at 16:54

      Ted, not so naïve. Spot on, in fact.
      See “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare” by Gareth Porter

      Gareth’s presentation at the National Summit to Reassess the U.S.-Israel “Special Relationship” on March 7, 2014 at the National Press Club

  14. Medusa
    July 18, 2016 at 12:52

    rebuild relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia?? You mean the same Saudi Arabia responsible for 9/11? And the same Israel that now costs us $billions per year? Don’t we have enough “relations” with these parasites?

  15. David Smith
    July 18, 2016 at 11:51

    The threat by the zionist entity to “bomb” Iran is empty bluster, they do not have the capability, unless they intend to use a nuclear ballistic missile. Without the F-35, their aircraft will be shot down, and by the time they have the F-35, Iran will be ready for it, “stealth” is a myth. The political and practical difficulties are too numerous to go into and are insurmountable.

    • Zachary Smith
      July 18, 2016 at 13:40

      … they do not have the capability, unless they intend to use a nuclear ballistic missile.

      And why do you suppose they wouldn’t use nukes? Probably you’re right about the F-35, though Israel may well institute some “creative” additions to the thing like they have with other airplanes. The F-35 has lousy range, and they could hardly send along refueling aircraft which would shine brightly on radars. A “buddy” refuel system would solve that issue. Somebody is bound to start storing the F-35 fuel in refrigerated tanks as well.

      • David Smith
        July 19, 2016 at 00:22

        Consider the possibility that the nukes the zionist entity thinks it has do not in fact work. Remember, France gave them everything, and the French are treacherous bastids. There is insufficient physical plant in the zionist entity to support an A-bomb program. Dimona, built by France, is too small for a production facility, but big enough for assembly of components supplied by France. The zionist entity bomb has never been tested, which is unheard of, nukes must be tested, unless the French assured them it is OK. The French could have made subtle flaws in component design or material composition to produce a dud nuke, and why not, isn’t that more fun than giving them a real one?

        • Brad Owen
          July 19, 2016 at 12:20

          Your “subtle flaws” comment reminded me of a story about how we supplied Iraq with computer-controlled AA guns (back when we were their friends in their war against Iran) with “back-door” technology installed, to “mis-aim” them, for the time when WE would be flying against THEIR AA guns…this makes me think we’re just making all the Muslim countries fight one another to divide & conquer & PREVENT a potential “Muslim Empire” from arising (Israel is just another piece of this tactic? and WE get to pretend WE are led around by the nose, by tiny little Israel, throwing our hands up in “helplessness”?).

          • John P
            July 19, 2016 at 22:12

            Right on Brad, it was a planned war to reduce Iran and Iraq two of Israel’s strongest enemies and greater American influence in the area as well as gaining further access to the oil fields.

          • William
            July 20, 2016 at 19:25

            The most serious problem that I see is the statement that “senior U.S. officials” estimated that there was a 50-50 chance that Israel would attack Iran and that the U.S. would immediately get sucked in — on Israel’s side obviously.
            Why in the name of Athene would the U.S. go to war on the side of a country that would deliberate start a war against a country that posed absolutely no threat to them, a blatant war of aggression, a criminal war which is supposedly the most vile of war crimes. How cowardly can our congress be?
            How can a U.S. congress commit treason against American to kill and destroy for a tiny rogue, outlaw country?
            I think that I know the answer, but I would like to know if anyone else knows or has an idea about this.

        • John P
          July 19, 2016 at 15:53

          If I’m not mistaken David, Israel and South Africa worked together and an Israeli nuclear bomb was detonated down there and detected by a US satellite. Also there was theft of nuclear power station waste, usable to make bombs, from the US storage site. From what I’ve heard, Israel is where it ended up.

        • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
          July 20, 2016 at 13:26

          Why do you say the French are “treacherous bastards”?

          • David Smith
            July 20, 2016 at 14:11

            RRT, ask a Senegalese soldier who fought for France in WWII, or a “street busker” who tried Paris. Vichy. Togo.

        • David Smith
          July 20, 2016 at 13:30

          John P, France supplied the zionist entity with EVERYTHING. The SA bomb program was 100% indigenous.

    • Ivy
      July 18, 2016 at 15:59

      Airborne delivery is not the only option for the Israelis. They are nothing if not creative, so visualize some camel train lugging explosive bits, supplies and parts on caravan, or similar out of the box thinking.

      • David Smith
        July 18, 2016 at 23:27

        Donkeys would be more stealthy than camels. Most stealthy would be Palestinian children, who would not have to be treated as well as donkeys.

    • Jay
      July 18, 2016 at 20:02

      Israel has ballistic missiles and of couple of B52s. Also likely has some form of cruise missiles.

      Anyhow, Israel has access to much more usable weapons than poisonous nukes.

      • David Smith
        July 18, 2016 at 22:29

        The zionist entity has zero B-52’s and is incapable of operating them. Iranian targets are deep, hardened and only the Massive Ordanance Penetrator can do the job, only the US has MOP and only the B-2 is set up to carry it, and only the B-2 has any chance of getting thru. The zionist entity does not have what it takes and is talking out of its rear end.

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