Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second from left, shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is at far left. (Agence France-Presse)
TEL AVIV — Israeli experts are challenging their government’s snub of an interim agreement with Iran and urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to replace rejectionist rhetoric with constructive proposals for influencing talks toward a final deal in the coming six months.
Netanyahu’s militant opposition to the so-called First Step Agreement inked Nov. 23 in Geneva only serves to antagonize his premier ally in Washington and isolate Israel from other world powers aiming for a comprehensive deal with Iran, experts here say.
By insisting that Israel is not bound by the agreement and threatening “to defend itself, by itself,” the Israeli premier appears weak, warmongering and disingenuous in his professed preference for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.
Like Netanyahu, many here fault the interim deal for preserving Tehran’s capacity to enrich uranium, test new centrifuges and continue its development of nuclear-capable delivery vehicles. But in contrast to the Israeli leader, who dismissed the deal as “an historic mistake,” experts here say it offers a promising basis for achieving considerably more gains in a final accord.
“This agreement is something we can live with – for the next six months,” retired Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, former head of military intelligence, told reporters here. “For the first time since 2003, the Iranian nuclear program is halted; even slightly rolled back.”
Alon Pinkas, former Israeli consul-general in New York, criticized Netanyahu for “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” In a piece slated to appear in Nov. 26 editions of the Jerusalem Post, Pinkas credited Netanyahu for elevating the Iranian nuclear threat issue to the top of the global agenda. While imperfect, the interim agreement marks a significant first step in curtailing Iran’s nuclear weapons drive.
“Netanyahu could and should have declared a partial, cautious, reserved victory, but a victory no less,” wrote Pinkas.
“If someone had told Israel a year ago that by November 2013 Syria’s chemical stockpiles would be subject to international inspections and destroyed by virtue of an enforceable Security Council resolution and that Iran would sign a deal designed to curtail its nuclear program, that someone would be dismissed as a lunatic.
“But this is the new geo-political reality, one that Israel should endorse … [rather than] vilify it as the end of the world as we know it,” Pinkas wrote.
Emily Landau, a nonproliferation expert at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, acknowledged that Netanyahu has “real cause for concern,” yet should use the next six months to influence terms of a final agreement.
“In terms of what [US President Barack] Obama set as his objectives, you can’t say it is a bad deal because it pretty much reflects what he aimed to achieve,” Landau told Defense News. “Now we must focus on the negotiations over the next six month to determine whether or not this will lead to a comprehensive deal.”
Nahum Barnea, a veteran columnist for Israel’s largest daily, Yediot Ahronot, urged Netanyahu to pick himself up off the floor and initiate an effective diplomatic campaign aimed at a final agreement.
“Now is not the time for empty threats and self-pity,” he wrote Nov. 25.
“Instead of crying over the agreement already inked, or to threaten Obama with military action that won’t happen, Netanyahu would do better to concentrate his efforts on the deal to come,” according to Barnea.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said the interim accord concluded in Geneva must be judged by its results. In a Nov. 24 statement, Peres reaffirmed Israel’s preference for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat. “If it doesn’t succeed, the alternatives will be far worse and much more difficult,” he said.