by Tzipi Livni
While much of the world celebrated the Vienna deal with Iran, deep concern has enveloped Israel, where there is harsh criticism, crossing party lines, involving central aspects of the agreement.
The issues causing concern include inspections over Iranian facilities, the failure to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, thus enabling it to become a “nuclear threshold” state in 10 to 15 years, and the early lifting of sanctions. Several nations and the U.S. Congress are now debating these points.
My aim here is not to rehearse the arguments about the deal itself. Instead, I want to draw attention to the urgent need to make some critical complementary strategic decisions to confront Iran’s destructive regional agenda—whether the U.S. Congress backs the Vienna agreement or not.
While both parties to the Vienna deal have been at pains to stipulate that this is an agreement about Iran’s nuclear program, not its role in the Middle East, it is impossible to ignore the deal’s immediate regional implications. Indeed, even as noted in Vienna, this deal represents for its sponsors Iran’s return to “the family of nations.”
And it is hard to deny the strategic and regional impact of legitimizing Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state and allowing it to be empowered both financially and militarily, while it continues its aggression and sponsorship of terror throughout the region.
Beyond the clauses of the deal itself, both Israel and key Sunni states in the Middle East are gravely concerned that the deal risks sending the message to extremists and pragmatic forces alike that the international community is willing to live with Iranian regional aggression, to accept an unrepentant Iran as a legitimate regional power and, to some extent, to leave the task of confronting Iran’s terror to the countries in the region that are its target.
The response to this argument has been to suggest that the international community remains committed to confronting Iran regionally and that Iran’s regional agenda would be even more dangerous were it to possess nuclear weapons. But these arguments would have been more persuasive if the agreement didn’t give Iran such early access to over $100 billion in sanctions relief, or the lifting of sanctions on arms and ballistic missile development, all without demanding changes in its behavior in the region.
They would be more persuasive still if there were a feeling that the world was truly willing to mobilize and confront Iran’s regional aggression. After all, the reason Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon was considered so perilous was in large part because of the nature of the Iranian regime and its broader agenda. To address Iran’s nuclear program but not the regional designs that make that program so especially dangerous is to confuse symptom and cause.
If Iran acts in the region as if there was no agreement, the free world should respond in kind.