In the coming months, the United States and its partners will continue trying to negotiate a comprehensive solution to Iran's nuclear challenge. For the world, and for Israel, this is a moment of maximum opportunity and maximum danger. Many Israeli experts recognize that the interim deal preceding this round of talks is not entirely bad, and that diplomacy should be given at least a chance. For Israel, that will mean carefully calibrating pressure and cooperation to make sure that its concerns are heard, that Iran stays at the negotiating table, and that no party tries to preempt flagging talks with an attack.
According to conventional wisdom, whereas Washington celebrated diplomatic success with the recent interim deal (modest and temporary sanctions relief in exchange for Iran’s momentary halting of its nuclear program), Jerusalem saw a grave historical mistake (the appeasement of an aggressive regime). But this interpretation is not entirely correct, in that it blows existing Israeli skepticism out of proportion. In fact, Israeli opinion is far more nuanced. Policymakers, of course, have condemned the deal, but many of the country’s experts and policy wonks believe that the glass is at least half full. “While the agreement reached may not be ideal,” Amos Yadlin, formerly the head of Israeli military intelligence and presently the head of the Institute for National Security Studies, has said, “it has to be seen in the context of all the other alternatives.”
Long before the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom) sat down with Iran, Israel considered Iran a threshold state -- a country that could attain an atomic bomb at any time given the strategic decision and political will to do so. Israel’s most urgent goal, then, has been to halt Iranian attempts, to shorten the time it would take Iran to sprint to a bomb. The current deal might look limited in scope for many in Israel, but it is nonetheless the most significant rollback of The Economist put it, “If the talks break down, Iran will not be much closer to having a bomb than it is today -- and further away than it would have been without a deal.” In addition, although Israel was not party to the negotiations, it sees itself as deserving some credit for their outcome. Jerusalem assumes that its efforts during the last decade to turn Iranian nuclear aspirations into a world problem, including its repeated threats to strike Iran, mobilized the international community to do something. That something turned out to be harsh sanctions, which were levied in early 2012 and which brought Iran to the negotiating table by late 2013.
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