May 8, 2018
Today, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement. If summarizing my reaction in a tweet: bad choice. If given a few more characters: bad for the US, and bad for our ally Israel, which stands much closer to this front line.
Yes, Prime Minister Netanyahu will applaud. But the individuals who shoulder responsibility for Israel’s survival and security have been crystal clear: This will most likely lead to an outcome that is much worse not only for the United States, but also for Israel. As Chief of the General Staff Gadi Eizenkot, who commands the Israel Defense Forces, stated bluntly recently: “Right now the agreement, with all its faults, is working and is putting off the realization of the Iranian nuclear vision by 10 to 15 years.”
On this issue, Eizenkot’s judgment is not exceptional. It reflects the virtually unanimous view of the “security barons” who have led Israel’s military and intelligence services. Last week, 26 former top-ranking military and security officials published a joint letter warning fellow citizens: “American abandonment of the agreement would undermine not just the deal, but Israel’s security as well.”
On what grounds can one reject the reasoning and conclusions of these professionals? Do General Eizenkot and his colleagues have illusions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Are they unaware of the evidence in the “atomic archive” that Bibi presented as a “revelation” in his recent theatrical performance? Are they soft on Iran?
Not on your life. But they have wrestled with the specter of a genuine existential threat to the state of Israel—something they see as 1,000 times worse than all of security challenges Israel faces from Iran today. That would be today’s Iran armed with nuclear weapons.
Before the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program had advanced to less than a year away from its first bomb. The agreement not only halted that advance, but rolled it back a decade, and imposed on Iran the most intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated—to prevent the Iranians from cheating, for fear of being found out. Trump’s decision gives Iran an option to escape this penalty box. Bad choice.
Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School
former director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs