The debate in the United States over the Iran nuclear agreement has gone on for two years. Three positions have been extensively covered in the press: (1) American supporters of the agreement, notably former president Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, (2) American opponents, notably President Trump and Republican congressional leaders, and (3) Israeli opponents, notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This has created the impression that while Americans are divided on the issue, Israelis are not. That is a false impression. Like the United States, Israel is a vibrant democracy in which issues are vigorously debated. While some experts support Netanyahu’s position, the excerpts that follow demonstrate strong disagreement by Israelis who have served in senior positions in Israel’s defense establishment.
Ehud Barak, former Israeli prime minister and former defense minister, Oct. 2017:
“It would be a mistake for President Trump to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. Even if America decides to pull out of it, no one will join — not the Chinese, not the Russians, not even the Europeans. It will serve the Iranians.”
Uzi Eilam, former head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, July 2016:
“Since the deal was signed, Iran has reduced its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent — leaving them with an amount far below what is needed to build even one bomb. They have dismantled 12,000 centrifuges, blocking their capacity to enrich uranium. They have agreed to an increased presence of IAEA inspectors on the ground, the installation of the most modern monitoring equipment and unprecedented surveillance of the entire uranium and centrifuge supply chains. Finally, they have removed and disabled the core of the plutonium reactor they had almost finished constructing in Arak and filled it in with cement. Simply put, every single one of their pathways to a nuclear weapon has been blocked. The deal has been a major success.”
Uzi Arad, former national security adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu, former head of the Israeli National Security Council, and former director of intelligence for Mossad (the Israeli Intelligence Service), Oct. 2017:
“You would lose all those limits imposed on the Iranians. They could declare themselves still upholding the agreement with the other five [parties]. They could say, ‘We will abide by it. If America wants to walk out, let it walk out. Let them re-impose sanctions without assistance from some of the allies.’
“My position is in support of preserving the agreement and strengthening the agreement. Doing away with the agreement is no real option. It simply removes from existence something that had been established, that presented certain assets and certain things that are tangible – and replacing that [with] nothing.”
Carmi Gillon, former director of the Shin Bet (the Israeli Internal Security Service), July 2017:
“While no agreement is perfect, this achievement must not be underestimated. For decades, leaders and experts in Israel and among our allies contemplated the drastic steps we might have to take to restrain or destroy Iran’s nuclear program. That included potential military operations that might have triggered a major escalation and cost many lives — with no guarantee of achieving their goal . . . [W]hile the majority of my colleagues in the Israeli military and intelligence communities supported the deal once it was reached, many of those who had major reservations now acknowledge that it has had a positive impact on Israel’s security and must be fully maintained by the United States and the other signatory nations.”
Efraim Halevy, former director of Mossad, former head of the Israeli National Security Council, Sept. 2015:
“Without an agreement, Iran will be free to act as it wishes, whereas the sanctions regime against it will crumble in any case . . . [I]f the nuclear issue is of cardinal existential importance, what is the point of canceling an agreement that distances Iran from the bomb?”
Gadi Eizenkot, lieutenant general, commander of the Israeli Defense Forces, March 2016: “Without a doubt the nuclear deal between Iran and the West is a historic turning point. It is a big change in terms of the direction that Iran was headed, and in the way that we saw things.”
Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, March 2016:
“The agreement rolls back the Iranian nuclear program to the point of a breakout time [to produce enough fuel for one nuclear weapon] of one year, reduces the scope of the program, and places it under a verification regime that is much more invasive than the current system and includes access to military facilities. For at least the next 10 years, the threat of nuclear armament in Iran has been reduced.”
Shemuel Meir, former IDF analyst, Nov. 2016:
“The Iran deal is beneficial to Israeli security, and thus must be safeguarded. Firstly, it removed the existential threat hovering above Israel. The deal blocked Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, and prevented the emergence of an arms race in the Middle East. Without an Iranian nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have no incentive to obtain nuclear weapons, thus preventing a domino scenario. The deal also closed off the chapter of preemption strikes scenarios on Iran’s military targets and reduced the risks for a new and long regional war. A possibility that could become relevant should Iran deal be ripped up.”
Amram Mitzna, former deputy director of Mossad (the Israeli Intelligence Service), former member of the Knesset, Aug. 2017:
“The worst-case scenario is that Iran might have the feeling that they are free not to comply with the agreement. This would be very bad. Threatening to not reconfirm the agreement might give the Iranians a feeling that US is not willing to participate in what’s going on in the Middle East. To Israel, the idea that Iran will go back to pursuing a nuclear device is a big storm.”
These officials represent a significant swath of the Israeli military and intelligence establishment, and none of them are naive about the threats that Iran continues to pose in their region. Having lived with these threats on their doorstep, their assessment is that this agreement is preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons and is valuable for Israel’s national security and for stability in the Middle East. Most critically, they know that if the United States unilaterally undercuts this agreement, it could put Israel at risk.
This is a matter of utmost gravity. President Trump’s unwise decision could enable Iran to resume its nuclear program unfettered, leading to a nuclear arms race or a major and unnecessary war in the Middle East, just as tensions peak in Asia. Every member of Congress should carefully consider all of the evidence, including the statements by Israeli defense and security officials, before they vote on this issue.
George J. Mitchell served as the majority leader of the US Senate, as independent chairman of the Northern Ireland Peace Talks, as chairman of the International Fact-Finding Committee on Violence in the Middle East, and as US special envoy for Middle East Peace.