Flag of Iran. (photo credit:REUTERS)


Iran has been  pursuing nuclear weapons for most of the last three decades.

The quest began at the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, when the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini famously “drank the poisoned chalice” and accepted UN Security Council Resolution 598 that put at end to that eight-year, blood-drenched war. Never again, Khomenei vowed, would Iran drink such poison, and the country’s race for nuclear arms – something that would have precluded the need for what Khomeini viewed as a capitulation – was on.

During the last nearly 30 years the world – with varying degrees of seriousness and intensity – has tried to block that path.

For much of that time period the strategy was to to kick the can down the road, delay the Iranians, place impediments in their way in the hope that in the interim something would happen: either there would be regime change in Iran, or the Iranian rulers — of their own accord or because of popular unrest — would come to realize that the price of a nuclear bomb was too high, and that if they wanted to save the country’s economy, they would have to scuttle the bomb.

So during this period computers viruses were sent to infect the Iranian computers, some Iranian nuclear scientists and engineers were assassinated or disappeared, and straw companies were set up around the world selling faulty material to the mullahs, so that when they spun their centrifuges, the centrifuges would blow up.

And all that was happening on the radar screen. Below the radar screen much more was happening with the the goal of buying time so the Iranians would somehow make the decision to stop on their own; that the price of a bomb was simply not worth it.

The agreement hammered out in Vienna on Sunday, the one Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has railed against endlessly, buys the Iranians more time. Ten years of it. During this period the Iranians will be hard pressed to assemble a nuclear bomb. But then the sun will set on the agreement and all bets will be off. Then the Iranians, according to Israel’s reading of the deal, won’t have to sneak around to put together a bomb, they will be able to do it in broad daylight.

And there is Israel’s problem. At a time when the Iranians came to the negotiations because their economy was being devastated, the world powers had the opportunity not to just kick the can down the road, but rather to kick it over the fence, deep, deep into one of the neighbor’s bushes.

Or, to use a boxing metaphor, two years ago the world powers had Iran on the ropes — it’s economic badly limping, oil prices falling, its legitimacy at a low point. But instead of ratcheting up the sanctions and delivering a knockout blow, the powers let Iran slither off the ropes to come back and fight another round.

And fight they did. As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was reported to have said over the weekend, “Twenty-two months of negotiation means we have managed to charm the world, and it’s an art,” But all that is history. That was then. Now the reality has changed. Now what? The agreement has pretty much put to an end to any option of a preemptive Israeli military strike. No one seriously believes Israel would to launch a preemptive attack on Iran to push back the program after that country signed an agreement with the world powers, including the US.

But it is equally unrealistic to think Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has fought the Iranian nuclear program for years — will now suddenly roll over dead and say, “Ok, you win, I guess now we will have to accept it.”

Netanyahu — who has charged that this is a “very bad agreement,” and that what happened in Vienna was a foolish “march of concessions” that amounted to a near total capitulation to Iran — will not now throw up his arms in surrender. .

Rather, now his argument will move to Congress, the last place where changes into the accord might possibly still be made. If then ambassador Michael Oren — as he writes in his recent memoir — was given instructions to call congressmen and say “Israel felt abandoned” after US President Barack Obama delivered a speech in 2011 adopting an Israeli-Palestinian deal based on the 1967 lines with land swaps, then one can only imagine what Oren’s successor, Ron Dermer, will tell the congressmen when he calls.

And that type of campaigning against a policy that Obama sees as his foreign policy “legacy,” and which US Secretary of State John Kerry views as his possible Nobel Prize winning ticket, is not bound to win Netanyahu any points in the White House, where his credit is already depleted. The final year of the Obama-Netanyahu era, therefore, will most likely be much more fraught than even the fraught seven years that came before.

But Netanyahu will go ahead — feeling duty-bound as a son of the Jewish people so soon after the Holocaust, and as the prime minister of the world’s only Jewish state — to do whatever he can to try and override the agreement. If not to stop it, at least change it so that when the history books are written, it will be noted that he – alone among the world’s leaders – did whatever he could to keep one of the world’s most extreme regimes from getting the world’s most lethal weapon.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post