Reality Check: We know the Iranians lied

The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is “the worst” agreement ever negotiated, according to US President Donald Trump. But then the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has also been described by Trump as the “single worst deal ever approved.”

Two separate deals each being the single worst-ever in history? Welcome to the wonderful world of Trumpian logic.

Be the first to know –

And if we really want to be sticklers for accuracy, the 1938 Munich Agreement between Adolf Hitler and British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, promising “peace for our time” to use Chamberlain’s words, actually outdoes both the NAFTA deal and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program in terms of being on the wrong side of history.

The truth surrounding the Iran deal is far more nuanced than Trump’s bombastic rhetoric or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desperate, gimmick-filled press conference last week. As Uzi Arad, a former national security adviser to Netanyahu, and not a person known for being soft on security issues, points out: the JCPOA “does set concrete limitations on the Iranians. It imposes ceilings and benchmarks and verification systems that you do not want to lose. Why lose it?”

Why indeed? In last week’s press conference, Netanyahu repeatedly rammed home the point that the Iranians had, for years, lied about their nuclear ambitions and therefore they could not be trusted. No one outside of Tehran is disputing this.

Which is why, under the JCPOA, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog, continuously monitor Iran’s declared nuclear sites and also verify that no fissile material is moved covertly to a secret location to build a bomb. If inspectors detect any suspicious behavior, they have the right to demand access to the site under question within 24 days. Should Iran refuse, an eight-member joint commission can decide on punitive steps, including the re-imposition of sanctions.

None other than US Defense Secretary James Mattis has said, as recently as last month at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, that the deal’s provisions allow “pretty robust” oversight of what Iran is doing. Moreover, he added, “I’ve read it now three times… and I will say that it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat.”

As Ernest Moniz, the former US energy secretary under Barack Obama and one of the key negotiators of the Iran nuclear deal, noted in an interview this weekend, Netanyahu is acting against Israel’s interests by pushing the Trump administration to rip up the agreement. Turning Netanyahu’s arguments against the prime minister, Moniz insisted that if, as Netanyahu decisively proved in his glitzy PowerPoint presentation, the Iranians cannot be trusted, then the last thing Israel should want is for the IAEA to leave Iran and remove the Iranian regime from strict supervision.

With less than a week to go before Trump makes his decision as to whether to recertify the JCPOA, it’s clear that Netanyahu’s showmanship was designed to provide the American president with a supportive tailwind for pulling out of the deal, in contrast to the last-minute lobbying in Washington by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in favor of maintaining the accord.

Unlike Netanyahu, who used his presentation to rehash already known information about Iran, Macron looked to the future, and provided a new setting for viewing the nuclear deal. Aside from warning there is no Plan B for Iran should Trump tear up the JCPOA, the French president constructively suggested that the 2015 deal should be seen as the “first pillar” of a broader framework that would also restrict Iran’s regional influence, its ballistic missiles and its nuclear activities post-2025, when the existing deal expires.

If Trump does break the agreement, then he and Netanyahu will be responsible for driving a wedge between the US and Israel on the one hand, and the leaders of Europe on the other hand in the war against Iran achieving nuclear weapons capability. Such a move will inevitably weaken the international community’s resolve against Iran while also emboldening Tehran, who will be able to play the aggrieved partner card.

At a time when Jerusalem needs to be fully concentrating on Iran’s growing and menacing activities in Syria and increased support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, the calm on the Iranian nuclear front due to the provisions of the JCPOA, and Iran’s observance of its commitments under the terms of the deal, is a major positive for Israel.

Nobody is under any illusions as to Iran’s long-term objectives, but the advantages of the Iranian nuclear deal for Israel, and building on it, far outweigh its disadvantages.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.