It’s time to work together, focus on strengthening constraints on Iran (The Jewish Journal)

Several days ago, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the 34th senator to announce support for the agreement reached by the representatives of the P5+1 nations and Iran over its nuclear program, thus assuring that a presidential veto of a bill of disapproval in the Congress would be sustained and the pact would go into force.

The debate over the Iran agreement has been pointed, painful and, at times, deeply destructive. Opponents of the deal have been described as warmongers or faced the anti-Semitic charge of having a divided loyalty to the country, while supporters are called appeasers in the mold of Neville Chamberlain or worse.

In reality, the issue has deeply divided the Jewish community precisely because it has no easy answer. As you might expect from any tough negotiation with an implacable foe, there are some aspects of the deal that turned out well and others that did not. In sum, I believe, Congress would be wise to strengthen the deal, not reject it, but I well understand and share the concerns raised by many of its opponents. I am also convinced that we need to begin now to restore the torn fabric of our community and the iron-clad, nonpartisan support of Israel that has always characterized the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The primary objective of the United States in the negotiations was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Given the unthinkable consequences of Iran, the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, obtaining the bomb, this has been an overriding national security imperative of the United States for decades.

As an American and as a Jew who is deeply concerned about the security of Israel, I find this intensely personal. I believe our vital interests have been advanced under the agreement as it would be extremely difficult for Iran to amass enough fissionable material to make a nuclear weapon without giving the United States ample notice and time to stop it. We will still need to guard against any Iranian effort to obtain nuclear material or technology from proliferators abroad — a reality even if Iran had given up all enrichment — but the agreement likely gives the world at least a decade and a half without the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon and without going to war to make that so. That is a major achievement.

The United States realized this objective by securing a number of important provisions in the agreement, including the power to snap back sanctions in whole or in part, and not subject to a veto in the United Nations. The United States and its allies also procured an extensive and intrusive inspections regime that lasts for 25 years. By applying to the whole chain of the enrichment process, from the ground to the centrifuge, it realistically precludes Iran from developing a hidden and parallel enrichment process.

With respect to the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, the United States did not obtain the robust access to military sites that we sought, but this is mitigated by the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. already have considerable intelligence about the type of work that Iran has done to construct, deliver and detonate an atomic bomb.

The most troubling part of the agreement, for me, is the size, sophistication and international legitimacy of Iran’s enrichment capability allowed in only 15 years. At that point, it is the work necessary to produce the mechanism for the bomb that becomes the real obstacle to a breakout — and that work is among the most difficult to detect.

Nonetheless, I have searched for a better, credible alternative and concluded that there is none.

When it comes to predicting the future, we are all looking through the glass darkly, but if Congress rejects a deal agreed to by the Obama administration and much of the world, the sanctions regime will, if not collapse, almost certainly erode. This does not mean, as some have suggested, that Iran necessarily dashes madly for a bomb, but it will almost certainly move forward with its enrichment program unconstrained by inspections and limits on research and development of new centrifuges, metallurgy and other protections of the deal. In short, Iran will have many of the advantages of the deal in access to money and trade, with none of its disadvantages.

Instead of rejecting the deal, therefore, Congress should focus on making it stronger.

First, we should make it clear that if Iran cheats, the repercussions will be severe. Second, we should continue to strengthen our intelligence capabilities to detect any form of Iranian noncompliance. Third, we should establish the expectation that while Iran will be permitted to have an enrichment capability for civilian use, it will never be permitted to produce highly enriched uranium, and if it attempts to do so, it will be stopped with force. Fourth, we must share with Israel all the technologies necessary to maintain its regional military superiority, and if necessary, to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities no matter how deep the bunker. Finally, we must be prepared to work with Israel and our Gulf allies to make sure that every action Iran takes to use its newfound wealth for destructive activities in the region will prompt an equal and opposite reaction, and we will combat Iran’s malignant influence.

The Iranian people will one day throw off the shackles of their repressive regime, and I hope that this deal will empower those who wish to reform Iranian governance and behavior. The 15 years or more this agreement provides will give us the time to test that proposition. Then, as now, if Iran is determined to go nuclear, there is only one way to stop it, and that is by the use of force. But the American people and others around the world will recognize that we did everything possible to avoid war.

The Iran issue is a pivotal one, and it has understandably stirred great passions within the Jewish community. As we approach the New Year, let us focus on ways we can work together to strengthen the constraints on Iran and address the risks to the United States, Israel and our other allies. Preventing Iran from ever obtaining the bomb is a national security imperative for the United States and Israel, and so is maintaining undivided support for the Jewish state.

By:  Adam Schiff
Source: The Jewish Journal