Trump, Bibi Push Against Iran Deal Is Heavy Lift


Despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning to the United Nations Tuesday that the Iranian nuclear agreement must be “fixed or nixed,” analysts believe the best he can expect is a tweak.

“I believe the U.N. could respond to Bibi’s [Netanyahu’s] suggestion through heightened inspections” of Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iranian compliance with the agreement, said Gilbert Kahn, a political science professor at Kean University in Union, N.J. “I think that would be a constructive response. … I do not believe that at this point, given what we know, Congress will go along with tearing up the agreement.”

In addition, it might also satisfy President Donald Trump, who earlier Tuesday told the U.N. that the Iranian nuclear agreement “was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

Trump stopped short of saying the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement. On Oct. 15, Trump must certify that Iran is complying with conditions of the agreement. If he does not, Congress has 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions waived under the deal.

Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he believed it would not be possible to get the other four countries that signed the deal — the United Kingdom, China, Russia and France — “to undo the deal even if Trump” withdrew.

“And if he succeeded in undoing the deal, Iran would become a rogue state like North Korea — and that would not be in Israel’s interests,” Reich said. “I don’t think anyone disagrees with fixing it as long as it does not mean dismantling it.”

 “I don’t think anyone disagrees with fixing it as long as it does not mean dismantling it.”

Both Trump and Netanyahu railed against Iran’s terrorist activities. Trump complained that its “oil profits go to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors. This wealth, which rightly belongs to Iran’s people, also goes to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship, fuel Yemen’s civil war and undermine peace throughout the entire Middle East. We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program. … It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction.”

Netanyahu pointed out that Iran “vows to destroy my country” and that it is developing ballistic missiles “to threaten the entire world.”

“An Iranian curtain is spreading across the Middle East,” he observed.

And in what he said was a message to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Netanyahu said: “Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in peril. … We will act to prevent Iran from establishing military bases in Syria and producing deadly weapons” on Syrian and Lebanese territory, “and opening new terror fronts against Israel along our northern border.”

He warned also that once the Iranian nuclear agreement expires “in a few years, those restrictions will be automatically removed” and “Iran will be free to enrich uranium” and build “hundreds of nuclear weapons.”

“Fixing the deal means inspecting military sites and penalizing for every violation,” the prime minister said. “Fixing means getting rid of the sunset clause,” curbing Iran’s ballistic missile development and its “aggression in the region.”

But Nimrod Novik, chief policy adviser to Shimon Peres and the Israel Fellow for the Israel Policy Forum, disputed that assertion, pointing out that even after the agreement ends Iran remains committed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty it signed and that 190 other nations have adhered to. In the agreement, non-nuclear weapons states pledged not to acquire or exercise control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and not to seek or receive assistance in the manufacture of such devices. (North Korea announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003 after detonating a nuclear device.)

Novik was also critical of Netanyahu for the pronouncements and warnings he gave Iran during his talk.

“I’m far more impressed with the way he manages the complexities of the northern front on the Syrian border than … with his bombastic statements [on Iran] that set the bar far higher than can be accomplished,” he said. “I’m not sure this does not distract from the credibility he has when he acts rather than talks. For a few months, he had been speaking softly and carrying a big stick … and that message resonated more powerfully than when you declare you will prevent the creation of Iranian bases in Syria — which is beyond Israel’s reach.”

Instead, Novik said, “what is called for … was working with successive administrations and their partners, quietly and effectively monitoring and becoming a full partner” with the other nations that signed the agreement.

French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned in his U.N. remarks that it would be a “grave error” and “irresponsible” to renounce the agreement.

“It is a good accord that is essential to peace at a time where the risk of an infernal conflagration cannot be excluded,” he said.

Whether Netanyahu’s speech will succeed in convincing the U.N. to address his concerns is a “political question” that member states must decide, according to Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. But he cautioned that it will not be easy.

“Many member states — including some in the West — have economic and other interests with Iran and so they are not going to be eager to be identified with a resolution blaming Iran for terrorism when they are trying to do business with them,” he explained. “The fact is that Iran is increasingly dominating Syria and the Russians are playing a double role. They are not really interested in political activities in Syria, they want to preserve their military bases in the north of Syria. They are not acting to prevent the Iranians from … creating a wide corridor of Shia presence from Iran to the Mediterranean. This creates a situation that is inflammable and could create very serious problems in the future.”

Ephraim Sneh, Israel’s former deputy minister of defense, agreed that “no respectable government in Jerusalem can tolerate an Iranian presence in Syria, especially deployed in the south. … If the U.S. will not rewrite its [ceasefire] agreement with Russia in a way that the Iranians are out, it will inevitably lead to a war in Syria.”

He warned that an Iranian presence in Syria would afford it a chance to “establish a new launching pad for its missiles against Israel,” and give it a base to “start subversive activity against Jordan. … There has already been one attempt that was thwarted.”