JERUSALEM – It’s all over but the shouting. Over the past week, the political tug-of-war over President Obama’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran has tilted decisively in favor of the White House.
Despite widespread disapproval among the American electorate, and last-ditch attempts by some in Congress to delay its passage, it increasingly appears that the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, will soon be a done deal.
Where does all this leave America’s most important Middle Eastern ally?
Israel’s view of the nuclear deal with Iran is the polar opposite of the President Obama’s.
Politically, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been a vocal opponent of the nuclear deal with Iran, and he continues to play that role. Last week, while on a state visit to London, Netanyahu urged Washington – in the wake of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s latest anti-Israel missive – to give up on its “illusion” that meaningful compromise is possible with Tehran.
Practically, however, his country’s national security establishment is already bracing for the consequences of the JCPOA’s passage.
Those are likely to be severe. The extensive sanctions relief embedded in the deal (some $100 billion or more) will provide the Islamic Republic with far greater resources to sponsor terrorism and foment regional instability than it possesses currently. Like many of their counterparts in the United States, Israeli experts believe that those funds will inevitably “trickle down” to Iranian terrorist proxies, significantly expanding the strategic capabilities of those groups.
In the near term, this means more missiles aimed at the Jewish state. Last summer’s Gaza War saw Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome missile defense system successfully neutralize some 90 percent of rockets fired at Israeli cities by the Hamas terrorist group. But that kind of continued dominance is not assured, according to Israeli defense officials, because stepped up Iranian supplies of rockets and short-range missiles to Hamas, as well as to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, will severely tax Israel’s capacity to deal with them.
Moreover, because those projectiles tend to be cheap, while the interceptors needed to neutralize them are not, the likely consequence will be an economic “war of attrition” in which Israel being forced to spend more and more on defenses in order to ensure its protection. Which is why the Israeli government has expedited work on David’s Sling, a complement to Iron Dome designed to intercept longer-range rockets, short range missiles, and cruise missiles. (The system is now expected to achieve initial operational capability later this year) It is also why Israeli officials say they will be seeking some $200 million in additional funds from Congress in coming months for stepped-up production of Iron Dome interceptors.
But an expanded missile threat is only part of the problem. Of far greater long-term concern is the fact that the Iran deal has had the effect of “rehabilitating” Iran in the eyes of the world, positioning it for regional dominance throughout Israel’s geopolitical neighborhood. This, officials in Jerusalem believe, is likely to result in deeper Iranian involvement in Syria, greater Iranian activism in Yemen and the Persian Gulf, and significantly increased Iranian spending on military capabilities. That, in turn, will lead to a dramatically more volatile Middle East – one populated by Iranian proxies and shaped by Iran’s global agenda.
Israeli opinion is not monolithic, to be sure. Some in Israel’s national security establishment take a brighter view, arguing that – whatever its demerits – the JCPOA is generally beneficial because it defers the only existential threat confronting their country, for a decade or perhaps even longer.
But in the main, Israel’s view of the nuclear deal with Iran is the polar opposite of the President’s. While the Obama administration has extolled the virtues of the agreement as a vehicle for peace, the dominant view in Jerusalem is that it actually lays the groundwork for far greater regional conflict.
Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C., and the author of "Iran’s Deadly Ambition: The Islamic Republic’s Quest for Global Power" (Encounter Books 2015).