The emerging Iran nuclear deal spells trouble.
For the past several months, Israeli security officials have privately been expressing concern over the emerging deal between the Obama Administration and the Iranian regime over Tehran's nuclear program.
Defense officials familiar with the complex threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions have sought to stay clear of political statements, instead offering straightforward explanations as to why the deal, as it appears to be forming, will pose an extremely serious problem for the security of Israel and other Middle Eastern states in the path of Iran's seemingly hegemonic aspirations.
Leaving aside the many technical details that are part of the wider picture of Iran's nuclear activities, the essential problem with the would-be deal is that it will leave Iran with an enhanced ability to enrich uranium -- an ability that can lead Iran to nuclear weapons production in a relatively short time.
The purpose of an agreement is to push Iran away from the ability to make nuclear weapons. Israel does not oppose the idea of an agreement, but it opposes the particular formula apparently being advanced in diplomatic talks.
The strength or weakness of any agreement rests on how long it would give the U.S. or Israel to respond in case Iran violates the agreement. An agreement that would be acceptable to Israel is one in which Jerusalem would have sufficient time to respond in case Iran violates it.
Under the terms of what seems to be the current proposal, however, the amount of time needed might not be adequate -- meaning that Israel may not be able to consider itself bound by the agreement.
According to reports surfacing from the talks, the proposed arrangement will likely leave a good portion of the Islamic Republic's large number of known centrifuges, which enrich uranium, intact.
For Israel, this negative development has all the potential to turn a critical strategic security threat into an existential one. Such a deal gives Iran's nuclear infrastructure an international license and seal of approval, but fails to provide any guarantee that this same infrastructure will not later be used to get Iran quickly to the nuclear weapons production stage.
It seems clear at this stage that both Tehran and Washington want an agreement; Iran wishes to lift crippling economic sanctions that helped force it to the negotiations table, and President Barack Obama seems keen on leaving behind a legacy of international diplomacy as a mechanism to solve conflicts.
The idea that Iran is about to abandon its vision of having nuclear weapons, or that it sees an agreement with poor terms as anything other than a temporary halt of the march to the nuclear bomb, is just not realistic.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei remains committed to the idea of an Iranian-Shi'ite empire that dominates the region. Iran and its network of highly armed proxies -- active in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and engaged in active subversion in many other countries -- already have contributed enormously to the Middle East's dangerous instability and fueled its escalating conflicts. Iran seems to hope that it will one day be able to use these proxies to promote its expansionist regional agenda under a nuclear umbrella.
At the same time, Khamenei appears to recognize the many constraints that Iran faces today, which stand between it and a nuclear capability. These constraints include (according to international media reports) a string of covert operations that have hampered Iran's nuclear progress, international economic sanctions, and the credible Israeli threat of military force at this time. As a result, Iran today has apparently stopped short of moving to the nuclear weapons production stage.
What has not stopped is Iran's large-scale uranium enrichment program. Centrifuges continue to spin, and the number of centrifuges continues to multiply. Research and development on newer, more effective centrifuges continues apace. Iran's ability to enrich uranium is growing at a troubling pace. Its Arak facility, which can be used to create plutonium as an alternative path to nuclear weapons, is also active.
The Arak heavy water reactor, in Iran, is capable of producing plutonium. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)
Iran now must decide whether or not to slow down its nuclear program in exchange for a respite from sanctions. If the reports on the generous terms being offered to it by the Obama Administration are true, it will be difficult for Iran to avoid the enticement of a deal that leaves it in possession of the components needed to break through rapidly to nuclear weapons production, at a future time of its choosing.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to develop its arsenal of ballistic missiles, which could carry these nuclear warheads. It already possesses some 400 ballistic missiles that can reach Israel, and it is working on building longer-range solid fuel missiles that have a range of between 2000 to 2500 kilometers.
In addition to these, Iran is expanding its regional proxy network. Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, is the world's most highly armed terror entity, with an arsenal of over 100,000 rockets and missiles pointed at Israel. Many of these, including a growing number of guided missiles, are being produced at Hezbollah's request by Iran's weapons industries, and smuggled into Lebanon via an international weapons network controlled by the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Hezbollah, with Iran's help, has recently been expanding from southern Lebanon into southern Syria, seeking to set up a second base there to threaten Israel.
Iran has tightened its control over the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus; Assad has become completely dependent on Iran for his survival.
Iran's domination of the Shi'ite Iraqi regime has also grown dramatically in recent months, as Baghdad's dependence on Iran to save it from the (Sunni) Islamic State has risen.
Iran now controls the Yemenite capital of Sana'a, after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels conquered the city. The Houthis can now threaten the Bab-El-Mandeb Strait, a key strategic waterway through which passes four percent of the world's oil.
Iranian officials boast of controlling four Arab capitals: Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana'a.
These developments and the emerging nuclear deal do not have just Israel concerned. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the small Gulf states are equally, if not more, alarmed.
Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas, which is recovering from the war it began last summer against Israel, is once again moving closer into the Iranian orbit. Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza has always remained a firm Iranian puppet.
Khamenei has openly declared his intention to arm Palestinian terror groups in the West Bank.
These developments mean that a "bad" nuclear deal -- one that would allow Iran to retain a substantial uranium enrichment infrastructure -- would not only legitimize Iran's status as a threshold nuclear state, but also boost what seems to be the Islamic Republic's relentless drive to spread its influence throughout the Middle East and beyond.