The Iran Deal: Only Time Will Tell: Why Is Obama Supportive Of The Deal?
31 December 2013
By Alon Ben-Meir
In the wake of the interim nuclear
deal with Iran, many questions have been raised by
people from different backgrounds, government
officials, and the media inside and outside the Middle
East about the validity and importance of the
agreement. Characterizing it as good or bad, however,
provides only a shallow assessment of a deal that
potentially has major regional and global
implications. Its success or failure depends largely
on the extent to which Iran will, in fact, comply with
its various provisions. The more important question
is, will it lead to a permanent accord that will
prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons? This is
one question that no one can answer as yet with any
Below I raise a few common questions and try to answer
them without taking sides, hopefully shedding some
light on the more nuanced elements of the deal and how
it is perceived by its detractors and supporters.
Why does Prime Minister Netanyahu oppose the deal?
There are four main reasons. First, Netanyahu does not
trust the Iranians and is absolutely convinced that,
as it has in the past, Iran will cheat to advance its
nuclear weapon program. Second, he fears the provision
that allows Iran to enrich uranium (which will become
enshrined in any subsequent agreement), which is the
key to developing nuclear weapons in the future.
Third, Netanyahu simply does not trust President Obama
to take any military action should Iran be caught
cheating, and as he sees it, the deal effectively
removes the threat of an American military strike. He
believes that Iran is playing for time and will pursue
nuclear weapons at its own pace. Finally, Netanyahu
knows that he cannot defy the US and take any military
action during implementation of the deal and while
negotiations on a permanent agreement are underway,
which would allow Iran to cheat and potentially reach
the breakout point.
Why is Obama supportive of the deal?
First, weary of wars and violence in the Middle East,
President Obama feels that he has the obligation to
change the political dynamics in the region and pursue
a diplomatic solution to the conflict with Iran. He
hopes to build on it and achieve a comprehensive
agreement that will permanently prevent Iran from
acquiring nuclear weapons.
Obama believes that Iran is a significant regional
power and it cannot be coerced to submission even by
military means, which can only delay – but not prevent
– it from acquiring nuclear weapons. He is also
convinced that the deal could help stabilize the
region because Iran could become a positive player and
assist in solving the crisis in Syria, stabilize the
violent conflicts in Iraq and even Afghanistan, and
have a positive impact on the Israeli-Palestinian
In addition, from Obama's perspective, the success of
the deal could change the relations between the US and
Iran, thereby ending the three and a half decades of
estrangement between the two countries.
Should the deal with Iran collapse, what are Israel's
First, feeling vindicated, Netanyahu (if he is still
in power) will try to persuade the US to issue an
ultimatum demanding that Iran dismantle much of its
advanced nuclear facilities within a specified period
of time, impose new crippling sanctions, and openly
prepare for military operations. Should his efforts
fail in this regard, Israel is likely to make visible
preparations to strike Iran on its own in order to
increase the pressure on the US to take decisive
Should Netanyahu conclude that Obama is not prepared
to use force in spite of the indisputable evidence
that Iran is cheating and is about to reach the
breakout point to acquire nuclear weapons, he will
make it known that Israel will use any means available
at its disposal to protect itself and may well act on
Can the US ensure that the interim deal prevents Iran
from acquiring nuclear weapons?
There is absolutely no guarantee that Obama can
prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, not only
because of Iran's propensity for cheating but because
the Ayatollah Khamenei has never forsaken that as a
From the Iranian perspective, becoming a nuclear power
will dramatically enhance its prospect of becoming the
region's hegemon. The Mullahs are still terrified that
the US' ultimate aim is regime change and feel that
only nuclear weapons will safeguard the regime against
the US' presumed goal.
Being that Iran is waging a proxy war between the
Shiites and the Sunnis, the acquisition of a nuclear
weapon will give it major psychological leverage in
dealing with the predominantly Sunni Arab world.
Finally, even though Iran has had a long and
continuing history, spanning over 4,000 years, nuclear
weapons can solidify its newly acquired identity as
the Islamic Republic and give it the recognition and
prominence it seeks both regionally and
Should the deal with Iran succeed, how will it impact
the civil war in Syria?
Many observers believe that Iran could play an active
role to stem the civil war in Syria. Iran, however,
will insist that President Assad is part of the
solution. The US and Russia are already discussing
Iran's inclusion in the upcoming Geneva II conference.
That said, Iran's role in solving the crisis in Syria
revolves around its sole desire to maintain its
influence and strategic interests because Syria is
seen as the linchpin to its control of the land mass
extending from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. In
connection with that, Iran will continue to finance
and politically support Hezbollah and use it as the
conduit to safeguard its interests in Lebanon and, by
extension, in Syria.
Will this deal enhance or further diminish Obama's
Regardless of whether the deal succeeds or fails,
Obama's credibility is tarnished in the eyes of the
US' Arab allies, especially because of his vacillation
and reversals in dealing with Syria's civil war. The
predominantly Sunni Arab states oppose the deal
because of their hatred of Shiites in general, and are
terrified in particular of a Shiite Iran in possession
of nuclear weapons.
They feel strongly that Obama is hungry for a major
foreign policy success and he is willing to sacrifice
loyal allies for a misguided political strategy that
might bear some positive results. They argue that he
is naïve for buying into Iran's rhetoric of peace and
diplomacy while Tehran is aiding terrorists and
supporting the criminal Assad regime.
As they see it, whether or not the deal succeeds, Iran
will emerge as the winner because it will pursue
nuclear weapons one way or the other.
In fact the Arab states see eye-to-eye with Israel and
are in constant communication with the Israelis.
Ironically, they trust Israel more than the US to deal
with Iran's potential acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu, not Obama, is seen as the leader that can
stop Iran in its tracks.
In a weird turn of events, to demonstrate their
derision of Obama, Israel's President Shimon Peres was
invited by satellite to address a recent Gulf security
conference in Abu Dhabi. Many officials and experts
from Arab and Muslim states were in attendance. This
would have simply been unimaginable only a few months
What is the likelihood that Iran lives up to the
Many detractors of the agreement argue that the
various provisions of the deal do not suggest that
Iran has given up on its ambition to acquire nuclear
weapons. To begin with, Iran insisted (and succeeded)
on maintaining uranium enrichment on its soil, to
which Israel and nearly all Arab states are adamantly
Iran refused to dismantle any of its nuclear
facilities and agreed only to freeze further
development of its heavy water plants that produce
plutonium and not introduce new centrifuges for the
duration of the agreement. Those who oppose the
agreement maintain that Iran can reverse all of that
Iran further refused to ship out of the country the
nearly 500 pounds of uranium enriched to 20% and
instead agreed only to degrade half to 5% and convert
the rest to oxide, which can be stopped should Iran
decide to change course as opponents to the deal
Although the Obama administration insists that Iran
accepted an unprecedented, intrusive inspection
regime, Iranian sources insist that they have agreed
only to "managed access" and have yet to accept
unannounced inspections of their most sensitive
underground plants at Fordo (near the city of Qom) and
the Parchin Military Complex, where they are suspected
to have experimented with nuclear devices.
Finally, the hardliners, especially the Revolutionary
Guard, have already made it known that relations with
the US will remain hostile and that they will be
looking for any display of weakness by President
Rouhani to undermine the deal. They insist that Iran
has demonstrated great flexibility and in return all
sanctions should be removed permanently.
Although they will refrain from openly challenging the
deal as long as Ayatollah Khamenei continues to
support it, they will change course once Khamenei
decides that it is no longer in Iran's best interest
to stick to the deal. They have the means, the ability
and the network to mobilize hundreds of thousands of
people at short notice, which is beyond the means of
So, is it a good or a bad deal? Only time will tell.