Is There a Silver Lining in the Iran Deal?

Let us begin by stipulating what seems to be obvious to everybody but John Kerry: The agreement with Iran is a very, very bad deal.

It will certainly allow the Iranians to complete the development of fission weapons (if they don’t already have them -- they’ve had the fissionable material and A.Q. Khan’s design for quite some time now). It will lift all of the sanctions, including the embargo on conventional arms (I thought this was a nuclear deal?). There can be no inspections of Iranian military sites (which was rather the point, wasn’t it?), and access to those sites which Iran claims to be civil will be “managed” by an approvals process running up to 24 days (by which time, what is likely to be left to inspect?). Also, Iran will gain access to 150 billion very fungible dollars, easily used for the care and feeding of terrorists of Tehran’s choice.

That they will continue to choose them is beyond question. As Benjamin Netanyahu noted in a tweet the same day the agreement was signed, Khamenei again threatened to destroy Israel; indeed, as the negotiations were going on, he was leading crowds in shouting, “Marg bar Amrika” (“Death to America”), vowing to tame American “arrogance.”

There is no doubt that the deal greatly strengthens the Khomeinists’ hand. So what do we do now?

Most conservative commentators, and certainly the full array of pro-Israel organizations in the U.S., are gearing up for a full-court press to gain a bipartisan rejection of the agreement after the 60-day review provided in a law pushed through Congress by Senator Robert Corker. Most of the Republican presidential hopefuls have denounced the agreement and vowed to cancel it upon election. AIPAC, in particular, known to be historically very confrontation-averse with regard to the American presidency (with good reason, since only twice before has the organization engaged in such confrontation, with mixed, if not pyrrhic, results), is ready for a showdown with the Obama administration.

A congressional rejection, especially if it was decisively bipartisan, would make repudiation in January 2017 easier, to be sure. But a year and a half after the agreement’s signing, it would have little besides symbolic value. Obama may be many things, but he is not stupid (contrary to a few of the more obtuse pundits on the right), and he has managed to out-maneuver Congress and to snooker Bob Corker.

The 60-day review period for this “executive agreement” (Obama has been very careful not to call it a “treaty,” since he knew it would be rejected out of hand by the Senate) plays directly into the president’s hands. The UN will have approved the agreement long beforehand, and that will be the end of all of the UN resolutions which form the legal underpinning and give any force to the sanctions regime. It will be followed almost immediately by an unseemly rush of European firms into the Persian bazaar to secure lucrative contracts to upgrade all sorts of Iranian capabilities from the mid-1970s to the 21st century in one fell swoop. They aren’t going to give those up again so easily, barring some Iranian action on par with the hostage crisis of 1979.

The United States, in that case, will be diplomatically isolated and embarrassed, and Israel will have spent tremendous amounts of political capital and prestige to accomplish nothing much.

So let’s consider another approach. Let’s look for a silver lining in the very dark cloud of this agreement, in particular a chink in the Iranian armor which (I’m sure) was inadvertent, and overlooked.

Let us begin by acknowledging that a nuclear Iran, prompting a probable Middle Eastern arms race, is not good, but it is also not an immediate existential threat to Israel. The reason is that, over the course of their now 36-year-old regime, the mullahs have demonstrated that they are not clinically insane; evil, yes (and it is always dangerous to conflate the two), but not nuts. They are not the sort of men who will strap on a suicide belt and rush out to immolate themselves in a marketplace or mosque; they are the sort of men who will encourage, exhort, and order others to do so.

It is therefore worth remembering that such men as Meir Dagan and Efraim haLevi, both former heads of the Mossad and presumably better informed than any of the rest of us, both insisted during the last election campaign in Israel that Netanyahu’s harping on the Iranian nuclear threat was greatly overblown. Both men may be politically on the Left, but no one should doubt that they are Israeli patriots and not suicidally inclined.

Israel has made provisions for deterrence along the lines of the old American Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine (not inappropriately abbreviated MAD; we’ve stipulated that this is a bad deal), and have been very careful to leak that Israeli submarines armed with missiles patrol the Indian Ocean off Iran’s coast. Israel possesses surface-to-surface missiles, and doubtless the warheads to equip them with; I’m sure some of them are trained on Iranian targets as this is written, waiting for satellite notification of an Iranian launch.

Finally, earlier this year Israel quietly acquiesced in an American decision to declassify a Reagan-era assessment of her nuclear research which highlighted that then, in the mid-1980s, Israel was close to developing thermonuclear capabilities, with the strong suggestion that H-bombs now form part of Israel’s arsenal.

It is worth remembering that H-bombs use a Hiroshima-sized weapon as a trigger, a fact which I am certain is not lost on a people so clever as the Iranians.

The mullahs are not particularly eager to be issued their 70 virgins, nor do they wish to see the Iranian plateau converted to a sheet of fused, radioactive glass. So an Iranian bomb is not likely an immediate existential threat to Israel, grave though the development is; funding and flow of conventional weapons to Hizbullah and Hamas are both more serious and more immediate.

One unintended consequence of Iran’s diplomatic and economic isolation over the last decade or so has been to make internal propaganda very much easier, promoting a siege mentality, a strong sense of “us vs. them.” Economic hardship coupled with a cunningly incessant propaganda campaign has made recruiting those chanting crowds relatively easy for the Khomeinists.

However, engaging in trade with the world means that Iran has to open up in ways which the mullahs have probably not anticipated. In particular, such engagement with the free and bountiful societies and economies of the West may serve to spark anew the sort of discontent which sparked the anti-government demonstrations of 2009. And in 2017, there may be a very different president in the White House to take advantage of the situation.

An unintended consequence of Obama’s “legacy” agreement may well be the demise of the Khomeinist regime.