Looking ahead, it is incumbent upon the United States and Israel to prepare for the scenarios that may emerge as a result of the highly problematic nuclear accord with Iran that was just reached. The agreement poses clear risks to Israel’s national security, and at this time Israel possesses minimal opportunity to influence its impending implementation.
There are three potential scenarios that are likely to unfold in the foreseeable future for which the United States and Israel can jointly prepare with regard to Iran. Given the volatility of the Middle East’s regional turmoil, this strategic preparation would unquestionably factor in a level of unpredictability.
The first possibility, the “transformation scenario,” is the most optimistic of the three. In this case, Iran would undergo an internal transformation and emerge less radical and less threatening to Israel, and the West, by the end of the agreement. However, since the agreement will empower Iran’s core group of ideologically extreme leaders, it is unlikely that Ayatollah Khamenei’s inner circle will be replaced by a more reformed and younger generation of leaders.
The second possibility is the “North Korea scenario,” whereby Iran follows North Korea’s example and violates the agreement after a few years, breaking out toward a nuclear bomb. Albeit unlikely, it is possible that Iran several years down the line will decide that the benefits of breaking out toward a nuclear bomb outweigh the risk of the West’s response.
The third, most probable and most dangerous possibility is the “strategic patience scenario.” If this occurs, Iran will wait the agreement out for 10-15 years with the goal of emerging as a legitimate nuclear threshold state equipped with unlimited nuclear infrastructure. Once the agreement’s restrictions expire, Iran will possess near zero breakout time and emerge stronger than ever with expanded hegemonic conquests and improved nuclear expertise supported by funds received from the lifting of sanctions.
To best prepare for each of these three scenarios, I offer three policy recommendations to the United States and Israel.
Firstly, the two allies should formulate a strategy based on a corollary agreement (since Israel is not bound by the Vienna agreement) to respond to the threats created by the Vienna agreement. This shared and coordinated understanding between the United States and Israel would cover the following elements: intelligence cooperation to compensate for lapses in the realm of inspections; a clear definition of what constitutes significant violation of the agreement; response mechanisms in the event of violation; and a security aid package to improve Israel’s ability both to contend with the threats that will stem from the strengthening of Iran and its terrorist proxies, and to thwart an Iranian breakout toward a bomb.
Secondly, Israel must prioritize strengthening its ability to respond to medium and long term risks that will weaken its strategic situation as a result of the agreement. Over the next five years Iran will behave more cautiously until the arms embargo is lifted. During this time, Israel and the IDF should improve their force to best defend against potential threats such as surface-to-surface missiles and rockets by developing anti-missile and anti-rocket defense systems, and to enhance strategic military options against Iran.
Thirdly, provisions must be made for the dangerous possibility of increased nuclear proliferation in the Middle East as a direct consequence of the Vienna agreement’s legitimization of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure becoming a regional standard. Israel alongside the international community should track and prevent any signs of activity by Gulf States to reach comparable nuclear capabilities with Iran.
While Israeli experts and Israel's leadership must vocalize their perspectives, Israel must not intervene in the American political system, and should steer clear of the highly politicized debate that the Iranian nuclear threat has engendered among Congress and the American public.
Should Israel cross this political line, it may ultimately be accused of any negative outcomes that may ensue, thereby damaging Israel’s international standing and its deterrence, along with potentially bolstering Iran’s position.
If Israel partners collaboratively with the United States to reach a solid understanding, accompanied by a high level of shared resources, then both countries can coordinate effective strategies to counter the dangers that are likely to be unleashed by Iran’s newly gained power, legitimacy and funds.
Yadlin, the chief of Israeli military intelligence from 2006 to 2010, is director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.