A nuclear-armed Iran would existentially threaten Israel and would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Opponents of negotiations pay lip service to these truths even as they advance specious arguments against any realistic deal.
We hear about how many centrifuges Iran will be allowed. No one knows the number because the negotiations are secret. Even if a leak about what is on the table is true, nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon. But whether the number is 10,000 or 6,500 or 20 is irrelevant without knowing what types of centrifuges will be allowed and other terms of the deal. Centrifuges are important, but they alone are not an indicator of nuclear capability.
We hear that the agreement will "only" last 10 years. But what is the alternative? Military action could set Iran back two or three years, but unless we are prepared to invade and occupy Iran (hint: we aren't), military action will convince Iran that it needs nuclear weapons for self-defense. I'd rather delay Iran for 10 years without military action than two or three years with military action. Also, if Iran resumes its quest for nuclear weapons after the deal expires, we will have much more detailed knowledge about Iran as a result of 10 years of inspections and Iran will be no closer to nuclear weapons than it is now.
We hear that the agreement will not stop Iran's other nefarious activities. It won't, nor will it get Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to sing "Kumbaya" with us. But I'd rather have a state sponsor of terrorism without nuclear weapons than a state sponsor of terrorism with nuclear weapons.
We hear that we should tighten sanctions now, even though under the strong sanctions regime in place prior to the interim agreement, Iran built thousands of centrifuges and was racing full speed toward nuclear weapons. Only after the interim agreement was signed did Iran halt (and in some cases, roll back) its progress and agree to more intrusive inspections in return for limited sanctions relief.
We hear that President Obama does not care enough about Israel, that he doesn't "feel it in his kishkes." As ridiculous as the assertion was in 2008, it is even more ridiculous six years into Obama's presidency. Record levels of aid to Israel, full funding for Iron Dome, unprecedented levels of military and intelligence cooperation, and a perfect record of support for Israel at the U.N. — all despite personal tensions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — prove that whatever Obama has in his kishkes, it is more than any Republican president ever felt toward Israel.
We hear that Obama wants a deal, any deal, just to seal his legacy. Never mind Obama's repeated statements that no deal is better than a bad deal and that our objective is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, not to contain a nuclear Iran. But let's assume just for a moment that all Obama cares about is his place in history.
Even Obama's critics concede his brilliance. Obama is surely smart enough to realize that a deal resulting in Iran getting the bomb a couple of years after he left office would forever tarnish the reputation of a president who came into office as a champion of nuclear nonproliferation and who has declared over and over again that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. Whether Obama is more concerned about his legacy or our national security is immaterial; to satisfy either concern, he can only agree to a deal that will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
A good deal won't be a perfect deal. Iran will always be 12 to 18 months away from creating fissile material for a nuclear bomb (more time would be needed to weaponize such material). Wouldn't we rather that Iran was permanently barred from creating fissile material under an agreement that remained in force for generations? Of course we would. But Iran will never agree to that deal.
We cannot erase the knowledge Iran has acquired. Even if Iran dismantled and destroyed all of its centrifuges, Iran would only be two years from creating fissile material because they can build centrifuges that quickly. A perfect deal would still leave Iran with a breakout capacity of two years, and we'd still need the same level of inspections that are the key to a good deal.
But one year is more than enough time to detect and prevent a move toward breakout. We would know within days, if not hours, if Iran started moving toward breakout, and that would give us a year to take appropriate military or economic action.
A good deal — a deal with intrusive inspections, realistic limits on Iran's capabilities, and a length of at least 10 years — is the best realistic chance we have of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Sanctions alone cannot stop Iran. Military action might delay Iran for a year or two, but would end all inspections and would guarantee that Iran would do everything in its power to obtain nuclear weapons.
The Obama administration was clear from the start of negotiations that the chances of reaching an acceptable agreement were less than 50-50. If we don't reach an agreement, we are back where we started, no worse off but maybe better off thanks to knowledge gained from inspections.
We will know in a few weeks if we have a deal, and if we do, we can then judge for ourselves how good it is. Until then, let's ignore overheated rhetoric and baseless speculation about a deal no one has seen because it doesn't (yet) exist.
Congress should not block a potential deal by imposing obstacles such as up/down votes and more sanctions with prearranged triggers. If negotiations are not successful, let them be unsuccessful because of Iran's intransigence, not because of unwarranted interference by Congress.
Sheffey has long been active in the pro-Israel community and in Jewish communal life. He is a lifelong member of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and served on the board of CityPAC, a pro-Israel Chicago-based political action committee, for seven years, including two years as its president. He is also active in Democratic politics and served as an elected delegate to the 2012 Democratic Convention from Illinois.