I've long believed that we should never force Israel to act against its own security interests. For example, if Israel chooses not to risk trading land for peace, who are we in America, living 7,000 miles away, to pressure Israel? Israelis, not Americans, will pay the price with their lives if land is traded for peace without adequate security guarantees. It is reasonable in these circumstances to defer to Israel's elected leaders.
Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum oppose the P5+1's (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany) deal with Iran and are urging members of Congress to block the deal, yet Israelis who know the most about security risks — former heads of Israel's security and military establishments — support the Iran deal.
This is not President George H.W. Bush forcing Israel not to retaliate against Iraqi Scud missiles during the first Gulf War, nor is it President George W. Bush pressuring Israel to allow Hamas to participate in Gaza elections in 2006. President Obama is not forcing Israel to do anything and is committed to Israel's security. We are not debating whether to impose conditions on Israel; we are debating how best to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Israel has a tremendous stake in this debate, but there is no one "pro-Israel" position on this issue. Between the existential threat to Israel posed by Iran and six years of anti-Obama propaganda from Israel's government, Israelis would be skeptical of any deal, especially one brokered by this administration. But Israel confronts the same question we confront: Is there a better, realistic alternative?
We can endlessly debate how we got to this point, whose fault it is and whether we could have gotten a better deal. It doesn't matter. The pie-in-the-sky deal that would last forever, completely dismantle Iran's nuclear infrastructure and allow anywhere, anytime inspections is a deal Iran would never agree to and that our allies think is unreasonable and unnecessary.
After 19 months of negotiations between Russia, China, the United States, our European allies and Iran, we reached an agreement that verifiably blocks every pathway to an Iranian bomb. The only relevant question is whether we will be better off with or without the deal on the table.
The administration argues persuasively that if Congress blocks this deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel and Iran will get the economic benefits of the deal without subjecting itself to inspections and other limitations. Iran might restrain itself to get sanctions relief from the rest of the world, or — arguing correctly that it was the United States, not Iran, that walked away from the deal — Iran might kick out the inspectors and proceed with its nuclear program, leaving us no choice but war or a nuclear Iran. War would at best set back Iran's program a few years, far less than the 15 years of the agreement.
The agreement is not perfect, but opponents of the deal have yet to offer a better alternative or to even explain how they will keep everything from falling apart the day after Congress blocks the deal. Even if Iran tries to resume its nuclear program after 15 years, Iran will be further from breakout than it is today, and as a result of intrusive inspections, we will be in a much better position to stop Iran then than we are today.
The agreement allows us to snap back international sanctions by ourselves, simply by exercising our veto at the U.N. Security Council (there was no grandfathering of contracts entered into when sanctions were lifted, which is why companies are on notice that they do business with Iran at their own risk).
We have 24/7 inspections of all known nuclear sites. No sites, including military sites, are off limits. Critics have had a field day with what could be up to 24 days notice for inspection of new sites, but from day one, we can use satellite and other technology on these sites. More important, traces of uranium or plutonium cannot be scrubbed in 24 days. Yes, it's possible that some work could be hidden in 24 days, but ultimately, a covert program will require uranium or plutonium, and those can't be hidden in 24 days. That's why experts from all of our allies agreed that a 24-day notice protects our interests.
Iran will get sanctions relief, and despite our best efforts, some of that money may support terrorism. Sanctions relief is the incentive for Iran to comply. Our allies think it's unreasonable to tie this sanctions relief to non-nuclear infractions. Wouldn't we rather have a non-nuclear Iran that spends more on terrorism than a nuclear Iran that spends a bit less on terrorism?
Iran will continue to engage in nefarious activities. Nothing in this agreement prohibits us from countering those activities, just as our arms control agreements with the Soviet Union (another anti-Semitic sponsor of terrorism committed to our destruction and which also, we were told, did not value human life) did not prohibit us from combatting Soviet activities on other fronts. But unlike our deals with the Soviets, under this agreement, Iran will be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, which will make our job much easier.
It is because I love Israel and America that I support this deal. Others who love Israel and America may disagree. But until we hear a realistic, better alternative to this deal ("negotiate a better deal" is a wish, not an alternative) and a step-by-step explanation of how we will prevent everything from unraveling after Congress blocks this deal, we would be recklessly endangering our and Israel's security by opposing this deal.
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. Click here to sign up for Sheffey's weekly e-newsletter.