The anxiety created by the potential nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1, has been brought to the fore in the past 10 days. Netanyahu travelled to America and made an impassioned speech to congress about the dangers of the deal and recently 47 Republicans wrote a letter to the Iranian government stating that any deal would only last as long as Obama remains in office (until January 2017). Saudi Arabia has also been quietly strengthening its regional alliances – including those with Pakistan, the only Muslim nuclear weapons state.
Clearly, there are fears that the deal will increase the chances of Iran developing nuclear weapons at some point in the future. Are these fears justified? Is a nuclear deal with Iran really putting states such as Israel in more danger than they are at present? To answer this, the actual terms of the deal, and the alternatives to it, need to be analysed.
Under the terms of the deal currently presented – and it must be stated that the deal is by no means any closer to being signed – questions have been raised, by Netanyahu and various senators and political commentators in the US, over a number of issues. Some of these include Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities, the accuracy of the one year timeframe that it would take Iran to create a nuclear bomb, and the controversial ‘sunset’ clause.
The lack of any mention of Iran’s ballistic missiles – which are able to carry nuclear weapons – has been highlighted and to an extent represents a potential nuclear security threat. However there are other countries in the region with ballistic missiles, Saudi Arabia, for example, paraded their newest ballistic missile last year and Israel is also known to have them. Iran insists that its ballistic missiles are conventional weaponry and used only defensively as a “deterrent”, and it therefore has the sovereign right to produce them.
Despite doubts over whether the terms of the deal would worsen the situation, Iran is developing these ballistic missiles anyway under the current sanctions. The lifting of sanctions may give Iran the resources to increase research and production of the missiles but more sanctions are very unlikely to stop it altogether; Iran has continued production under heavy sanctions as it stands. Given Iran’s stance on their sovereign right to build the weapons, any inclusion of a clause preventing this in the nuclear deal would not be favourable.
The key feature of the deal is that under the current conditions set by the Obama administration, if maintained, it would take Iran at least a year to build nuclear weapons. With the monitoring that would be in place, it would provide ample time for a pre-emptive response before the weapon can be utilised.
This time frame has been disputed by Netanyahu, who has consistently over-exaggerated the extent of Iran’s nuclear development. Since 1992, the Israeli government has been warning the World that the Iranian regime is only a short step away from building a nuclear bomb. Likewise, his 2012 assertion that Iran was within a year of creating a nuclear bomb was contradicted by a leaked Mossad document that said Iran “does not appear to be ready” to build a nuclear bomb under current uranium enrichment levels. This casts a considerable shadow of doubt over the allegations that information being used in the deal is wrong.
The 10 year ‘sunset’ clause thought to be in the deal is of particular concern to some. Having a sunset clause effectively means that Iran could completely restart all nuclear activities at the end of the given time period. This is a concession that seems to contradict the nature of the deal and potentially increases future risk. A measure of compromise is needed in order to reach an agreement. However, the clause could negate all the positives. The very point of the deal is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, yet a sunset clause provides a window after which it can become a possibility.
It appears, from the US’s sudden willingness to concede ground on the deal, that the current administration is attempting to leave some kind of lasting legacy in its dealings in the Middle East. Iran’s activities in the Middle East have increased dramatically, with backing of Shiite forces in Yemen, Syria and particularly in Iraq where Iranian trained Shiite militia have made real headway against ISIS while the West has seemingly turned a blind eye. However, Iranian involvement could further exacerbate already high sectarian tensions in the country.
So, debate over the deal is neither wholly positive nor wholly negative, as is the nature of any deal. Compromise is always needed and furthermore, what other options are there? Iran’s nuclear development is likely to continue at some level if the deal is not signed, the only other options are to increase economic sanctions or military action.
Sanctions would increasingly incapacitate nuclear development but will not diminish Iran’s desire for further nuclear development. Similarly, military action would not incapacitate or nullify its desire, or knowledge of how, to build nuclear weapons. In the long term it might only make nuclear development more likely. The sunset clause is of genuine concern but the rest of the deal should not increase insecurity. Despite fears, achieving a deal where there is a great deal of transparency and a monitoring system installed to react to any nuclear breakout in Iran seems to be the best solution. It is by no means the perfect solution and worries from regional actors such as Israel are inevitable but it is the most workable solution. It is offers a way forward and a degree of hope on the issue rather a return to the completely unsatisfactory status quo.