Top Reasons Israel’s Likud Really Opposes an Iran Nuclear Deal

Rightwing Israeli politicians like Binyamin Netanyahu are squawking furiously about the prospect that Sec. of State John Kerry might reach an agreement with Iran over its civilian nuclear enrichment program.

The US is trying to convince Iran to scale back its program to the point where it cannot be used to produce a weapon in a short time period, and is solely a fuel-producing program. Nuclear fuel is typically enriched to 3.5-5%, whereas a bomb typically requires over 90% enrichment. Any gas centrifuge enrichment program theoretically could be ramped up to produce a bomb, but limitations on the number and kind of centrifuges used could make such a project time-consuming (at least a couple of months) and more easily detected by inspectors.

Why is the Israeli Right really apoplectic about such a deal? Here is my analysis of the faux and hypocritical outrage (Iran has no nuclear weapons program, but Israel has hundreds of nuclear warheads).

1. Since they broke their word to President John F. Kennedy and went for broke to produce their own bomb, the Israeli leadership can’t imagine that Iran won’t cheat on any deal. This is an example of mirror thinking. But Iran is being inspected, unlike Israel, and no country under active UN inspection has ever developed a bomb.

2. A US-Iran deal that involves the UN Security Council would make it impossible for Israel unilaterally to attack Iran. It would therefore reduce Israel’s range of options and detract from its position as Middle East regional hegemon.

3. A remaining Iranian nuclear program would always imply a “break-out” capacity for Tehran. Being known to be able to make a nuclear weapon has some of the same deterrent effects as actually having one, increasing Iranian clout in the region. (This is on analogy to Japan in East Asia).

4. Israel’s Likud Party still has designs on annexing southern Lebanon, deeply regretting Ehud Barak’s 2000 withdrawal, but is blocked by Hizbullah backed by Iran. An Iran with a break-out capacity would permanently end Israeli expansionist ambitions to the north and permanently deny Israel the waters of the Litani River, which its leaders covet.

5. Much of the Israeli public isn’t that wedded to being in Israel, a big problem for hawks like PM Binyamin Netanyahu. Probably a million or so first and second generation Israeli immigrants live in Europe and North America; it is not even clear that some of them aren’t being counted in the 5.5 million Israeli Jews claimed by Israel. Around 20,000 Israelis now live in Berlin! Nearly a third of Jewish Israelis have said in polling that they would consider emigrating if Iran developed a nuclear weapon. Keeping Iran weak is key to winning the hardliners’ psychological war in the Middle East.

6. Netanyahu uses the supposed threat of Iran, a poor weak global South country ( 78th by GDP per capita) with a military budget somewhere between that of Norway and Singapore, to distract attention from Israeli colonization of Palestinian territory. A Western deal with Iran would throw the spotlight on the Palestinian West Bank, where Netanyahu is engaged in grand larceny on a cosmic scale.

7. If Iran is widely viewed by the international community to have stepped back from nuclear ambitions, Israel’s own nuclear arsenal will come to the fore as a focus, since it is the only Middle Eastern country with an arsenal of warheads, and that arsenal clearly drives a regional arms race (starting with Iraq in the 1980s).

38 Responses

  1. Instead of mirror thinking, you might have gone for paranoid, an overused term that really fits in this case since, in having built the bomb, the Israelis could be said to then be projecting their own idea onto an Other and taking that to be the Other’s state of mind.

  2. 1. Since they broke their word to President John F. Kennedy and went for broke to produce their own bomb,

    I did not know this! Always thought that JFK was a liberal, i.e. supporter of Israel. Show’s how much I have to learn from this site.

    About Iran from being in the global south. It’s true, but having worked with many Iranians who were excellent engineers, I wonder if it is wise to continue to deny the country its basic right to take care of its own people through careful preservation of oil resources, which is the goal of nuclear energy.

    Considering the declining arc of American power in the region, how wise is it to make a permanent enemy of people who can, and will rise, to technological prominence? What we are doing is giving Iran more reasons to do so.

    • Kennedy was adamantly against Israeli nuke capability, but the Israelis kept secret what happened at Dimona. Some of the info came out when Mordechai Vununu made his famous disclosures in London.

    • JFK sent inspectors to visit DIMONA “textile” plant because of the suspicions they were developing nuclear weapons covertly. The Israelis bricked up access to the 6 stories underground and so there was no proof visible to US inspectors when Ben Gurion and JFK had “discussions” about nuclear development. Read “Bomb in the Basement”…google NUMEC Pennsylvania plutonium theft. Grant Smith at IRmep has secured numerous revelations thanks to the FOIA process of obtaining declassified US docs on this and related topics.

    • I think the Obama administration gets this point, and is actively working to reach a deal not only for reasons of non-proliferation, but also as an opening for a general rapprochement with Iran, as part of the realignment away from the Sunni Arab states.

      The future belongs to brains and culture, not crude oil.

      • I agree, Joe, that the Obama Administration wants to work out a deal with Iran that includes both non-proliferation and a rapprochement. Nevertheless, I do not think this policy envisions a realignment away from the Sunni Arab states. Nor do I think it should.

        There is no reason why we should distance ourselves from the Sunni Arab states while pursuing a rapprochement with Iran. It is in the United States’ political and economic interests to have good relations with all states in the region, Sunni and Shia Arab, as well as Shia Iran. This would allow a much greater flexibility on the part of the US than just aligning ourselves with one or the other.

        • Realignment away from the Sunni states is happening anyway, Bill. Look at the divisions over Syria. Look at the mess in Egypt.

          And finally, look at that massive terrorist attack we endured on 9/11 from opponents of those Sunni Arab states (all 19 of the hijackers came from KSA, Egypt, and the UAE.)

          I’m not saying we should be hostile towards the Kingdom or to Egypt, but they are not longer operating as an ally. I say we make Turkey, Iran, and the new democratic states of North Africa (Libya and Tunisia) the foundation of our foreign policy.

        • “Realignment away from the Sunni states is happening anyway, Bill. Look at the divisions over Syria. Look at the mess in Egypt.”

          The divisions over Syria represent a temporary split in the perceived interests of Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the one hand, and the United States on the other. Syria has not been, and will not be, the catalyst for a long-term realignment. As for Egypt, it has been the chaos and turmoil of Morsi’s short reign and the military government that succeeded it that has disrupted US-Egyptian relations. But, again, it does not represent a long-term realignment. Our strategic interests in the Near East will certainly include Egypt in the future, as they do now. Egypt is the most important Arab government in the region. A rapprochement with Iran is no substitute for strategic interests in and relations with both.

          I don’t understand what you mean by stating, “And finally, look at that massive terrorist attack we endured on 9/11 from opponents of those Sunni Arab states (all 19 of the hijackers came from KSA, Egypt, and the UAE.) That they all came from Sunni Arab states has nothing to do with US relations and interests with those states. Nor should the terrorists’ provenance have any influence on our relations with and interests in those states. United States foreign policy and relations with particular states are not driven by terrorists (unless they are state-sponsored, of course, which they were not in this case).

          Regarding making “allies” of the states you mentioned: Turkey already is a NATO ally with several US bases in the country; even if a rapprochement with Iran were to take place, it will be a long process, and it would be a much longer time before Iran comes close to anything like the alliance we had prior to 1979. Regarding the new “democratic” states of Libya and Tunisia, they are far from democratic, and their current instability would not make them suitable as allies. Libya is hardly in control of its own territory and cannot function as a truly viable state, and Tunisia is hardly better. They both have a long way to go. Democracy is much more than an election or two; it involves a whole set of institutions–judicial, legal, political, and economic–that take time to develop. Neither Libya nor Tunisia are close yet.

          In short, the United States will eventually get over this rough patch with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and the rest, while possibly developing a rapprochement with Iran (if Iran wants it, by the way) at the same time. The Sunni Arab states are still important to US interests, and they will continue to be, regardless how Iran plays out.

  3. I really cannot understand the rightwing Israeli logic that an Iran that has friendly relations with the United States and the West is more of a threat to them than an Iran that is hostile to the West.

    The other important point is the total disregard of international law. According to the NPT, which contrary to Israel Iran has joined, all member states have “the inalienable right” to have access to peaceful nuclear technology and all that goes with it. It is quite extraordinary that a country that has illegally amassed a large number of nuclear weapons and has not joined the NPT wants to deny a member state of its rights under that treaty.

    The other extraordinary fact is that the rest of the world tolerates this ridiculous situation and has remained silent about Israeli nuclear arsenal. The key to ensuring the security of all Middle Eastern states is to push for a Nuclear-Free Zone in the Middle East and force Israel to declare and destroy her nuclear weapons under international inspection.

    • Farhang,

      Juan points out that Israel wants the Litani River, and I would add that the belief of many right-wing Israelis is that they were deeded the recently discovered petroleum and gas fields off Lebanon’s coast because they are part and parcel of “Eretz Israel,” encompassing Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, the southeast of Turkey, Iraq, and some of Saudi Arabia (as I recall, but I could be mistaken on some regions). Any significant military threat – such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, which is actively supported by Iran – promises to upset Israel’s Eretz Israel expansionist plans. And Hezbollah has indeed defeated the IDF with Iran’s support.

      About your points concerning international law: good job. But it is encouraging that Western lawmakers (primarily European) are willing to risk being branded as “anti-semites” as they comment on contemporary Israel’s actions. Even our own Secretary of State John Kerry has recently called into question Israel’s sincerity in the decades-old farce known as “The Peace Process.”

    • The key to understanding the Israeli reaction lies in unpacking that term, “threat to them.”

      I don’t think it’s Iranian military assault they consider a threat, but Iranian influence – influence with the US, influence with Europe, influence in the region.

      • While you are busily unpacking, which “Israelis” does the Obama administration consider to be “them?”

        • You presume there is such a monolithic entity as ” the government”, in Israel and elsewhere? Given all the strange and apparently ungoverned “policy” pseudopodia that appear out of the darkness and complexity? Now THERE is a bit of “worldly wisdom” to cogitate over…

    • It is quite extraordinary that a country that has illegally amassed a large number of nuclear weapons and has not joined the NPT wants to deny a member state of its rights under that treaty.

      One wonders what other extraordiary acts Israel has taken over the years, in violation of international norms.

    • The real ‘threat’ to Israel is that a friendly Iran would leave them with no more excuses to delay/deter the real ‘Peace Process’with the Palestinians. Grasping at straws (or grasping at enemies) to avoid the long suffering issue before them. The Holocaust and the ‘threat’ of another Holocaust has become their shield behind which they can keep on doing damage to their Palestinian brothers while their military/security/police state dominates over the Middle East. The Pentagon plays along with this because this constant threat of war supports their ‘need’ for power/money/and resources in the US. Warmongering has become a self-perpetuating vicious circle.

    • It’s not only the Likud…but actually the Zionist establishment has ALWAYS desired to ‘expropriate’ the southern part of Lebanon….to whit, Chaim Weizmann in 1919 claimed the Litani River for the future state of Israel as its northern border. It was echoed by Ben Gurion decades later. They felt that “all that water in southern Lebanon is WASTED on shepherds and those poor Shi’a farmers. Litani River has always been coveted by the zionists. Weizman wrote this to Lloyd George that year: “the boundaries cannot be drawn exclusively on historic [biblical] lines … our claims to the north are imperatively demanded by the requirements of modern economic life.”
      Imperious, no?

  4. Some good points here but I’m not so sure about others:

    1) Israel doesn’t trust or generally believe anybody about anything, it seems. Especially the UN and their inspections. It’s true that the inspectors from the UN will significantly deter Iran from any nuclear bomb-making.

    2) It is not obvious to me why attacking Iran after an Iran / US / UN deal would be any more impossible than it is now. More problematic, perhaps, but it is plenty problematic now. In the event, what would happen that wouldn’t happen now, sanctions? Will the US not veto a UNSC resolution imposing really meaningful sanctions on Israel? UNSC military action against Israel??!! Seems dubious that the US would allow that to pass. Anyway, most likely, Israel won’t overtly attack (bombers and all) now or in the future because the risk/reward is unfavorable, with or without Iranian nuclear capability.

    3) Agreed, though how much more clout is not obvious. For example, how much more regional clout does Pakistan have compared to before their nuclear test? Not all that much more it seems, and that’s with an actual bomb and not just breakout capacity.

    4) Ok, so let’s say Iran has breakout capacity and then Israel invades S. Lebanon. What will Iran do that they can’t do now? Build a bomb… then what? Nuke Tel Aviv? Give it to Hizbullah? Pretty clear ways to sign one’s own death warrant. Not sure what the logic is here. Israel will be a bit more hamstrung responding to any Iranian response if Iran has breakout capacity, but they are significantly hamstrung already.

    5) Quite a valid point

    6) True, though the spotlight can be thrown other places as well. Still, a valid point and I’m sure a backroom consideration for Netanyahu et al.

    7) Everyone relevant (or even just interested in the subject) knows Israel has nukes. Everyone’s opinion about this is established, downright fossilized even. The world’s worst kept secret for decades. Not sure how shedding light on this changes anything. In particular, I can’t see Israel giving up their nukes in our lifetime, no matter the circumstances.

    • Not sure what the logic is here.

      The logic is that Israel is too much like summer camp to keep its population from emigrating if Iran were to have the breakout capability.

    • Nathan, the danger to Israel in launching an attack on Iran *after* a deal is struck isn’t a military one.

      Nobody (except Iran, of course) will go to war with Israel because Netanyahu had launched such an attack.

      The danger is that such an Israeli attack can not be construed as anything other than a military attack upon a USA national security policy.

      What would each of the P5+1 conclude from that?

      Answer: they would all conclude that Israel is barking-mad, utterly, completely, rabid-dog-out-of-control.

      The USA would have no choice but to regard Israel as “going rogue”, and the last middle east leader who went rogue on the USA was Saddam Hussein in 1991.

      Food. For. Thought.

      • Hello Johnboy,

        I basically agree with you, but the point I was making is that the US and the world would see Israel as going rogue if they attacked Iran militarily today, before a deal, just as much as if they attacked after a deal. It is not clear to me how the US / P5+1 striking a deal changes the consequences all that much for an Israeli attack. Perhaps an attack by Israel after a deal would be an extra snub to the P5+1, but that seems to be a minor thing in the grand scheme.

    • “Ok, so let’s say Iran has breakout capacity and then Israel invades S. Lebanon. What will Iran do that they can’t do now? Build a bomb”

      No. They can provide much greater and more open conventional support to Hezbollah, with the knowledge that Israel’s capability to retaliate against Iran has been weakened by Iran’s deterrent capability.

  5. 3. “A remaining Iranian nuclear program would ALWAYS imply a “break-out” capacity for Tehran. Being known to be able to make a nuclear weapon has some of the same deterrent effect as actually having one.”

    The Likud and Netanyahu will go with #3—“ALWAYS.” If Iran is allowed to keep spinning even one centrifuge, that is one too many.

  6. Canada’s conservative right wing govt’s foreign minister John Baird penned an article against Iran recently as well, following the pro-Israel pressure, ironically under the guise of human rights mostly. Iran’s foreign minister didn’t take too kindly to it who correctly noted Canada’s unhelpful hostility and hypocrisy.

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  7. Israel committed fraud in three key ways in developing its nuclear bomb capability:

    (A)in 1958 they purchased “heavy water” from the British government using a Norwegian front company called “Noratom” who received a 2% commission and the water was delivered directly to Israel – the specifics of this transaction were kept secret until 2005 when investigative reporters disclosed the event and the contract included promises by Israel that the water would not be used for manufacturing weapons;

    (B)beginning in the 1950s, France and Israel were engaged in joint scientific research with respect to developing atomic power purportedly for peaceful purposes – this research gave Israeli physicists access to top secret French nuclear weapons detonation testing reports that were misused by Israel;

    (C)Israel made a secret purchase of bulk quantities of “yellowcake” uranium from Argentina in the early 1960s.

    The French began to suspect Israel’s intent was to construct a nuclear bomb. French physicists and engineers were intimately involved in the design and construction
    of the Israeli atomic research facility at Dimona. By 1963 President Charles DeGaulle concluded that Israel had improperly exploited the joint research arrangement and terminated the arrangement – even though performance of pre-existing contractual obligations required the French to render technical assistance to Israel up until 1966.

    During the mid-1960s, members of Israel’s own internal nuclear regulatory agency began to express suspicions that Israel’s substantial atomic research was ultimately being intended to establish a nuclear war arsenal – and that such conduct would open up Israel to vilification within the world community.

    Current Israeli President Shimon Peres, then a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, had been instrumental in initiating and developing the joint atomic research relationship with the French which gave Israeli physicists incidental access to French scientific data on atomic weapons testing.

    Israel tried to convince the international community of their commitment to legitimate constructive uses of atomic power when they joined Turkey in becoming the first signatories in 1957 to the Atoms For Peace program initiated by President Eisenhower. This was simply a ruse to lull world leaders into a false sense of security regarding Israeli intentions.

    During a diplomatic visit to Canadian PM John Diefenbaker in 1961 was told by Israeli PM David Ben-Gurion that Israel was going to initiate plutonium separation from the fuel rods at the Dimona facility. Diefenbaker briefed Canadian intelligence officials who consulted British intelligence analysts that concluded that the only explanation for this was that Israel’s intent was to acquire a nuclear bomb capability.

    By 1967-69 it is likely that Israel acquired its first two A-bombs – reputedly “christened” by then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan with the motto “Never agaain” welded on the warhead in Hebrew and English. Dayan is said to have consulted on the possible deployment of atomic weaponry during the early days of the Yom Kippur War when it appeared that the Egyptian army had overrun the Bar-Lev defensive line in the Sinai Peninsula and would reach Israel.

    The Defense Intelligence Agency in 1979 received data from a Vela monitoring earth-orbiting satellite that a large explosion consistent with a low-yield nuclear detonation occurred in the Indian Ocean. It is widely believed that this was a joint South African-Israeli atom bomb test.

    It is believed Israel has up to 400 low-yield nuclear bombs that it could use during wartime. In the last few years Israel has spent around 1.5 billion euros to purchase Dolphin submarines from Thyssen-Krupp capable of firing sea-launched ballistic missiles each capable of delivering an atomic warhead. Reports of this came from Israel and German officals reported in Der Spiegel.

    This nuclear arsenal of Israel was acquired under false pretenses of a peaceful intent and the existence of such atomic weaponry is not acknowledged to this day by Israeli officials. They are in no position to complain about Iran in such regards.

    • “1.5 billion euros to purchase Dolphin submarines from Thyssen-Krupp”

      One minor correction, these were partially financed by the German Taxpayer.

      U-boats in the Israeli navy!

  8. “7. If Iran is widely viewed by the international community to have stepped back from nuclear ambitions, Israel’s own nuclear arsenal will come to the fore as a focus, since it is the only Middle Eastern country with an arsenal of warheads, and that arsenal clearly drives a regional arms race (starting with Iraq in the 1980s).”

    Bringing Israel’s massive stockpiles of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons that go un inspected and Israel’s unwillingness to sign the NPT into the light is a tough wall to get over in the U.S. MSNBC, CNN, Fox, NPR’s walls of silence have been well constructed by the I lobby for decades. Can’t even get those so called “liberals” like Rachel Maddow to whisper about this height of hypocrisy.

  9. The western media is kowtowed or bought, as an example just yesterday the BBC ran two articles on their front page as a form of subtle, or maybe not so subtle, propaganda in the form of news. First they had an article about just how anti-semitic Germany is today, which relates to point #5. They also ran a large article about how the “House of Saud” has a pre-order of several Pakistani Nukes and are just waiting to see if we let Iran get away with it’s nonexistent nuke program before they take delivery of these illegal weapons. If it walks like blackmail and talks like blackmail, seems to me it is blackmail. This is the incessant brainwashing that occurs ad nauseam in our free press. Between Likud and the Saudi’s maybe it is time we made some new friends in the neighborhood since the old one’s don’t seem to be too friendly to us anymore. Finally, one question Juan have you been being watched like has been?

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    Juan, thank you again for a good analysis of Israel-Palestine-US-Iran relations.

    Your analysis might point towards a window of (long-term) opportunity: a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, and thereafter, common security by means of a Middle East Union, MEU.

    It is ironic, that the illegal U.S attack on Iraq, with its Shiite majority, has lead to making Iran a regional power, with many interests common with Iraq.

    Given the mind-set in Israel, there is also hope. In Germany, searching for the strategic point of gravity is part of military thinking, stemming from von Clausewitz, while in Israel, improvising is tradition (check the 1967 war).

    When looking at politics at Knesset, one wonders if anything could be planned in Israel.

    Facing a reoriented – improvized(!) – US policy in the Middle East, made possible by Russia (and Iran), Israelis might have use of their talents of improvisation.

    Militaries have long known that nuclear weapons are military useless, but dangerous. Unless you want to join A. Hitler, J. Stalin and others in the history textbooks.

    Björn Lindgren

  11. I am fascinated by recent reports that Saudi Arabia might obtain ready made nuclear weapons from Pakistan. I’m also waiting for reaction from the US and Israel about that possibility.

    • What makes you think Pakistan hasn’t already given nukes to the Saudis? A.Q. Khan was makin’ the rounds, and his Saudi buddies would have been a first stop. Is also well known by the CIA, etc. that Saudi Arabia was funneling money to Pakistan for their nuclear program.

      If I had to guess, I’d say the Saudis have already gotten the bomb from Pakistan. It just hasn’t been publicly acknowledged by the US for the same reasons that Israel’s possession hasn’t been..namely international law issues, US legalities concerning sanctions against a major oil producer that’s an “ally”, hypocrisy concerning Iran, etc.

      In any case, Pakistan has an iron-clad security arrangement with the Saudis and the Saudis emotionally blackmail Muslims around the world with Mecca & Medinah, so they don’t even need to have it in their physical possession. They can just consider Pakistani nukes their own.

      Neither Israel or Saudi Arabia really care about Iranian nukes per say anyway. They know as well as anyone Iran would never use them unless they wanted to invite their own obliteration. It is about other interests, and this is one avenue of weakening Iran. Preferably, the Saudis and Israelis would hope to continually keep moving the goal post so Iran is NEVER given relief and that the economy collapses, leads to revolution and regime change. It is not meant to end until that. If Iran gives on this, next it will be sanctions for Hezbollah. Or sanctions accusing the Iranians of helping the Taliban. Etc., etc., etc.

  12. “The US is trying to convince Iran to scale back its program to the point where it cannot be used to produce a weapon in a short time period, and is solely a fuel-producing program”

    FALSE. It is Iran that has consistently and repeatedly offered this, and the US which has rejected it, demanding that Iran abandon enrichment entirely.

  13. This deal was dead before it was even announced.
    Congress, including the Democrats, have shown they will buck
    Obama when it comes to Israel. They are almost certain to strengthen sanctions and reject any deal the White House makes with the Iranians short of robbing the Iranians of all face and having them grovel as Israel and Saudi Arabia want.

    I would be completely surprised if Obama convinces Congress to ratify any deal or ease the sanctions. I just don’t see it given how much Netanyahu is bellowing in public. His public intransigence is no doubt to send the message to Congress of where he expects them to line up, otherwise it would have been kept out of sight and relayed privately.

    Iran aside, I don’t see where Likud and the rest of the Israeli right wing are going with the Palestine issue. The current trajectory either results in a permanent full-fledged apartheid state, genocide/ethnic cleansing/transfer or the cessation of Israel as a “Jewish” state. Even Hamas recognizes this and it’s leaders have stated “no need for a deal..if we’re patient, it’ll all be Palestine in 20 years”..paraphrasing.

    This is all madness.

  14. Does anyone remember the July/August 2012 article in FOREIGN AFFAIRS titled “Why Iran Should Get The Bomb – Nuclear Balance Would Mean Stability” by Kenneth N. Waltz a Senior Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Columbia University?

    It sank like a rock. The reaction was silence. I can’t imagine what degree of ostracism Mr. Waltz must have encountered. As far as discussion went- There was none- The article might as well have been written on water.

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