It certainly has been quite a week!
After multiple deadline extensions and a successful wrangling of Congress by the White House to allow the Iran negotiations to proceed — through an extended review period of any deal that would allow legislators on Capitol Hill the chance to approve or disapprove what was hammered out in Vienna — the negotiators of six nations led by Secretary of State John Kerry emerged alongside Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to triumphantly announce the agreement.
Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — as well as everyone else allied with the White House, from Vice President Joe Biden on down to J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami — have been hitting the pavement and banging on doors to now sell the deal to a skeptical Congress and public. As you’ll read in this week’s JT, on the other side stand Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, AIPAC, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and others who argue that the price of the agreement — an easing of economic sanctions after eight to 10 years and a total sunset on nuclear restrictions after 15 years — was not worth getting Iran to submit to inspections of non-declared nuclear sites after a 24-days’ notice.
Whose side you are on might be beside the point, because now that the U.N. Security Council has signed off on the deal, any review by Congress will likely be moot. Which is why a little-noticed comment amid the full-court press by Kerry and his team is so important.
In what was either an instance of a likely exhausted diplomat misspeaking or a rare window into what a high-ranking administration official is really thinking about a foreign policy long game, Kerry told CBS’s John Dickerson on “Face the Nation” of the larger regional impact of the Iranian deal.
“What we know … is that an Iran without a nuclear weapon is a very different country than Iran with one,” Kerry said in the July 17 interview that aired Sunday, “and that a Middle East without a nuclear weapon is a safer Middle East.”
Whether or not you agree with his assessment that a region devoid of nuclear weapons is a safer one — some have long argued that a credible nuclear threat actually decreases the threat of long-term warfare and guarantees diplomacy as the ultimate venue for deciding a conflict — this agreement does not result in a nuclear-free Middle East. Israel has long held nuclear weapons — officially, the country embraces a “neither confirm nor deny” posture — as a last line of defense against annihilation.
So was Kerry subconsciously revealing a larger strategy of now pushing for Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty as many of the Jewish state’s enemies and other countries have wanted it to do for some time? Indeed, what does the administration seek to do in the Middle East now that it feels, in the words of President Barack Obama, Iran has been prevented from “every pathway” to a nuclear bomb?
Sometimes, proper strategy demands choosing to maneuver within the current reality instead of seeking to change it. Now that the reality has already changed — Israel, despite arguing against an Iranian deal, now finds that an agreement has been not only signed, but also accorded the status of international law — perhaps it’s time to see what can be done within the confines of the agreement itself. Have Israel and those who support her figured out when the next shoe will drop and what it will look like? If not, we better start now.