Not All Israelis Are Furious About the Iran Deal

“Iran’s nuclear program is stopped,” one prominent commentator emphasizes.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the new nuclear agreement with Iran a "historic mistake" on Sunday. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made headlines by condemning this weekend’s nuclear deal between Iran and world powers as a “historic mistake,” and some fellow leaders have been even harsher. “If in another five or six years a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the agreement that was signed this morning,” Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, declared on Sunday. According to a poll commissioned by the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, three-fourths of Hebrew-speaking Jewish Israelis don’t believe Iran will halt its nuclear program as a result of the accord, which places limits on the Iranian program over the next six months in exchange for sanctions relief.

But not all Israelis are opposed to the deal. Israeli leaders like President Shimon Peres and former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin have expressed cautious optimism about the diplomatic breakthrough, and some in the press have thrown their support behind the initiative as well, including some prominent commentators for Channel 2, Israel’s most-watched television network.

“Maybe it is worthwhile to ignore political formalities in Israel and the world to understand that the agreement reached between the Western powers and Iran is not as bad for Israel as some think,” wrote Ehud Yaari, a well-known commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, on the network’s website.

“It’s true that the West retreated from all their decisions at the U.N. Security Council that called on Iran to cease enriching uranium,” Yaari said during the network’s regular news broadcast Sunday evening. “But beyond this, Iran’s nuclear program is stopped. There’s no loading the reactor with plutonium … and they can’t build a reprocessing plant, and without that they can’t get to a nuclear bomb with plutonium.” He also emphasized new enrichment restrictions and tight international surveillance of nuclear activities.

“Without this agreement, the Iranians would have been able to start tomorrow morning with all 19,000 centrifuges that they have—more than half aren’t yet activated—and do a slew of other things later on. All of that, for now, won’t happen.”

Arad Nir, also a commentator for Channel 2, poked fun at Israeli opposition in light of international support for the deal. “I have to point out that not only Obama thinks it’s a good deal, but so does our friend ‘Francois,’” he said, in reference to French President Francois Hollande, who received “hugs and kisses only a week ago” during a recent visit to Israel. The French leader won widespread praise in the country for blocking a previous proposal for a nuclear deal that both Israel and France considered weak.

Nir pointed out that Vladimir Putin also supported the accord, and that Netanyahu had complimented the Russian president for striking an agreement to destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

“So let’s put things into proportion,” Nir said. At the talks in Geneva, negotiators didn’t discuss Israel, but rather Iran and how they could persuade Iran to restrict its nuclear program while “preserving its national dignity.”

“Yes, even they have something like this,” he concluded, implying that Israelis may sometimes forget that fact. 

This post is part of a collaboration between The Atlantic and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

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