Three years ago, President Obama, in a discussion about the threat of a nuclear Iran, bluntly rejected a policy of containment. It would be dangerous, he suggested, to believe that the United States could contain Iran in the same way it contained a nuclear Soviet Union. In an interview with me, and then in a speech before AIPAC, he argued that a nuclear-armed Iran would represent an acute threat to Israel, as well as a “profound” national-security threat to the United States itself, in part because the existence of an Iranian bomb would likely trigger a nuclear-arms race in the world’s most volatile region.
To reassure Israelis, whose country is targeted for elimination by the Iranian regime, he said, in the interview: “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff. I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”
The preliminary nuclear deal announced on Thursday in Switzerland means that Obama may very well succeed in keeping his promise to Israel. Iran, it appears, will not gain possession of a nuclear weapon while he is president. If Iran adheres to the terms of the deal, as best as we understand those sketchy terms today, it will not have a nuclear weapon during the terms of the next one or two U.S. presidents. However, this deal, should it actually be ratified in June, formalizes Iran’s status as an eventual nuclear-threshold state by allowing it to maintain a vast nuclear infrastructure. This was not part of the international community’s original plan, and it is a cause for worry.