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Analysis: Fate of Iran nuclear deal could hasten future conflicts for Israel

The US administration complains that the Iran nuclear deal did not rein in Tehran's missile program, but the deal's other signatories argue it should be limited to the nuclear issue
The deal has failed to restrain Iran’s export of violence, fundamentalism to proxies such as Hezbollah

The future of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers hangs in the balance, and this could soon have ramifications for Israel’s security situation.

It seems fair to assume that the Israeli defense establishment is examining and preparing for several contingencies, including the possibility that US President Donald Trump terminates the agreement, and that Iran responds by reactivating its nuclear program and launching provocations against Israel, via its chief Shi’ite proxy Hezbollah.

Whether one is in favor or opposed to the agreement, there can be no denying that its existence, as well as potential termination, cannot be ignored as a major influencing factor on the Middle Eastern strategic picture.

In the ultra-politicized feuding that has raged around the agreement, it is easy, as former Israeli national security adviser Uzi Arad told Israel’s Army Radio in recent days, to get lost in all of the spin.

When the nuclear agreement was signed in 2015, voices in the Israeli defense establishment expressed an often misunderstood response, recognizing both its many and disturbing flaws, and some advantages too.

Some defense sources in Israel noted that in the immediate and short-term future, the threat of unconventional nuclear military capabilities from Iran had decreased as a result of the deal. Iranian uranium levels had dropped to below 300 kilograms, taking Iran a step back from the brink of weapons production capability.

There were also assessments in the defense establishment that the Iranian regime, seeking economic and political fruits from the agreement, had a vested interest in complying with the deal, at least for now. Israel wasn’t about to trust that assessment though, and it dedicated enhanced intelligence resources to monitoring Iran’s compliance, and making sure that Iranian ‘weapons groups,’ as they are known in intelligence circles, are not engaged in the covert active production of nuclear weapons.

Kena Betancur (AFP/File)

Irrespective of the above, the Israeli intelligence community continues to assess that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has not at all given up on his vision of a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic. It is a vision that Khamenei could not realize immediately, due to constraints posed by reality, but one to which he remains firmly committed to, in a very real way.

Defense sources also recognized the numerous drawbacks of the agreement, arguing that a better deal could have been reached. The deal’s sunset clauses meant that in the longer run, in less than a decade, risks from the deal are set to grow considerably. When the sunset clauses set in, Iran will be able to enrich uranium without current constraints.

Iran is permitted to conduct research and development of improved uranium enrichment techniques. Its missile program, meanwhile, is racing ahead, and Iranian engineers are working on solid fuel, accurate ballistic missiles with growing ranges. These will be able to act as nuclear weapons delivery vehicles in the future. The agreement has, therefore, ultimately legitimized Iran as a nuclear-brink state.

The Iranian military-industrial complex is, in the meantime, moving ahead at an alarming rate. It is nourished by big state investment and a skillful, educated workforce capable of designing and mass producing good quality weapons.

These weapons can fill Iranian storage facilities and be trafficked to Iran’s array of agents and proxies around the Middle East, chief among them Hezbollah.

The deal failed to restrain Iran’s conduct in the region, and has had no effect on Iran’s radical, destabilizing export of violence and fundamentalism.

In the longer-run, therefore, the deal serves Iran’s nuclear and hegemonic aspirations. Iran has established Shi’ite hegemony in Lebanon, transferring arsenals of weapons and funds to Hezbollah. As this occurs, Iran’s overseas elite Quds Force is arming and funding radical forces in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and Iran’s influence in the Gaza Strip is growing once again.

The international community has, until now, failed to extract any price from Iran for its regional intervention and destructive conduct.


- A time-based view of the nuclear deal -

In light of these developments, it is possible to take a time-based view of the nuclear agreement. According to this view, the agreement, though flawed on many levels, has certain short-term advantages, which decrease with time.

If the agreement remains in place, the unconventional threat from Iran will remain low in the next few years. In other words, the agreement did appear to take the need for imminent action against Iran’s nuclear program off the table for the time being.

And since any conflict with Iran seems to automatically include conflict with Hezbollah -- Israel’s most threatening foe -- the nuclear deal could, for all of its flaws, provide some short-term breathing space, free of major conflicts, which the Israel could utilize productively.

Israel can use the coming years to significantly build up its own military force, adjust to 21st century battle field conditions, and improve war readiness. This is, in fact, what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has been doing, in line with the Gideon multi-year program, under the leadership of Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.


Israel can use the temporary break in conflicts that it is experiencing to better prepare for the future. The nuclear deal contributes to this break.

The IDF has been using this respite to improve training, stockpile accurate weapons, and build up an enhanced intelligence picture. All of these contribute not only to Israeli’s abilities to defend itself, but also to its deterrence, projecting an image to enemies that it is not to be trifled with.

The nuclear deal has also helped produce new de facto partners for Israel’s quest to keep Iran in check, in the form of the Sunni pragmatic camp of countries, led by Saudi Arabia.

It remains unclear whether the US will end up tearing up the nuclear deal or not, but if it does, the likelihood for regional conflict in the short-term will grow. Israel may, as a result, end up having less time to prepare for future conflicts.

Yaakov Lappin is an associate researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and a correspondent for Jane’s Defense Weekly and the Jewish News Service.



Better confront evil sooner than later. B4 Iran has nukes. NoKo is already a major problem supported by China and Russia. Trump is making it their problem.

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