Even Tom Friedman says leaving Iran deal was a mistake — but risk of an Israeli attack grows

This site rarely agrees with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, but he wrote something the other day that we can endorse enthusiastically. He said the 2018 Trump/Netanyahu decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal “was one of the dumbest, most poorly thought out and counterproductive U.S. national security decisions of the post-Cold War era.” Back in 2018 Friedman wasn’t so quite so vehement about abandoning the deal, but better late than ever.

Friedman’s change of heart was mainly guided by what’s good for Israel. He cites recent published reports that high-ranking Israeli security officials say leaving the deal has made their country less safe. Independent nuclear experts say Iran now has enough material “to produce weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear bomb in as little as three weeks.” (Friedman doesn’t remind readers that under the deal the experts had said the bomb manufacturing process could take a year.)

The reporting that Friedman relies on did not appear in his own newspaper. The Times has a bureau in Israel, and plenty of other reporters, including Ronen Bergman, who regularly breaks “investigative” stories that glorify the Israeli intelligence services. But it was the valuable Israeli paper, Haaretz, that quoted several former Israeli top brass, including former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who called ending the deal “the main mistake of the past decade” in Iran policy.

At least talks to restore some kind of Iran deal have re-started in Vienna. But the newer hard-line Iranian government is apparently playing tough, and has gone back on agreements by previous Iranian negotiators. Even nuclear experts like Joe Cirincione, who have advocated for the deal all along, are depressed by the outlook. 

Instead, Israel, unsurprisingly, is using the same dangerous tactics it has deployed for more than a decade; dismiss diplomacy and either try to instigate the U.S. into a military attack on Iran, or carry out an attack itself. Al-Monitor said succinctly: “Israel has been on a diplomatic blitz to shut down the Vienna talks and talk up the need for a military option.” (By contrast, the Times whitewashed Israel’s hawkish policy, and said only that Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett has made “a call. . .to abandon the negotiations in the face of what he called Iranian blackmail.”)

Israel’s threat to attack has been made so many times that it has lost much of its danger to shock — but it would be a huge mistake to dismiss the Israelis’ statements. Even if Bennett is bluffing again, the supercharged atmosphere in the region raises the danger of a terrible accident. What’s more, Israel continues its violent sabotage program against Iran, including a recent cyber attack that paralyzed the nation’s gasoline distribution system. Last February, Israel or its agents assassinated a leading Iranian scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, inside the country. No nation will continue indefinitely to tolerate this kind of violent aggression without retaliating.

What’s more, an Israeli (or American) attack would not even succeed in narrow military terms. At the Responsible Statecraft website, Giorgio Cafiero points out that “Israel would need to deal with the fact that the Iranians have built dozens of nuclear sites all over their country.” He adds, “Iran is a country of nearly 86 million people with the potential ability to mobilize its networks and loyalists all over the Middle East to retaliate.” 

A good portion of the U.S. pro-Israel lobby is partly responsible for this danger. AIPAC and others fought the Iran deal in 2015, and cheered when Trump pulled the U.S. out of it. Now that Israel’s military leaders admit the withdrawal was a mistake, much of the lobby still tries to sabotage the Vienna talks and endorses Israel’s threats of more violence. Though J Street, to its credit, endorses diplomacy.

Nearly all historians agree that no one really wanted World War 1 to break out. But 4 years later, 20 million people had died.  

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