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Nuclear facility in the province of Bushehr

There is always a certain degree of hypocrisy each time we debate about nuclear weapons, the limits to their use or acquisition and over the right to develop their technology. The entire sector is regulated by a Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, signed in July 1968 by three countries that already had the atomic bomb: the Soviet Union, the United States and Great Britain. In 1992 France and China joined the signatories. The treaty is based on the assumption that those who already owned nuclear weapons could keep them, while the rest of the world was banned from obtaining them. An asymmetric dictate of 11 articles that states in article 1 that the owners of atomic bombs cannot move their weapons to another country, or provide assistance in building them. Article 2 forces the non-owners to sign a declaration whereby they give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The result of this disparity in treatment has led some of the non-signatories, like India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel, to supply themselves with atomic weapons disregarding international controls. Other countries, instead, like Iraq and Libya, have been barred from the nuclear club. Now it's Iran's turn. If the ultimate aim is to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons for the sake of world peace, then this is definitely a worthy initiative. Instead, if we look at how the international community has acted in similar cases, it is unacceptable that some countries got away with it, while a veto has been imposed over Iran.

A controversial veto

It is largely debatable that a country that is a non-signatory to the Treaty of Nonproliferation act as the referee in the Middle East. In 1981 the Israelis claimed the right to bomb the Iraqi nuclear facility of Osirak, similar raids took place in Syria over the decades. Tel Aviv is ready to judge its neighbors, while no one can ever judge them. It is also worthwhile to bring the clock back to when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was at the helm in Iran. In those days the Israelis, and in particular Shimon Peres, offered the Iranians their nuclear know-how, both for civilian and military purposes. Israel did exactly the same thing with South Africa during the apartheid.

Israel believes that it is its right to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons or technology. Despite not being part of international treaties, they claim their safety and survival are at stake. But what is more menacing for Tel Aviv: a nuclear bomb in the hands of the Ayatollah or a potential islamist drift taking over Pakistan? The basic concept behind the Treaty of Nonproliferation is pretty logical: the less the atomic bombs the world owns, the better. However, the fact that only a limited group of nations can rely on nuclear weapons and use them as a deterrent in their foreign policy is also pretty disturbing.

The Israeli atomic bomb definitely grants the survival of Israel. At the same time it prevents, or slows down, any peace process involving other regional actors. By making Tel Aviv tougher than the rest, it leaves no room for negotiations. Benjamin Netanyahu personifies the intransigence of he who feels the strongest, a show of force that affects any attempt to mediate. No concessions are granted to the counterpart in the illusion, a wrong one indeed, that Israel can continue to survive without any deal over the cohabitation with neighboring countries or with the Palestinians simply because they are the bullies of the class.

If this is the picture we're looking at, the deal between Iran and the United States is a defeat for Israel. It is not an issue of what is inside the deal, but of the political consequences that come along a negotiated solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions. Firstly, the deal accepts the idea that Tehran will be able to develop its nuclear technology for civilian purposes. Secondly, Iran will be welcomed back on the international stage and will be able to play the regional role it deserves in the Middle East. Ancient Persia, a country of over 77 million people, the fourth world producer of oil, home to 16% of the globe's gas reserves, will soon shine again.

In other words, the deal will radically reshape the geo-strategic physiognomy of the region. Israel is hence not as worried about the Iranians obtaining a nuclear weapon, but rather of the influence Iran will be able to exert on the balance of power in the Middle East. The Israelis are particularly wary of the Lebanese Hezbollah, the only credible military force operating along the borders of the Jewish State.

benjamin netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu

A wrong strategy

During the past years cyber-attacks, computer bugs and viruses, attacks against infrastructures or scientists and espionage have all contributed to the monitoring and the slowing down of Iranian research activities. This has not prevented Netanyahu from using apocalyptic tones and from thinking about a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites, the latter was blocked at the last minute following a US veto. The Israeli PM has exploited the Iranian scare during the recent political campaign to confirm him in office. In the heat of the moment Benjamin Netanyahu has taken the alleged Iranian threat all the way to the General Assembly of the United Nations, where he has shown a number of slides indicating the progress made towards an atomic bomb. However, his claims were refuted by Mossad and by other influential members of the security apparatus, including Meir Dagan.

Israel, or more precisely Netanyahu, has gotten it all wrong when it comes to conveying its message about an Iranian nuclear threat to the US public opinion. In an open challenge to president Barack Obama, the Israeli PM accepted an invitation from the Republicans to speak before Congress on March 3, 2015. In an inappropriate setting, Netanyahu has spoken against the deal with Iran. The fact that the Mossad was spying on the negotiations and that the information that was collected was passed on to the pro-Israeli Republican members of the Senate, is just another clumsy attempt to block the reaching of a deal. It is also yet another episode in the ongoing dispute between Washington and Tel Aviv. Despite all of this, Israel will simply have to bite the bullet: no Iranian nuclear facility shall be destroyed, Iran will be allowed to continue to invest in nuclear technology for civilian use.

The rise of Iran threatens also other countries in the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia in the forefront. This is one of the reasons that has led president Obama to call for a meeting with Arabic countries in Camp David to illustrate the contents of the deal sealed in Lausanne. However, a question we should pose ourselves is: why did the United States put so much effort in reaching a deal with Iran when they knew that two of their traditional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, would have been unhappy?

Barack Obama

Obama the negotiator

The answer is both ideological and practical. The Obama administration has tried to put an end to the legacy of military adventures, some of which a total disaster, initiated by George W. Bush. Becoming involved in a proxy war, possibly led by Israel, against Tehran would have nullified this principle and paved the way for more instability in the region. The practical side of the deal has to do with the number one priority at the moment: the defeat of the ISIS led by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. And in this struggle Iran is a precious ally. To date they are the sole Muslim country to have acted on this issue. Had Iran supported the ISIS, the eradication of islamic terrorism would have been a hard to solve issue.

At this time, the details of the deal have yet to be defined and will be signed by June. Benjamin Netanyahu will definitely continue to do his best to block or modify the deal against Tehran. The Jewish lobbies like AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) will lend a helping hand. After all, both houses in Congress are held by Republicans. Yet, this is a dangerous game, it implies a lack of respect for president Barack Obama and for US sovereignty. Both factors could backfire for the Israeli PM.

Whether the deal his “historic” or a “mistake”, the negotiations go well beyond the mere nuclear nonproliferation issue and embrace the prospect of a pacified Middle East that has been rid of the ISIS. At the same time, a domino effect could lead other countries in the Arabian Peninsula to seek nuclear weapons. There are rumors Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have begun discussing about nuclear technologies.

Unlike his predecessors, Barack Obama, has introduced an innovative concept when it comes to foreign policy: you should negotiate with your enemy, measure its goodwill, leave any judgements or prejudices aside. A negotiated solution is sought to avoid going to war. A radical approach if compared to the ideas waged by George Bush Jr. and Benjamin Netanyahu.

It was since 1979 that the United States and Iran had no diplomatic ties. On one side a “rogue state”, the US definition, the “Great Satan”, the Iranian definition, on the other. In between the Israeli PM that has labelled Tehran “the greatest terrorist state in the world”. The standoff lasted a good 35 years and has led to nowhere, it didn't solve the nuclear issue, nor the instability in the Middle East.

The same pragmatic approach was adopted by Barack Obama with Cuba. His way of acting in foreign policy has no winners, nor losers. Common sense prevails while ideological extremisms are set aside. The sanctions against Iran have also lent a helping hand. Initially imposed by the United Nations in 2006 and confirmed in 2008, they were also enacted by the European Union since 2008. They definitely played a role in breaking a stall that had been lasting for 12 years.

But we have to give credit to the boldness of the US president, a Nobel Peace Prize, who has tried to break the vicious circles of tensions, misunderstandings and wars.

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