How to im­prove the Iran deal

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Steven L. Spiegel Steven L. Spiegel isa pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science and the direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Mid­dle East Devel­op­ment at UCLA and a scholar at the Is­rael Pol­icy Fo­rum.

The heart of the op­po­si­tion to the nu­clear deal with Iran is the fear, even the as­sump­tion, that Iran will vi­o­late it, cheat­ing on in­spec­tions and us­ing the ac­cord’s pro­vi­sions to dou­ble-deal and weaponize.

Op­po­nents of­ten cite North Korea’s vi­o­la­tion of its deal with the West in 2003. But they fail to men­tion that even af­ter North Korea be­came a nu­clear state, an in­sur­ance sys­tem was in place so that it could not be­come a re­gional force. North Korea could only move so far with­out pre­cip­i­tat­ing a con­fronta­tion with Amer­ica be­cause the United States had de­fense treaties with South Korea, Ja­pan, Australia and the Philip­pines.

If we don’t trust the Ira­ni­ans — and why should we? — then we need sim­i­lar ar­range­ments with Is­rael and the con­cerned Arab states, Iran’s ad­ver­saries in the re­gion who are close to the U.S. Along­side the agree­ment with Tehran, we can of­fer th­ese states a net­work of for­mal com­mit­ments guar­an­tee­ing that an attack by Iran on any of those coun­tries would be con­sid­ered an attack on the United States.

To some ex­tent, Amer­i­can se­cu­rity guar­an­tees, es­pe­cially to Is­rael and to the Saudis, are al­ready im­plicit. But new, firmer as­sur­ances, es­pe­cially if cod­i­fied in a bi­lat­eral treaty with Is­rael and a mul­ti­lat­eral pact or se­ries of ar­range­ments with sev­eral Arab states, would be per­ma­nent and un­mis­tak­able, no mat­ter who was in the White House.

Such mea­sures would sharply re­duce the chance of mis­cal­cu­la­tions by Iran. Its lead­ers could not de­lude them­selves into think­ing that there would be no con­se­quences if they threat­ened or at­tacked one of their neigh­bors — the kind of delu­sion un­der which North Korea in­vaded South Korea in 1950, af­ter the United States left un­clear its in­ter­est in de­fend­ing the Korean penin­sula.

In fact, in early 2008, both Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Barack Obama and Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, went on the record about ex­tend­ing the U.S. “se­cu­rity um­brella” to Is­rael if Iran ob­tained nu­clear weapons.

Clin­ton added that she would “pro­vide a de­ter­rent backup” be­yond that as well, in­clud­ing Europe, Ja­pan, Saudi Ara­bia, Kuwait and other Arab coun­tries, and guar­an­tee­ing “mas­sive re­tal­i­a­tion” if Iran tar­geted Is­rael or Amer­ica’s Arab al­lies.

Pres­i­dent Obama has al­ready reached out to Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu about the Iran deal frame­work. He de­clared in an in­ter­view over the week­end that he’s will­ing “to make the kinds of com­mit­ments that would give every­body in the neigh­bor­hood, in­clud­ing Iran, a clar­ity that if Is­rael were to be at­tacked by any state, that we would stand by them,” and he said he would use a Camp David meet­ing to “for­mal­ize” se­cu­rity as­sis­tance for Arab al­lies.

Some may ques­tion such out­reach and may even be as­ton­ished at the no­tion of pro­vid­ing a new spe­cific de­fense com­mit­ment to an Is­raeli leader who has acted as if he were a mem­ber of Amer­ica’s Repub­li­can Party and has been the world’s most vo­cal op­po­nent of a nu­clear deal. And yet ac­cept­ing such an Amer­i­can of­fer would end Ne­tanyahu’s bit­ter op­po­si­tion to Obama’s pol­icy and a fi­nal­ized deal.

A de­fense treaty would of­fer the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter a means not only of in­creas­ing de­ter­rence against Iran but also a means of re­vers­ing the decline in the U.S.-Is­raeli re­la­tion­ship. It would serve as the most au­thor­i­ta­tive mes­sage that the Ira­ni­ans could have that they would face a cer­tain and strong Amer­i­can re­ac­tion if they threat­ened Is­rael.

Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates (and pos­si­bly such Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil states as Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain), plus Egypt and Jor­dan, ought to wel­come such a com­mit­ment — and such pro­tec­tion — as well. It would as­sure them of Amer­i­can en­gage­ment in their re­gion, re­duc­ing the like­li­hood of the of­ten-dis­cussed U.S. pivot to Asia.

Th­ese are dif­fi­cult times for th­ese states, par­tic­u­larly in their strug­gles with Is­lamic State, other rad­i­cal groups, and Iran, and they need all the help they can get, even though they do not trust the U.S. com­pletely. Their ad­ver­saries would un­der­stand they have the full back­ing of the United States.

In the end, nei­ther Ne­tanyahu nor the Arab lead­ers could af­ford not to ac­cept Amer­ica’s guar­an­tees and cease work­ing against the deal that had been reached.

Iran’s po­ten­tial vic­tims and many in Amer­ica are jus­ti­fi­ably con­cerned about the nu­clear deal. A se­ries of de­fense pacts in the Mid­dle East is the best route to as­suage th­ese con­cerns, make sure that Iran abides by its com­mit­ments and cre­ate a more se­cure re­gion with pos­i­tive global im­pli­ca­tions.

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