A handful of non-proliferation experts are taking issue with the Israeli position on a final agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, specifically, Israeli demands that the deal model the plan that ridded Syria of its chemical weapons (CW) stockpile and that intrusive inspections won’t prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
Top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have argued that the entirety of Iran’s nuclear program — including the civilian energy component — must be dismantled, a position that many, including President Obama, have said is unrealistic.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and former top aide to Netanyahu, this week referred to the Syria chemical weapons deal should serve as a blueprint.
“We hope that the model of Syria will be the model that you’ll see with Iran,” he told Charlie Rose on his PBS program on Tuesday. “You’re removing all of the enriched uranium, you’re removing all of the centrifuges, you’re removing all of the capabilities that Iran has to build weapons in the future.”
Dermer, who sources have said is making the rounds on Capitol Hill to make the Israeli case on Iran, added that “inspectors will not do the job. The only thing that will do the job is to remove this nuclear weapons capability from Iran.”
Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association (ACA), said that while Dermer is correct that the U.N. mission to rid Syria of its chemical weapons was a great success, “the analogy to the Iranian case is a stretch.”
Kimball said that policy makers in the U.S. and in its international partner countries on Iran, the so-called P5+1, “agree that achieving a zero-enrichment state is not necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and that insisting on that outcome would wreck the chances for an effective, comprehensive deal.”
Without that deal, he added, “There would be no constraints on Iran’s enrichment capacity” and intrusive inspections “would not be expanded to cover undeclared sites and activities, which would be the most likely pathway to build nuclear weapons if Iran chose to do so.”
The ACA’s Greg Thielmann agreed. “I’m struck by Amb. Dermer’s endorsement of the Syrian chemical weapons agreement as a model,” he told ThinkProgress. “Syria still knows how to make CW and has the industrial base to recreate its CW production facilities. Likewise, even if Iran were forced to destroy its centrifuges, it would still know how to rebuild them and use them to produce weapons grade uranium — and it has the scientific and industrial capability ultimately to build a nuclear arsenal.”
Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said Dermer’s claim that inspections won’t stop Iran from building a weapon is “nonsense.”
“How does he know, since we don’t yet know what inspections in Iran will look like?” Lewis said in an e-mail to ThinkProgress. “These are the same guys who said inspections weren’t working in Iraq when they were. He might prefer an airstrike, but the reality is that even imperfect inspections will work better than starting a war.”
Kingston Reif, Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, also took issue with Dermer’s Syria CW model.
“Pointing to Syria as a model for Iran doesn’t work in the way Dermer thinks it does,” he said. “Syria possessed a large chemical weapons arsenal for over three decades before it was forced to give it up in the wake of the actual use of these weapons. This arsenal was a direct threat to Israel. Clearly it would not be in Israel’s interest for Iran to acquire and possess nuclear weapons for decades before giving them up.
“While the complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear arsenal might be ideal from a nonproliferation perspective it is unrealistic and not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Insisting on such a position would greatly increase the likelihood that the outcomes most threatening to Israel would come to pass: an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program and a nuclear-armed Iran.”
The P5+1 and Iran started a final push in Vienna this week to reach a final deal by the July 20 deadline. “The United States has sent some 15 officials, led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman,” reports al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen, “an unprecedented investment of top personnel and policy bandwidth that demonstrates the high value Washington has placed on the goal of trying to reach a negotiated agreement with Iran to ensure it does not obtain a nuclear weapon.”
Diplomats on all sides have said that significant gaps remain and “it would not be easy to clinch a deal by their self-imposed deadline for a deal of July 20,” Reuters reports, despite the fact that the Iranians have “reduced demands for the size of its future nuclear enrichment program.”