An expert on the Iranian nuclear agreement told participants on a conference call sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ that critics of the deal “haven’t shown if they kill this what they get in return, but the supporters haven’t shown how they need to fix it, and I think we need to use this discourse to elevate it.”
In an hour-long discussion on Aug. 3, David Makovsky, the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he was “not here to take a thumbs-up or thumbs-down [position], but I personally think that unless the administration fixes their approach even those who want to support are not going to be able to.”
In presenting the key arguments of both sides, Makovsky told his audience, “President Obama said correctly that if this thing works for 15 years, you have bought 15 years of time.”
But he said after 15 years Iran could produce the high-enriched uranium needed to produce nuclear weapons, “so the White House will have to explain what is the policy after 15 years.”
Critics would ask, “What is in the fine print here?” said Makovsky. “They would argue what has happened is a very subtle but profound shift that has gone on from the beginning until now. The goal was to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program, and this [deal] essentially manages to freeze it for 15 years and a bit to manage it. Eliminate and manage are not the same thing.”
Monday’s conference call, open to the public, was the first in what the federation’s Community Relations Committee is calling the Iran Nuclear Agreement Speaker Series. Other events in the series were to include a live national webcast Aug. 4 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (organized by Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, see page 8); a “Town Hall Meeting on Iran” with Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7), scheduled for the evening of Aug. 4 in Millburn; and a conference call with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Aug. 5.
The CRC has also created an Iran Nuclear Agreement Resource Page to “provide the community with thoughtful analyses, important documents and statements, and educational opportunities (jfedgmw.org).”
“We are not having speakers that are unequivocal on taking a position on either side of the deal,” CRC director Melanie Roth Gorelick told NJJN in an e-mail. “We have heard David speak before, and he gives the pros and cons of both sides in a very fair way. We…feel that this is the best way to educate the community at this time.
“We are also letting the community know about other ways to learn more when other organizations such as JFNA national are organizing conference calls with influentials and experts or when our elected officials want to speak with the Jewish community,” said Gorelick. “We have had a lot of engagement with our community from all different perspectives and believe this is what they are requesting.”
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Makovsky works, convened a bipartisan panel on the nuclear deal whose benchmarks were accepted by the White House — although not everyone agrees those benchmarks were met.
Makovsky said Netanyahu “does not believe Iran will cheat.” Instead, Netanyahu “thinks the payoff for them being legitimate for 15 years is there are no restrictions. They can have as many centrifuges as they want. They can have as much uranium as they want. That is a heavy price to pay because Iran becomes a nuclear threshold state.”
Makovsky also expressed concern that some of the expected $50 billion in funds Iran will receive after sanctions are lifted might be spent on subsidizing Islamist terrorism against Israel.
“$50 billion is a lot of money for these guys. If Iran was Japan, it would put all its money into civilian infrastructure. But Iran isn’t Japan,” he said.
Funds could end up bolstering Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, Hizbullah militants in Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, and Shia revolutionary groups.
The Iranians “are going to have a lot of walking-around money to cause a lot of mischief,” said Makovsky. “Members of Congress are going to want to hear from the White House that we have a very robust program” for coping with that possibility.
Although many opponents of the agreement have urged a return to the bargaining table for a better deal, Makovsky said it is “hard for me to see” how any renegotiation would happen if the deal is killed, “but I think that is a legitimate position.”
In terms of strained U.S.-Israel relations, Makovsky said, “The terrible chemistry at the top with the prime minister and the president is of concern…. I would argue whether there is a deal or not a deal, these two countries have to work together.”
Should the deal go through, he insisted that the United States provide Israel with greater military might. That might include a Massive Ordinance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound bomb that could wipe out underground Iranian nuclear sites.
“Israel has not been given that program,” he said. “Israel should have the means to defend itself.”