Parsing the Israeli Consul General’s LEO visit

Last week I had the honor and opportunity to discuss the Iran nuclear agreement with Israel’s Consul General, Yaron Sideman, who came to voice his, and represent Israel’s, opposition to the deal. The 45-minute conversation revealed several perspectives and points that shape the way opponents of the deal seek to undermine and destroy it, which he candidly acknowledged is his government’s ultimate goal. Mr. Sideman is the highest Israeli diplomat in the region and has spent his career in a variety of posts, each focused on cultivating U.S.-Israeli relations. His commitment to a nuclear-free Iran, Israel’s security and Israel’s relations with the U.S. is indisputable, and any disagreements are legitimate differences of opinion.

The foremost takeaway from the discussion was that no deal would have made Israel happy. While our conversation did cover issues that have not been discussed in the national media, as it relates to the case against the agreement, Mr. Sideman did not offer any new arguments. Further, all of the issues presented are predicated on absolute distrust of Iran, and the assumption that Iran’s ultimate goal is the annihilation of Israel. As a result, the only deal Israel would have supported would have to be the total acquiescence of Iran to any and all demands of the international community.

This is the difficulty of the debate: many of the points raised are inarguable or based on a fabricated premise. The other problem is that all of the solutions are hypothetical scenarios.

First, the agreement unequivocally states that Iran will never attain or seek to attain a nuclear weapon. So while opponents of the deal argue that it paves the path for Iran to build a bomb, the only logical path to that conclusion is based entirely on distrust of Iran. Mr. Sideman could speak all day, citing examples of why Iran is not to be trusted. And he is not wrong in saying, “If this entire agreement is based on trusting Iran not to abuse or go back on its word, I think that’s a very shaky foundation for signing an agreement.” But the international distrust of Iran is why we inspect, verify and monitor. Distrust is why there is monitoring of any bomb-building process, from resource mines, through the supply chain, to the nuclear facilities.

In regard to the monitoring process, Mr. Sideman appropriately cited the lengthy time periods that could elapse while Iran operated in unlisted facilities. What is intended to be only a matter of weeks could in fact wind up being several months of appeals before a resolution is reached. Ultimately though, U.S. intelligence will continue its own monitoring, and the bomb-making process is not one that can be done in a mobile facility, or with supplies that can be transported in a backpack. More important, high-level nuclear waste, which is created in facilities where bombs would be made, takes decades to become untraceable or undetectable. In other words, a matter of months would not allow for a hide-and-clean operation.

Mr. Sideman also repeatedly stated that Iran should be required to change its behavior before being trusted in any agreement, including a cessation of funding terrorist organizations (i.e. Hezbollah), repeated human rights violations, absorbing other territories and publicly threatening Israel and America. These are all inarguable positions, but the stated objective of the negotiations was strictly bound to the nuclear program, and nothing else.

Another argument repeatedly used opposing the agreement is that there is a better deal to be made. This despite the fact that the other signatories to the agreement — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — all declared that they would not participate in any other negotiations should this one fail. Mr. Sideman believes that the U.S. has unilateral authority to reimpose sanctions, can force everyone back to the table with time and resolve, and dictate terms of a better deal. This is very easy for any critic to say, but it is not based on any evidence. The unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. were not effective. It was only after multilateral sanctions — imposed by the U.S., along with China, Russia and others — truly crippled Iran’s economy that Iran became willing to negotiate. The U.S. cannot dictate terms unilaterally, and we risk an historic international commitment, without any reason to believe in a second chance, should we squander this opportunity.

Mr. Sideman’s interest and motivation behind his opposition to this agreement is genuine. It goes beyond the duties of his office and diplomatic responsibilities. It’s personal to him, as it is to millions of people, even beyond Israelis or Jews, Democrats or Republicans. We continue to disagree on the best next steps in dealing with the Iranian threat. However, as I acknowledged before the end of the interview, “In the end we are on the same team on this one.” He was right to add, “and so much more.”

Thank you Mr. Sideman for your time and service.

You can hear the whole conversation with Mr. Sideman on this week’s LEO’s podcast, available Friday.