One of Donald Trump’s most vocal riffs during his campaign was “rip it up.”
He was referring, of course, to the Iran agreement that is meant to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the ayatollahs for at least a decade.
Candidate Trump boasted he would rip up the agreement, then renegotiate a much better document. This sent shivers of joy up the spine of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many of his conservative allies, who have opposed any document negotiated with Iran as a cave-in to their existential enemy.
But you don’t hear that “rip it up” language any longer. And you won’t. Indeed, in his landmark message to Congress on Tuesday, the President touched only once on Iran, in an all but a throwaway line that was also the only time Israel was invoked: “I have also imposed new sanctions on entities and individuals who support Iran’s ballistic missile program, and reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the state of Israel.”
The fact is that Trump will not be touching that Iran nuclear agreement. And, it seems, the Israelis are not unhappy about this — at least for the moment. There are several interesting reasons for this.
First, Israeli military leaders have told Netanyahu they can’t win that war. The war in question, of course, would likely be the consequence of a rapid chain of events that would quite clearly be unleashed the moment the Iranian treaty was torpedoed.
Iran would begin to rebuild its once vast centrifuge network — used to enrich uranium to bomb-making levels. Interestingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which the treaty designated was to monitor compliance with the agreement, reported last week that Iran has barely a third of the enriched uranium it’s allowed under the treaty — 101.7 kilos, compared with its authorized ceiling of 300 kilos.
Of course, it would likely take barely a year for a determined Iran to reverse this trend and work toward sufficient material to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons. At some point, likely quite early in that cycle, Israel, which has long believed itself to be the principal first target of any Iranian bomb, would launch a first-strike attack to put any such enterprise out of business
What the Israeli military has come to realize is the same that the US military understands. Any such attack would require interdiction of multiple, deeply buried or hardened, targets deep inside Iran.
There is no way that Iran would put all its bomb-making eggs in one basket. Some of these targets would be so deeply buried or reinforced that the only weapons able to attack them would be the powerful bunker-buster bombs that the United States has developed and jealously guarded for years.
Their deployment would require full complicity if not participation on the part of the US armed forces. The consequences of that are too horrific to imagine, but range across all-out terrorist war against US interests worldwide by Iranian proxies, ostracism by all US allies globally, but particularly in Europe. And in the end no certainty at all that the United States, or even Israel, would wind up any more secure.
More than Israeli sensitivities, or paranoia, are at stake here these days. Iran is increasingly coming to play a central role in the battle against the threat of radical Islamic terrorists — or at least the Sunni threat. For while Trump correctly and publicly echoes the refrain of Netanyahu that Iran is a principal aider and abettor, not to mention financier, of international terrorism, or Middle East misery, it is also the most virulent opponent of the Sunni branch of Islam, which is embraced by ISIS and the various branches of al Qaeda.
Particularly when Iraqi forces, with American advisers, complete their seizure of Mosul and turn their attention to ISIS headquarters in Raqqa, Syria, then Iranian forces will be essential in these final stages of the war.