ArgumentHow Demise of Iranian Nuclear Deal Rekindles Israel’s Dilemma

Published 14 January 2020

For Israel, it may be a case of “careful what you wish for.” Whatever its flaws, the Iran nuclear deal gave Israel a breather of sorts. Now its leaders face a grimly familiar predicament, and a ticking clock.

In 2014 and 2015, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigned relentlessly against the nuclear deal the Obama administration was negotiating with Iran. Donald Trump embraced the views of Netanyahu on the Iran deal, and in 2018 announced that the United States was withdrawing from the agreement, which was signed in October 2015.

Following the 3 January killing by the United States of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran said it would no longer refrain from its production of enriched uranium as proscribed in the agreement.

Dina Kraft writes in the Christian Science Monitor that Israel, once again, faces the prospect of its arch enemy being as little as six to ten months away from having enough fuel to create its first nuclear device.

She writes:

For all of its flaws, experts say, the JCPOA would have brought Israel – and the rest of the world – a hiatus of about 10 years from confronting the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

But now, Israel could find itself back in the same dilemma it faced before it was signed: “Do nothing and accept Iran on the verge of being a nuclear military force, or strike back,” says Raz Zimmt, an Iran expert at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).


Most senior Israeli intelligence and military officials were not as emphatically opposed to the deal as Mr. Netanyahu was, although none of them saw it as a “good deal” because restrictions on Iran’s nuclear development would begin phasing out after eight years – but this time with international legitimacy and no threat of international sanctions.

Nevertheless, they hinted at relief that extra time had been bought ahead of what’s called the “breakout time” for Iran to become a nuclear power.

Kraft writes that Israel’s options are considered to be limited. Israel can push for more international pressure, namely through intensifying economic sanctions, or the U.S. or Israel could launch a military strike that would seek to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

“And the deal is dying because Iran is really withdrawing slowly from all prohibitions of the deal. It was not a good deal to begin with, but it’s getting worse now,” Ephraim Asculai, who worked in the past for the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission. Told Kraft. He added that he has some concerns about whether the U.S. would stand behind its pledge to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. “As the Iranians accumulate more enriched uranium, the situation is getting more dangerous.”