DEC 2, 2013 , JERUSALEM
Shlomo Avineri, Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, served as Director-General of Israel’s foreign ministry under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The interim agreement reached in Geneva between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) and Iran is probably the best deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear program that could be reached, given current circumstances. The United States and its Western allies were unwilling to risk a military option, and not concluding a deal would have allowed Iran to proceed unimpeded toward acquiring nuclear weapons.
In an ideal world, Iran should have been forced to scrap its nuclear program altogether and hand over all of its enriched uranium to an outside power; but, realistically, that was unattainable. So the outcome of the Geneva talks is that Iran has secured some international legitimation as a nuclear-threshold power, which deeply worries its regional neighbors, from Saudi Arabia and Israel to Turkey, Egypt, and the small and vulnerable Gulf states.
Western statesmen are right to congratulate themselves on averting an immediate major crisis. But they are wrong to believe that they have resolved the Iranian nuclear threat. Indeed, it is naïve to imagine that a final agreement with Iran will be achieved in the coming six months: Iran’s seasoned diplomats will make sure that that does not happen.
So, while the interim agreement may not be a replay of the Munich Agreement in 1938, as many critics contend, it may have set the stage for an even more combustible future. US President Barack Obama may not be in office when the fire ignites, but if things do go terribly wrong, he may be remembered as another statesman who, like Neville Chamberlain, was blind to the consequences of his peaceful intentions.
The main reason for pessimism stems from the interim agreement’s wider geopolitical context, which has been ignored in favor of the regional dimension. In fact, the agreement, which alleviates much of the economic pressure on the Iranian regime, is a result of Russia’s success in delaying international sanctions against Iran and its stubborn refusal to tighten them further.
For the Kremlin, Iran’s nuclear program is only one chapter in a campaign to reassert Russia’s role as a great power. Indeed, the interim agreement should be viewed as another in a string of recent Russian diplomatic victories over the US.
The current US administration lacks the type of grand strategy that animates Russian President Vladimir Putin. Instead, it considers every issue separately, unsure about how to balance its role as a global power with its commitment to liberal values, and led by a president who apparently believes that soaring rhetoric is a substitute for strategic thinking. There should be no illusion: The interim agreement with Iran is a resounding triumph for Putin, not for Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry.