Published on 31 August 2015

Israel and the United States: Time for a Parallel Agreement

Because the nuclear agreement with Iran is so problematic, a bilateral parallel agreement between the United States and Israel is imperative. 

President Obama’s recent letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler detailing ways in which the administration intends to strengthen Israel and cooperate with it in years ahead is a good foundation for discussion, but its contents require expansion and elaboration. The parallel agreement should provide a suitable response to future dangers inherent in the agreement with Iran, and along nuclear, conventional, and political levels, promote the vital interests of Israel and those of the United States in the Middle East. Within the framework of the parallel agreement, it is also necessary to establish a joint annual review forum that would examine the status of the threat from Iran. The proposed parallel agreement stands to satisfy those in favor of the agreement and those opposed to it. Supporters  of the agreement concede that it contains risky compromises; the parallel agreement would provide a reasonable response to those risks. Those who argue that it presents serious risks to Israel, the US, and its allies, will find that the parallel agreement provides practical, concrete answers to many of their concerns.
Long before the signing of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) between Iran and the P5+1, I called on the leaders of Israel and the United States to launch a constructive dialogue and work together to minimize the potential risks inherent in the JCPOA. The agreement signed between the P5+1 and Iran is very problematic for Israel, and is currently opposed by the majority of Americans and their representatives in Congress. Nonetheless, at this time it seems that Congress will not have the necessary majority to override a presidential veto, which means the JCPOA will be put into effect. Though convinced that the agreement entails potential dangers for Israel, I stand by my previous position, namely, that the Israeli government should avoid interfering in the United States internal debate about this very charged issue. I therefore call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to take measures now toward formulation of a “parallel agreement” between Israel and the United States that mitigates the JCPOA’s weak points.
Israel is a powerful nation, strong enough to confront the challenges that lie ahead, including those expected from implementation of the agreement. Nonetheless, the best way to do so runs through Washington and requires US-Israeli cooperation that manages the risks and maximizes the strategic possibilities expected after the agreement goes into effect. This cooperation should be formalized in an agreement rather than by exchanges of letters or the establishment of understandings at professional levels. Recent history shows that letters and understandings – such as the letter sent by President Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 – were not recognized in practice by subsequent administrations. Thus, on so critical an issue, it is necessary to conclude a formal, signed agreement that delineates a strategy to face future threats from Iran.
Signing a parallel agreement with the United States does not mean acquiescing to or reconciling with the problematic JCPOA. Quite the contrary, it is precisely because the agreement with Iran is so troublesome that a parallel agreement between the United States and Israel – which is not a signatory to the agreement with Iran – is imperative.
On the nuclear level, the most threatening scenario presented by the JCPOA is that once it expires (10-15 years), Iran will consolidate a legitimate nuclear infrastructure of unrestricted scope. This infrastructure will include unlimited numbers of advanced centrifuges and vast amounts of 20 percent enriched uranium, placing Iran at what President Obama termed "almost zero breakout distance" from a bomb. Another hazardous scenario is one in which Iran violates the agreement before it expires, either by creeping, sneaking, or breaking out to the bomb. The weakness of the IAEA supervision procedures, especially at undeclared Iranian sites, makes it imperative to supplement the inspection efforts with the highest levels of intelligence possible, such that a good picture of Iran's nuclear status is maintained at all times. Another plausible scenario is that Iran will move to establish military nuclear capacity through acquisition or development efforts in a third country. An additional grave concern is that following the JCPOA, other Middle East nations will want to develop nuclear infrastructures similar to that of Iran, and it is therefore necessary for the US and Israel to prepare to thwart any such trends of regional nuclear proliferation... Read more.