As I noted on Friday, candor and courage are in short supply when it comes to Iran sanctions. Democrats speechify, but won’t move a bill. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee waffles, trying to stay in the White House’s good graces. (For what purpose? They never get anything from this administration.) But a usually circumspect figure, Malcom Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations gave an extensive interview in which he made clear the shortcomings of the administration’s Iran policy.
As to the interim Iran deal he observed, “Once you declare that you’re not going to disassemble a single centrifuge and you’re not going to dismantle any of the infrastructure, you’ve drawn the line in the sand. You mean that you’re going to have the capacity to [build nuclear weapons]. So the United States and the West have to make a decision: Are we going to draw a line; where are we going to draw the line?” He went further than has any pro-Israel official in saying point blank that the interim agreement allows Iran to reach nuclear threshold (i.e. breakout):
The impression is that we froze them in a certain place, [but that's] not [the case]. The R&D should have been frozen, everything else [should have been frozen]. We haven’t stopped the missile development, we haven’t stopped the weaponization process, we haven’t stopped them from doing other kinds of research….
So we’re not going to go back to a position, from November 20, or whenever it was that the agreement was signed. They’re going to be in a much better position. And that’s why having that stockpile of [uranium enriched to a level of] 3.5% is much more significant than whether they have the 20% [enriched uranium]. Because with the new centrifuges, you can get from 3.5% to the 90% [levels needed for a nuclear bomb] much faster. You don’t have to go [through intermediate stages of] 5%, 20%. Three-quarters, or two-thirds, of the work is getting to 3.5%.
You’re saying really that the Iranians can became a threshold state within the parameters of the interim deal?
They can move to the point that, once the deal ends or breaks down, they will be then emerging as a threshold state.
That will set off the arms race in the Middle East, because nobody is going to want to be caught and left exposed. The race is already on. Many Arab countries have applied for the right to have nuclear power. Many of them making deals. Many of them are looking already at technology and purchases.
Hoenlein was equally blunt on the U.S.’s and the West’s failure to speak out for human rights in Iran, including the increase in executions. (“It’s a good question why the US and why the Europeans and others have not reacted. There have been formal statements at times, but this really requires a concerted response. It cannot be tolerated.”) Asked directly if President Obama is a friend of Israel, he deliberately refuses to give him that moniker: “I don’t believe that the president of the United States is anti-Israel. The Congress is extremely pro-Israel. The American people are pro-Israel.” My, oh, my.
I would hope Hoenlein’s remarks inject some honesty into the debate, prodding Democrats in the Senate and AIPAC as well to stop mincing words. If Hoenlein is right and the timing until Iran’s nuclear threshold is right (Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) agreed with his assessment by the way, saying sanctions in six months would be too late) then Obama and lawmakers who don’t vote for sanctions (and critical voices like Hillary Clinton, who has backed the president) now share the responsibility if later Iran does achieve its aims or if military action is needed. They went all-in when it mattered most with Obama’s Iran folly and should be judged accordingly.
Unlike Obama’s red line in Syria, Iran’s nuclear threshold is not a line that any U.S. politician or activist can tolerate and still be considered remotely responsible on U.S. national security — or pro-Israel for that matter.