Two years on from the signing of the agreement to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program, Israel and the region are safer than ever from the threat of mullahs with a bomb.
- By Carmi GillonCarmi Gillon was director of Israel’s Shin Bet from 1995-1996 and is the former director general of the Peres Center for Peace.
During my time as director of Israel’s General Security Service, the Shin Bet, I was among those responsible for maintaining my country’s security in a tumultuous and dangerous region. It was my job to consider every threat and every challenge. Among the most serious threats that I worried faced Israel was the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon. That was one danger I knew we could never accept.
Now, as the world marks the two-year anniversary of the adoption of the nuclear agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is more remote than it has been in decades. Thanks to the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program has been defanged and all its pathways to a bomb blocked.
While no agreement is perfect, this achievement must not be underestimated. For decades, leaders and experts in Israel and among our allies contemplated the drastic steps we might have to take to restrain or destroy Iran’s nuclear program. That included potential military operations that might have triggered a major escalation and cost many lives — with no guarantee of achieving their goal.
Through the JCPOA, the major world powers came together to ensure — without a single shot being fired — that Iran dismantled key nuclear infrastructure and submitted itself to thorough monitoring and inspection. Two years later, the results are in, and they show the effort has been a clear success.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Iran has complied with the terms of the agreement. It has dismantled and removed two-thirds of its centrifuges. It has reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent, shipping over 25,000 pounds out of the country. The core of its Arak reactor, which could have allowed Iran to produce weapons-grade plutonium, has been removed and its shell filled with concrete. Perhaps most importantly, Tehran has provided inspectors with unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities and supply chain.
In the face of this success, even some of the agreement’s most vocal critics have grudgingly accepted its positive impact. In April, President Donald Trump’s administration certified to Congress that Iran continues to be in compliance with the JCPOA. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after leading a vociferous international campaign against the agreement, now remains mostly silent on the subject. And while the majority of my colleagues in the Israeli military and intelligence communities supported the deal once it was reached, many of those who had major reservations now acknowledge that it has had a positive impact on Israel’s security and must be fully maintained by the United States and the other signatory nations.
Of course, Iran remains an extremely dangerous regime and a bad actor across the Middle East. Its support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and regimes like that of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continue to contribute to regional chaos and present a major threat to Israeli security and U.S. interests. Israel and its allies must remain extremely vigilant and active to counter the Iranian threat.
But it is for precisely these reasons that the nuclear agreement is so important. By ensuring that such a dangerous regime can never possess nuclear weapons, the deal makes it easier for Iran to be confronted for its other malign behaviors. The Trump administration’s primary international accomplishment, for instance, has been to enlarge the coalition of moderate Sunni Arab countries who are threatened by Iran’s territorial ambitions. If Iran had been protected by a nuclear umbrella, it would have been impossible for countries such as Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia — as well as Israel and the United States — to array themselves so staunchly against Tehran. Key sanctions on Iran’s support for terror, human rights violations, and ballistic missile programs also have remained in place.
And while Iran’s hardliners retain key positions of power, the willingness of the international community to pursue tough diplomacy has helped empower more moderate Iranian leaders. President Hassan Rouhani, a strong proponent of the agreement, was re-elected in May despite the opposition of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Rouhani understands and fears the consequences of major military confrontation – and his election serves as an important indicator that much of the Iranian people prefer a path of compromise and increased dialogue with the West over recklessly pursuing nuclear ambitions and conflicts.
As a guardian of Israel’s security, my job was to prepare for the worst — while searching always for bold and proactive measures to head off disaster and stop threats in their tracks. The nuclear agreement is a good example of the kind of solutions to which I aspired. It has neutralized a major threat to the world, while ensuring that the United States and its allies have the tools, the information, and the leverage that they need to confront the Iranian danger and make the region, and the world, a safer place.
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