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The next 15 years for the U.S. and Israel

What should the U.S. and Israel do with the next 15 years?

If one assumes, as I do, that a nuclear-armed Iran is the biggest danger to U.S. — and Israeli — interests in the Middle East, then the recently concluded agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (The U.S., U.K., France, Russia and China) plus Germany is a reasonable agreement that holds some potential benefits for the U.S. and Israel. In it Iran not only forswears the right to develop nuclear weapons but greatly limits the major systems it has to develop a nuclear weapon. Thus the Arak heavy water reactor will be rebuilt into a research reactor, the under-mountain facility at Fordow will be transformed into a physics and technology center with limited centrifuges, and the major centrifuge center at Natanz will also be limited. All three facilities will be under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision to ensure that enrichment will not exceed 3.67 percent (90 percent enrichment of uranium is needed to make a nuclear weapon), and Iran will be limited to only 300 kilograms of enriched uranium — less than a quarter of what is needed to make a nuclear bomb — for a period of 15 years.

For the agreement to work, however, strict international supervision of Iran's existing and suspected nuclear facilities is an absolute requirement to ensure that Iran is not cheating, as it has done in the past. Fortunately, the IAEA is now headed by Yukiya Amano. Unlike his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei, who had what might be termed a "Third World Mentality" and was sympathetic to Iran, Mr. Amano has been strictly neutral and has actively sought to get Iran to reveal information about its past suspected nuclear weapons activities. He is to report to the U.N. Security Council on Dec. 15 as to whether Iran has moved to comply with the requirements of the agreement, including putting its excess centrifuges (about 13,000) into supervised storage facilities at Natanz, changing the Arak heavy water reactor into a research facility, diluting or exporting the its enriched uranium above the 300 kilogram limit, and revealing information about its past suspected nuclear related military activities. If Mr. Amano's report is a positive one, then the U.N.-imposed sanctions will be lifted.

Assuming that the IAEA's tight supervision of Iran's nuclear facilities is successful, and that the IAEA is not impeded when checking out suspected nuclear facilities — two very big ifs — the question becomes how the United States and Israel will utilize the 15 year period before Iran is allowed to increase its enrichment (it will be allowed to start producing advanced centrifuges after 10 years) thereby drawing near to the capability of producing a nuclear weapon. As far as the United States is concerned, it should first muster support from its Middle East allies to defeat ISIS. This will not be an easy task, given both the support for ISIS in the past from the Islamist president of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, (Turkey's current "crackdown" on ISIS seems more to be a ploy to prevent Kurdish rebels in Syria from consolidating their position on Turkey's southern border, than a genuine effort to defeat ISIS) and the ideological support given to ISIS by Saudi Arabia, whose Wahhabi Islamic ideology is not that different from the ideology of ISIS.

The second, and related, U.S. goal should be to work out a solution to the humanitarian disaster in Syria, where more than 200,000 people have been killed and millions more have become refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

A third goal should be to ensure that Iran's sanctions-cleared monetary holdings (estimated at between $50 billion and $120 billion) — part of which is likely to be used to bolster its Middle Eastern allies, Hezbollah, the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad, the Houthis of Yemen (and possibly, once again, Hamas, which had earlier broken with Iran over its Syria policy), as well as for the build-up of Iranian military power — do not tip the balance against America's military allies. The U.S. can do this by increasing military aid to the Gulf Arab States and Israel, holding more frequent joint military exercises with them, and giving them strong diplomatic support. In this context, the U.S. should also keep working to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, as difficult as this may appear today given the Palestinian split between Hamas (which controls Gaza) and Fatah (which controls the West Bank), and the poor personal relations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Were an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to be achieved, this would facilitate an alignment between Israel and the Gulf Arab States, given the antipathy both Israel and the Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia, have for Iran.

As far as Israel is concerned, it should use the next decade, without the threat of an Iranian nuclear attack, or an Israeli preemptive attack on Iran, which would lead to a war between Israel and Iran, to build up its layered anti-missile system, especially the Arrow-3, to better protect itself against both the possibility of an Iranian missile attack as well as against missiles coming from Hezbollah and Hamas. It also has to take steps to protect itself against ISIS, which has seized territory in Syria and in the Sinai Desert, not far from Israel's borders. The Israeli leadership should also use the next 10 years to strengthen the country from within by making a serious effort — which it has not yet done — to better integrate its Arab minority (20 percent of Israel's population) and to solve the growing disparity between rich and poor in the country.

The nuclear agreement with Iran, assuming that Iran lives up to it, gives the United States and Israel a decade or more of breathing space to take care of their immediate problems in the Middle East. Whether the leadership of either country is up to the task, however, remains to be seen.

Robert O. Freedman is a visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and the former president of Baltimore Hebrew University. Among his publications is "Russia, Iran and the Nuclear Question: The Putin Record." His email is rofreedman@comcast.net.

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