The late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once famously said, “You don’t make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.”
History proves Rabin right time and again, and even provides fair warning for those who don’t follow his advice. Because inherent in Rabin’s words is the choice faced by any society confronting an adversary: It’s either peace, or it’s war.
No adversary makes that clearer than Iran. The Iranian regime has fomented turmoil around the world for more than three decades. It openly threatened to wipe Israel off the map, and remains the leading state-sponsor of terrorism more than 30 years after first being placed on the State Department’s watch list.
The regime commits brutal human rights violations, including judicially sanctioned amputations and floggings, severe restrictions on speech and press, and discrimination and attacks against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and LGBT individuals.
Worst of all, Iran’s illicit nuclear work and past obstruction of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has created an untenable status quo: a tyrannical regime a few technological advancements away from its most horrific ambitions, and an international community unable to monitor its progress.
Given all of this, skepticism over any nuclear deal with Iran is understandable. But this isn’t about negotiating with a wolf in sheep’s clothing — it’s about defanging that wolf. If the deal holds, we will have the most intrusive, effective and verifiable checks against Iran’s nuclear ambitions ever implemented. This deal doesn’t just make it hard for Iran to make a nuclear weapon; it cuts off all possible pathways.
Under this deal, Iran’s “breakout time” to make a bomb will extend from a couple months to a full year. The agreement reduces its enriched uranium stockpiles by 98 percent, its number of centrifuges by more than two-thirds, and caps further enrichment at a low level only suitable for civilian purposes.
In exchange, Iran will see some sanctions eased, but not until it takes steps to limit uranium enrichment, downgrade its heavy-water reactor, provide agreed-upon transparency, and resolve unanswered questions for the IAEA. If Iran violates the deal in any way, sanctions will snap back immediately, with crushing effect.
There is much the Iranian regime can still do to torpedo this deal. It must demonstrate the restraint and maturity needed to fulfill its obligations. We have no illusions or naïve faith that the regime will suddenly embrace rational behavior, but if it cheats, we will know immediately thanks to a multilayer international monitoring system with key elements lasting in perpetuity. We will monitor its nuclear supply chain, its fuel cycle, its centrifuge manufacturing sites, and will maintain a permanent presence capable of inspecting any site, anywhere — including military sites — on short notice.
Congress has the right to study this agreement, debate its merits, listen to experts, and cast a vote that carries the weight of war or peace. But with Republicans blasting the deal before its details were even known — mostly to deny President Obama a victory of any kind — the question remains whether they will live up to this tremendous responsibility.
Those pushing saber rattling over diplomacy owe us more than ambiguous critiques and hollow sound bites. They owe us an explanation about how the status quo of aggressive posturing is safer than the assurance of nuclear nonproliferation. They should tell us why hostilities are needed when diplomacy has shone light on a country long-masked by shadows. And they need to explain how Yitzhak Rabin’s tried and true words that peace will only come when we engage with our enemies are somehow false, against all evidence to the contrary.