JERUSALEM: Israel has vehemently opposed a nuclear deal with Iran and repeatedly threatened strikes against the Islamic republic, but it must now learn to live with the accord accepted by the world’s major powers, analysts say.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evoked frightening scenarios during the months the deal was being negotiated, arguing the agreement would not block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.
The P5+1 powers — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany — have however reached an accord they say is aimed at sharply curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
It imposes strict UN inspections designed to make any drive to build nuclear weapons all but impossible and easily detectable.
Israel clearly has many reasons for concern given Iranian leaders’ hostility toward the Jewish state and alleged financing of militant groups that threaten it.
But analysts point out that even if Iran manages to circumvent the deal and eventually develop nuclear weapons, it would face severe consequences if it were to seek to target Israel.
Apart from its powerful allies in the West, Israel is believed to be the only country in the Middle East with atomic bombs, although it has never confirmed its nuclear military capacity.
The Israeli government will now have to switch gears and focus on diplomacy to ensure its concerns are heard since unilateral use of force appears highly unlikely, especially if there are no violations to the agreement, analysts say.
“If (the agreement) goes to the UN Security Council and Israel decided ‘forget about P5 plus Germany’… it’s basically aggression not only against Iran, but against a UN resolution,” said Yossi Mekelberg of London-based think tank Chatham House’s Middle East program.
In recent weeks, Netanyahu frequently lashed out at the terms being negotiated, saying “it will give them a definite pathway to nuclear bombs — not a bomb, but nuclear bombs.”
He angered US President Barack Obama in March when he appeared before the US Congress to denounce the potential deal.
On Tuesday, he called it “a historic mistake for the world” and again hinted at military force.
“We knew very well that the desire to sign an agreement was stronger than anything, and therefore we did not commit to preventing an agreement,” Netanyahu said.
“We did commit to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and this commitment still stands.”
Israel’s first task will likely be to lobby the US Congress against the deal, with lawmakers in the United States given a 60-day deadline to review it.
After that, it would almost surely seek to expose any violation of the agreement by Iran and work behind the scenes to push the United States and other countries toward a firm response if any breach occurs, analysts say.
Uzi Dayan, a former Israeli national security adviser, agreed his country must pursue its objectives diplomatically, but he said it must also keep its military options open as a last resort.
Speaking before the final deal was struck, Dayan said he believed the terms being discussed would lead to a bad agreement.
“We shouldn’t take it off the table,” Dayan said of military force.
“If there is no pointed gun loaded with a military strike, the Iranians will say to themselves, ‘OK, we can get away with it. We will suffer for one, two years, but then when we achieve nuclear capability, everyone will respect us’.”
Beyond the direct threat a nuclear armed Iran would pose to Israel, Netanyahu also argues that lifting sanctions against Tehran would allow it to further finance proxy militants.
Iran is accused of supporting and helping arm a variety of regimes, rebels and militants, including Israeli enemies Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Gaza-based Hamas.
But the lifting of sanctions and Iran’s return to the international fold could also deepen its influence in other ways, potentially altering the region’s balance of power.
Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy for the US-based Rand Corporation, said both Israel and Saudi Arabia will be concerned with Iran becoming “normalised” in the region.
However, she said Iran would likely continue to face a certain amount of isolation even with the nuclear deal in place.
“I don’t think a deal is inevitably going to lead to Iran being on the march in this region,” she said.
For Dayan, the former national security adviser, arguments about the region’s balance of power miss the point.
“The problem is there is a war now, a regional war in the Middle East,” he said, referring to varying conflicts in countries including Syria, Iraq and Yemen. “If Iran will get even stronger, this war won’t end.”