Right of All States to Exist

Until now agreement with Iran lacks this fundamental principle

An agreement that will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is useful and correct in principle. Under this agreement, technical controls and monitoring will prevent Tehran from manufacturing nuclear explosives for the time being. In return, economic and political sanctions against Iran will be lifted soon after the agreement is signed. In all likelihood, Iran will abide by the agreement.

But technology, and particularly nuclear technology that serves a military purpose, is only a subordinate function of politics. A government will only undertake the immense financial and scientific expenditures necessary to develop nuclear weapons, and shoulder the ensuing political debts and liabilities, if it is convinced that the political price is worth paying.16389773974_9c62edc962_o-U

Ever since the triumph of the Islamic revolution 36 years ago, the Shiite regime has reiterated its goal of destroying the Jewish state. To this end, Tehran has provided support to Islamist underground organizations hostile to Israel, including the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as the Sunni Hamas in Gaza, providing them with financing, weapons and military training. Iranian agents have taken part in attacks against Israeli and Jewish establishments, for example in Argentina. The international community has sanctioned Iran for expanding its nuclear technologies and for the development of carrier rockets. The sanctions were both economic and political. For example, Iran has only been able to utilize a fraction of its petroleum reserves for export. Tehran was not permitted to import vital industrial and technological goods, let alone weapons. But Iran was prepared to suffer these consequences so that it could obtain the nuclear cudgel that would lend credibility to its threat against Israel – and against other nations as well.

Obama doctrine

This is why the principal goal in negotiations with Iran should have been a political agreement that would have secured the right of all states in the region to exist, among them Israel. But this is precisely what did not happen. Tehran refused to consider it and the US government, operating in accordance with what has been called the “Obama doctrine,” believes strongly that international conflicts should be addressed through diplomatic solutions rather than military confrontation. This policy of international peace is correct in principle – when it helps bring about a resolution to the confrontation. But is the Lausanne framework agreement indeed a step on the path to peace?

Even after the talks Iran called its aim to destroy the Jewish state “non-negotiable”. This is inacceptable. As a fully-fledged member of the family of nations Iran has to acknowledge the right of all states to exist, including Israel. Tehran in turn is demanding security for its state.

The key criterion for assessing the Lausanne agreement remains its political impact. Ever since the Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) published On War, the primacy of politics over strategy has been common understanding. Or, as Clausewitz himself wrote, “War is nothing but the continuation of political intercourse, with the mixture of other means. We say mixed with other means in order thereby to maintain at the same time that this political intercourse does not cease by the war itself, is not changed into something quite different, but that, in its essence, continues to exist, whatever may be the form of means which it uses.”

Those who have elected to disregard Clausewitz’s insight all ultimately suffered a military defeat. This includes, for example, German General Erich Ludendorff, who championed unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 despite US warnings that this might cause them to enter the war, the United States during the Vietnam War, and the Soviets and Americans in Afghanistan.

Clausewitz’s theory is also a useful benchmark for evaluating the outcome of the Lausanne agreement. The world powers have established a framework for a full agreement to be reached in the coming months. These parameters include a restriction of the number of Iran’s centrifuges and their technical sophistication, the degree of enrichment of the uranium they produce, as well as the forms of monitoring that would be required. If the agreement is ratified and implemented, Tehran will be prevented from producing nuclear weapons during the coming decade.

Will this agreement enhance security in the Mideast? If one considers not only the question of nuclear technology, but focuses on the political aspect, the answer must be: no. Iran’s central foreign policy goal remains the destruction of Israel.

However, there is little likelihood that Iran will launch a nuclear attack against Israel. This remains the case even if Tehran signs the final nuclear deal now and then succeeds in producing a nuclear weapon ten years from now. In the event of an attack, Iran knows it would suffer a devastating counterattack from Israel. Tehran is more sober in its calculations.

A more likely scenario is that after signing the nuclear deal, Tehran will escalate its policy of encirclement of Israel. Hezbollah in Lebanon has a stockpile of more than 100,000 rockets, most made in Iran, which are aimed at Israel. Iran is currently seeking to establish a second northern front against Israel in the Golan Heights of Syria. And Tehran is not only utilizing this strategy against Israel. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are also feeling the impact of Tehran’s wide-ranging operations. A recognition of Iran as a threshold nuclear power would embolden Cairo and Riyadh in their own nuclear ambitions. A regional nuclear arms race would be the result.

Moral credibility

And there is also the issue of moral credibility. This is crucial to the stability of Western democracies and to the struggle for freedom around the world, as the revolutions of the Arab Spring have shown. Israel has been a member of the United Nations since May 11, 1949. The UN Charter expressly prohibits the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state. It would be a severe blow to the reputation of the community of nations if Iran is recognized as a threshold nuclear power without being forced to abandon its intent to destroy Israel.

It is not without reason that Germany has participated in the negotiations with Tehran. Within German-Israeli relations, Germany has emphasized its historical responsibility for the Jewish state. Chancellor Angela Merkel also made this central point during her address to the Knesset on March 18, 2008: “… every German chancellor before me has shouldered Germany’s special historical responsibility for Israel’s security. This historical responsibility is part of my country’s raison d’état. For me as German chancellor, therefore, Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation.”

Germany took part in the negotiations in Lausanne to uphold its own legitimate interests, as well as to uphold its responsibility toward the Jewish state. If Berlin emphasizes the right of Israel and all other states in the region to exist, and affirms the efforts to create a Palestinian state, Germany will gain a great deal of respect not only in Israel, but around the world.

Photo Credit: Asitimes (CC BY 2.0), United States Government Work

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