There wasn’t a news site by last Sunday morning void of a story about the historic deal — or “mistake,” as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was calling it — which was signed between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France plus Germany) late last Saturday night.
But, according to analysts, many of the headlines that cluttered the Internet were inaccurate and deceptive. There was no “freeze,” “halt” or “stopping” of Iranian nuclear proliferation as many newspapers and websites described. Rather, said Dr. Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute, on a Jewish Federations of North America leadership briefing Monday afternoon, “it impedes or limits” nuclear progress.
What does Iran give up? What does it get to keep?
Iran’s key commitment is to limit its enrichment of uranium — the element needed to make a nuclear bomb — to 5 percent, according to a summary of the agreement released by the White House. Iran will dilute its stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium down to 5 percent, freeze many of its centrifuges that produce uranium and disable some technical features of some centrifuges. Iran also will stop construction and fuel production for its unfinished plutonium reactor and not expand its enrichment capabilities.
Under the agreement, Iran may continue to enrich uranium and does not need to dismantle any centrifuges or its plutonium reactor — conditions Netanyahu has said are necessary.
What is the significance of different levels of uranium enrichment?
Only a rare and specific type of uranium, uranium 235, can be used for a nuclear weapon. Enrichment, which is conducted using centrifuges, is the process of separating that material from the rest of the uranium supply. Five percent enrichment, for example, means that 5 percent of the uranium stockpile in question is uranium 235.
Five-percent-enriched uranium can be used for civilian purposes such as nuclear power; to be used for a nuclear weapon, uranium needs to be enriched to 90 percent. Iran has long claimed that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.
The agreement aims to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment at 5 percent. However, getting uranium from 0 to 5 percent is the hardest part of enrichment; jumping from 5 to 90 percent is easier. So by allowing Iran to enrich to 5 percent, the agreement allows Iran to continue clearing the biggest enrichment-related hurdle to bomb-making capacity.
Iran also possesses “next-generation” centrifuges that allow it to jump from 5 to 90 percent in a matter of weeks — what Israelis call a “breakout capacity.” The agreement freezes those centrifuges but doesn’t require Iran to fully dismantle them.
In exchange, most of the sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors will stay in place, including $100 billion in holdings that Iran cannot access, but there will be $7 billion in relief, including the release of funds from some Iranian oil sales and the suspension of sanctions on Iran’s auto, precious metals and petro-chemical industries.
And this is why Israel is calling the deal a “historic mistake,” as Netanyahu put it during his Sunday cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu said, “Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
“If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid,” said Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home party and a government minister, “it will be because of the deal that was signed [in Geneva].”
Several American congressmen and senators — as well as analysts — are seconding that notion.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement that she feels the agreement reached with Iran “leaves unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities. … The agreement … simply does not go far enough to ensure our national security interests and those of our allies, like the democratic Jewish State of Israel.”
Opponents of the deal were spewing off terms like “worried” and “suspicious” in blogs and on social media, as well as in official statements disseminated to supporters and the media. Concern came from those in official capacities, as well as Jewish citizens in the area.
“I have serious concerns,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) in a statement.
“I am deeply concerned,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
“I have little trust in the Iranian regime,” noted Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Intelligence Committee. “We will need to scrutinize Iranian behavior to ensure they do not cheat.”
Dr. Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he is not confident. He said, “I am suspicious, suspicious, suspicious.”
In Baltimore, Israel Orange of Israel Orange Studios, told the JT, “I am worried,” and asked, “How can this be good?”
Shimmy Rosenblum from Silver Spring, now living in Israel, said, “It will work well for Iran bombing its enemies. [President] Obama has shown a new low in world diplomacy.”
Added the Maryland/Israel Development Center’s Peter Telem, “Substitute the words ‘Nazi Germany’ for Iran, then think again about how this will turn out.”