With negotiations in Vienna regarding Iran’s nuclear program coming to a head and speculation that the chances of the parties reaching some kind of agreement are increasing, the war hawks have come out in force, decrying diplomatic progress and advocating steps that could lead to military conflict.
These, of course, are the very same people who pushed President Donald Trump’s to withdraw from the JCPOA — to disastrous effect — and who are the reason we are in this unfortunate and uncertain situation in the first place.
In 2015, those of us leading the campaign in support of the JCPOA understood that diplomacy, not war, was the only way to deal effectively with Iran’s nuclear program. And the agreement worked. Iran’s nuclear material was shipped out of the country, and its nuclear program was subject to one of the strictest, most intrusive inspections regime in history.
The agreement not only rolled back Iran’s nuclear program in the near term, it put in place permanent, enhanced inspections to prevent the country from ever acquiring a bomb.
It was a comprehensive non-proliferation agreement that enjoyed the support of a majority of Americans, including American Jews, as well as American and Israeli security officials who understood the need for diplomacy instead of war.
In 2018, Trump senselessly withdrew from the agreement, even though it was working as intended.
The “maximum pressure” approach he adopted instead, supported by groups opposed to diplomacy then and now, was an utter failure: It strengthened Iranian hardliners, allowed the country to increase uranium enrichment to unprecedented levels and escalated tensions to the point of near full-blown war.
Yet instead of owning up to their enormous misjudgment, these same hawkish voices now disingenuously blame the current situation on “failed diplomacy.” They tell us that, thanks to the failed policies they themselves advocated, the US must now prepare to launch yet another costly war of choice in the Middle East.
Opponents of diplomacy have made the same inaccurate arguments for years, drumming up support for belligerent “maximum pressure” policies and even preemptive military strikes — in part by playing on serious fears of Iran’s hostility to Israel.
Yet in fact, a wide range of leading Israeli security officials agree that diplomacy with Iran is in the best interest of Israel’s security, and that the approach adopted by Trump and his right-wing backers has been a dangerous failure.
Tamir Pardo, former director of Mossad, considers the US’s withdrawal from the JCPOA as a “tragedy” and “strategic mistake” for Israel. Danny Citrinowicz, former head of the Iran branch in Israel’s Military Intelligence’s Research and Analysis Division, has characterized Trump’s maximum pressure strategy as a “catastrophe” that unshackled Iran’s nuclear development and increased the chances of armed conflict. Even the IDF’s current intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, reportedly told the Israeli cabinet this month that a nuclear agreement with Iran is preferable than no deal at all.
Those concerned about Israel’s security would be wise to heed the words of these and scores of other Israeli military officials. Moreover, a recent poll of American Jews found that more than two-thirds (69%) support the US re-entering the Iran deal.
Many of those who stand against this consensus and egged on Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement are the very same voices who pushed for the disastrous US invasion of Iraq.
Not only have they failed to own up to the consequences of these ill-advised decisions, now they’re ready to plunge again into the same abyss by pushing for military strikes against Iran.
Armed conflict with the Iranian regime would mean terrible costs for the men and women in the armed services, for our economy, for the Iranian people, and for the wider region — including Israel, which would almost certainly face retaliation and blowback.
And considering how sick the American people are of unnecessary wars of choice, going down that road would also likely prove politically disastrous for politicians who mistakenly believe staking out hawkish positions is in their interest.
Diplomacy has proven to be the only effective way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and to avoid war. With luck, the coming weeks will bring success in the current negotiations.
But whatever the outcome of talks in Vienna, the clearest lesson of American policy disasters in the Middle East in the past generation is that we must not listen to the same hawkish voices urging conflict and pressure and instead rally strongly behind diplomacy and peace.
Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president of J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group that has strongly supported the JCPOA nuclear agreement and diplomacy with Iran.