Ehud Barak, Israeli Hawk and No Friend of Iran, Urges Trump to Keep Nuclear Deal

An unconstrained North Korea could impel Japan and South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons, he said. In the Middle East, Iran’s renewed drive for a bomb would pressure neighbors like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to do likewise.

“Think what happens in the next generation if Iran turns nuclear,” he said. “It’s become almost inevitable that we are entering a totally different international landscape.”

As Mr. Trump’s expected decision draws closer, other prominent Israelis are urging him not to decline to certify the agreement. Uzi Arad, a former top Mossad official who served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, traveled to Washington last week to lobby Republicans on Capitol Hill to preserve the agreement.

On Tuesday, Condoleezza Rice, who served as President George W. Bush’s secretary of state, added her voice to those urging Mr. Trump not to disavow the deal, which was negotiated by the Obama administration. “The United States wants to be seen as living up to the obligations that it’s undertaken from president to president to president,” she said on Fox News.

Mr. Barak’s advocacy for the deal is particularly significant because, as Israel’s defense minister from 2007 to 2013, he led the preparations for a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. He warned then that if the Israelis did not act at some point, Iran’s effort to produce a bomb would no longer be vulnerable to any military action.

He and Mr. Netanyahu were closely aligned in that view, but they faced resistance from the chiefs of Israel’s intelligence agencies, who argued that a military strike could have catastrophic consequences and that they were exaggerating the imminence of the Iranian threat.

President Barack Obama implored Mr. Netanyahu to give American efforts at pressure and diplomacy time to work, which he did grudgingly. But the prime minister never liked the resulting agreement. He lobbied against it in the United States Congress and encouraged Mr. Trump to try to renegotiate its terms. (Israel is not part of the deal.)

“Change it, or cancel it,” Mr. Netanyahu said at the United Nations last month. “Fix it, or nix it.”

Under the action being contemplated by the White House, Mr. Trump would essentially kick the agreement to Congress, which would have to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran — a step that would almost certainly blow up the deal — or use the threat of renewed sanctions to try to force the Iranians to renegotiate parts of the agreement.

“Like many Israelis,” Mr. Barak said, “I think the Iran deal is a bad deal. But it is a done deal.”

With the agreement in place, he said, “Iran is far from being an existential threat to Israel.” But he added, “It carries all the potential of turning into an existential threat in the longer-term” — a scenario made more, not less likely, by walking away from the deal, he said.

While refusing to certify the agreement would be politically satisfying for Mr. Trump, Mr. Barak said, it would also not help the United States in its campaign to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program, its support for terrorist organizations, or its cyberwarfare operations.

For Mr. Barak, the implications for North Korea are just as far-reaching. The United States, he said, had no military option to destroy the North’s nuclear facilities because of the massive retaliation that the North Korean leader would inflict on South Korea. That leaves only a strategy of negotiations, backed by sanctions, to coerce the North to curb its behavior.

“Kim Jong-un is extreme,” Mr. Barak said. “But he is totally predictable and almost transparent — simple to understand. He just doesn’t want to experience what happened to Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein. Basically, there is no way he will give up his nuclear intentions.”

Mr. Barak, now 75 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard, said the bellicose threats between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump raised the risks of a miscalculation that could lead to war.

“No one personally remembers the Cuban crisis or the Berlin crisis,” he said. “People at the leadership level don’t have the fingertip feel for how easily the world situation can cascade.”

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