The impetus for this deal is the United States and other world powers seeking to dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The motivation is obvious. Iran is one of those nations that has a tremendous amount of potential to be a great player in their region, if not the world stage. It has a very large and educated population, potential for a diverse economy, broad climates and unique regional differences, and with that, great natural resources, and a host of other things that could allow it to emerge as a rich industrial power, within the peripheries of the Middle East. However, of its problems, it has two chief ones: first is its unique government, and the other, reflected by that government, is an overt disdain for Israel, Sunni Muslims, and distrust of the United States.
Iran and Israel
It is interesting the ways that Iran and Israel are similar, and that similarity is one basis of their mutual loathing. Both assert to be democratic nations, with men and women having the vote, and public officials being elected by that vote. However, both also have curiosities that make this democratic notion suspect, supporting the seeds of a conflict rooted in religion.
Israel is a Jewish state, smack in the middle of a Muslim dominated region. Israel requires all candidates for public office must first agree that Israel is a Jewish state before qualifying to seek election, and public policy must not call that premise into question. The issue of being a Jewish state can raise questions as to how democratic it really is. If a majority in the country were not of the Jewish faith, a truly democratic nation would likely cease to be a Jewish state. To ensure this does not happen, they not only have the curious regulation on candidates and public policy, they also proactively work to have few non-Jews as citizens. They do this in part by not granting citizenship to people living in lands annexed, while also making it extremely difficult for non-Jews to immigrate to Israel. Coupled with these is granting citizenship to any person worldwide of the Jewish faith almost automatically.
This effort to ensure a state religion of Judaism is the basis of why they work so hard to resettle Palestinians, who by-and-large are Muslim, and why they build Jewish settlements in occupied (but, critically, not yet annexed) territory - the aim being to annex those lands eventually, but after expelling and replacing the non-Jewish residents. If, through resettling and tight immigration controls, Israel can remain an overwhelmingly Jewish nation, then it can remain democratically a Jewish state. All of this is to say, Israel is only democratic after a great deal of meddling with who makes up its voting populace, and particular regulations governing its foundation, public officials, and policy.
Iran was subject of foreign meddling for so long, and oppressed for a generation by a monarch installed via such foreign meddling, that its people reacted, overwhelmingly, in a Reactionary revolution. From here they emerged as an Islamic state (of the Shia variety), and have a group of religious clerics, who are elected, that work to ensure it remains so. This group chooses the Supreme Leader, who is not elected by popular vote. Prospective candidates for public office must first receive approval from these clerics, and public policy vetted ensuring it is in line with the ideals of the Islamic state.
If one were to say, "Israel is a democratic nation", it could be followed with, "and so is Iran". However, such a statement would likely get you laughed out of the room. Iran sees itself as a democratic nation, but like Israel, first meeting certain rules. Both nations meddle, in different ways, to ensure a specific state religion is in place, and the policy needed to support it, while guaranteeing universal suffrage to their respective populations. Perhaps it is more illustrative to describe Iran as a very conservative, rather than liberal, democracy. It can be easier to see Iran as non-democratic, only because where Israel has rules, or Basic Laws, on paper enforced by courts; Iran has an actual human being with a name and face, not directly, popularly elected, working to ensure the continuance of a Shia Islamic state.
Because of their foundation on religion, with particular religious interpretations that counter each other, and the respective histories of the two, these two nations are primed to be enemies, if allowed to be. Allowing this has been unofficial and, in some cases, official policy for about as long as the Islamic state has been around. A great deal of this is simply the combination of tradition and domestic politics. Railing against Iran in Israel, and railing against Israel in Iran, will certainly help net some votes. A boogieman is a great electoral tool. Sometimes the rhetoric of domestic politics can become hyperbolic. Sometimes hyperbolic rhetoric grows into policy. For example, Iran has long funded and supplied groups that have waged wars and fights against and within Israel, as well as struggles against Sunni Muslims.
Iran and Saudi Arabia
Ruled by an autocratic monarchy, Saudi Arabia sees itself as the leading Sunni Muslim nation in the region. Being the leading Shia Muslim nation, Iran is a natural enemy of Saudi Arabia. As such, Iran has long funded non-state Shia groups, who have fought Saudi supported Sunni groups, all throughout the Middle East, including struggles in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. This long history of proxy wars is reminiscent of the proxy wars fought between the United States and the Soviet Union. If a capitalist group or state fought a conflict against Marxist-Leninist groups, they could count on support from the United States, and the other could rely on the Soviets. Sometimes this support included troops, but most often support came in the form of arms and money. Similarly, if a Shia Muslim group fights a Sunni Muslim group, the Shia can count on support from Iran, and the Sunni can count on support from Saudi Arabia. The last thing Saudi Arabia wants is a liberated Iran, freely participating in the global economy. Its preference is more toward Iran being an artificially impoverished, starving, failed state, incapable of projecting any power, having any influence, and leading to Shia groups being cut off from the one state that can support their respective causes, leaving Saudi Arabia alone as the principal Muslim power, and specifically of the Sunni variety.
The Nuclear issue
Israel does not deny having nuclear weapons, and the international assessment is they having them. India, Israel, and Pakistan are not party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 (North Korea, once party to this, dropped out in 2003), and so can engage without violating such agreements. The United States Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have both concluded Israel has nuclear weapons, likely having conducted joint nuclear testing with South Africa back in the nineteen-sixties. However, Israel asserts only that it will not be the first nation in the Middle East "to introduce" weapons - which can be viewed as saying, once another regional nation announces obtaining them (e.g. Iran), Israel will then admit to what has been true for decades. Regardless, whether true or not Israel has nuclear weapons, letting others assume it does offers a certain amount of protection, as few states would be willing to overtly challenge them in conventional conflict, as had been more common in the past.
Aside from nuclear weapons technology, Israel uses nuclear power to fuel its economy. Nuclear power does not equal nuclear weapons. Nuclear power presents a tremendous source of almost unlimited power, while being, barring accident and waste, considerably cleaner than coal, or other carbon/extraction based power sources. It is a very attractive proposition, leading most developed nations to include nuclear power as part of their energy infrastructure. Iran is one such nation, having begun its program via the "Atoms for Peace" initative of U.S. president Eisenhower, and continuing with U.S. assistance until their revolution. Since then, they have received assistance from other states, such as Russia, who completed and in 2013 transferred operational control of a new facility to Iran. There is nothing inherently bad about a nation wanting to achieve this kind of energy independence. A risk, however, is that all the material elements needed to produce nuclear power can be also be used to produce weapons, as Israel may or may not have already done. This is one area where concerns arise when it comes to Iran. Unlike Israel, Iran has signed all the major treaties repudiating the possession of weapons of mass destruction, including the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, because Iran has such distrust for Western powers, such as the United States, and has fundamental differences with Israel, with each returning in kind, the suspicion of an Iran with full nuclear capabilities becomes paramount.
As noted, a benefit to possessing nuclear weapons is that few will challenge such a nation in conventional military clashes. A problem, however, is that many seem willing to challenge them in unconventional conflict - often called "terrorism". For Israel, they face attacks from independent non-state actors (individuals and groups) as well as some non-state groups supported by states like Iran. Much of this is general harassment, as none occurs on a scale needed to defeat the nation as a whole. Much of it, most of the time, are Palestinians who are oppressed and aggrieved, striking out in extreme ways, yet the only ways available to sting Israel. Though some of these acts are genuinely terrorism, most often much of it has been more akin to guerilla fighting rather than the imagery the idea of "terrorism" often invokes. "Terrorism" is a term that can be freely applied, but politics can help determine what it applies to; U.S. president Ronald Reagan, in a May 31, 1986 Address to the Nation, paraphrased a Gerald Seymour quote, as a critique though inadvertently popularizing it, to "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter". The term "terrorist" is much like the word "felon" - both being bad, and if told someone is either, without context, humans likely assume the worst. Palestinians are an occupied polity, facing annexation of much of their lands. As noted, Israel has no interest in absorbing these millions of Muslims in their Jewish democratic state. They are impoverished and lacking genuine sovereignty (while also being split in two regions; the Gaza Strip and the West Bank). Under such oppression and division, occasional harassment should not come as any surprise.
Israel has many reasons for concern when it comes to Iran. As noted, Iran has supported non-state actors who, from time to time, harass and terrorize the Israeli population. Though Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and have not fought a conventional war in several decades, the legacy of so many early conflicts still resonate. Concern for another such war, along with harassment and terrorism, motivates much of Israeli domestic politics. Israel, supported by the United States, has developed into the regional hegemonic power. In addition to treatment of occupied Palestinians that have garnered a fair amount of international criticism, and such treatment often being the impetus of guerrilla attacks, they have projected their power by invading neighbors, such as Lebanon, and launching targeted attacks against others, such as destroying nuclear facilities within Iraq. They have maintained a right to unilaterally attack Iran and certainly have the capability to do so. If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, a fear is they behaving irrationally and self-destructively, and either providing such weapons to non-state actors, or using them against Israel. It also means a challenge to Israeli regional hegemony.
Concerns of Suspended Sanctions
Both Saudi Arabia and Israel have another major concern that is not the nuclear weapons issue; it is sanctions. Subjected to myriad of sanctions throughout its existence as an Islamic state, these have stymied its domestic economy and frozen assets held abroad. The sanctions for much of this time have had only limited success, but most importantly, they have prevented the nation from blossoming into its full potential as a regional power. Over the past several years, Iran is subject to a new sanctions regime that is comprehensive, having shuttered the Iranian economy more than any preceding effort. The reason is that before, imposed sanctions were ad hoc by a few nations here and there, often the only principal power imposing them being the United States. During these efforts, Iran was hurt with assets frozen and limited trading partners, but still engaging major partners, including Russia and China. The latest sanctions regime includes most of the developed world, including Russia and China, acting in unison, and thus blocking off Iran from the entire global economy. The reason all the major economies participate is solely to get Iran to negotiate its nuclear program - and this worked. Part of the announced deal suspends sanctions and unfreezes assets, thus causing concern for Saudi Arabia and Israel, as they fear Iran will use these resources to fund non-state actors in their various struggles.
A Sovereign Nation
It is important to remember than Iran is a sovereign nation. As such, they can do pretty much anything they choose, within their own borders, and enter into agreements with whomever is willing. In prior sanctions efforts, those intending to hurt Iran have met limited success for this reason. They could continue trade with those not part of the effort, and contract work with external partners, such as Russia, to help develop their economy and their nuclear program, sanctions by the United States notwithstanding. The unified effort of the most recent scheme is what makes them successful - no major economy trades with Iran or assists them in any efforts. Having the United States, the European Union, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and Germany all agree to impose a sanctions regime, enforced by the United Nations and other international partners, is a difference maker, and one that simply cannot be maintained over the long term, or for reasons beyond Iran negotiating a deal on its nuclear program. Certainly, the United States may launch, yet again, its own scheme, but this will likely prove no more effective than prior efforts. Moreover, during the preceding sanctions effort, Iran developed the capability along with most of the material resources needed to produce nuclear weapons.
The framework of this deal, of which the major world powers and the United Nations have agreed to, should be a no-brainer for Iranians, Saudi's, Israeli's, and Americans to agree to, if the objective is sincerely to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. In spite of being a sovereign nation, Iran has allowed introduction of the most comprehensive inspection program ever within a country. Iran will give up its advanced centrifuge design, and revert to antiquated designs of the nineteen-seventies. Iran will give up some ninety-seven percent of its present stockpile of enriched uranium, and cease production exceeding its power needs; they can only enrich uranium to energy levels, meaning they cannot enrich to grades used for making nuclear weapons. Iran will remove and ship out the core of its lone nuclear facility capable of producing plutonium, and will ship out all spent nuclear fuel to France.
The inspections are comprehensive. Among an assortment of other monitoring schemes, there will be monitors on (digital) and at (humans) the mines that extract uranium ore and the facilities that produce centrifuges. In order for Iran to cheat, they would have to discover a new uranium mine the world does not yet know about and secretly build a new facility to produce centrifuges - and that is just to get basic materials. To produce a bomb would require additional, multi-billion dollar facilities, as well as outside expertise, secretly developed, all under the nose of inspections. Highly unlikely, to say the least. Because Iran has to give up much of what they presently have at the start of implementing the deal, to cheat to make a bomb would still take more than a year to get to the point needed to produce one single warhead. Too many things must happen, and be executed perfectly, for this to happen unnoticed.
What the Sanction Suspension May Mean
The deal calls for suspension of the sanctions regime, thus freeing assets and opening trade. This is a win for Iran, and may allow them to restart the development of their economy and increase their opportunities for domestic tranquility. However, there are risks here. For starters, with the sanctions only suspended, rather than lifted, foreign investment may prove only a trickle, as there is a huge risk of investing in Iran until all actors gain confidence that Iran will not violate the terms of the agreement (thus restarting the sanctions, and locking out any foreign investor from their commitments and returns). In addition, foreign competition within the Iranian marketplace may be good for consumers, but prove challenging to domestic business. Regardless, it is likely Iran will use some revenue gained, and certainly that from unfrozen assets, to fund its ongoing proxy wars with Sunni Muslims and Saudi Arabia - however this is not a new thing. Sunni and Shia have fought each other for centuries, and will continue - sanctions on Iran or not. Most of the economic benefit to Iran is likely to find its use in expanding their economy further, while funding government and social services. This is a view shared by CIA. It is also rational. Recall Iranian citizens are voters, and if their economy improves along with social services, citizens will likely want to maintain these gains, and not electorally support giving up such improvements to commit large sums to proxy conflicts. Particularly because most Iranians likely pay little attention to them; consider how many Americans actively paid attention to U.S. proxy wars with the Soviet Union, while they were actively going on, in Angola, or Nicaragua, et cetera. Certainly, they paid attention to the big ones, with huge commitments of men and material, like Korea and Vietnam, but Iran has yet to wage comparative large-scale commitments of their own military manpower and hardware to such proxy conflicts. If the United States chose to commit significant financial resources that were an overt drain on the national economy to a proxy conflict in Angola, it is likely American voters would have tossed out the incumbent politicians whose use of the national treasury was so poor and unpopular - this would be no different in Iran.
Speaking of Voters in Iran
Another risk, regarding Iranian voters, is what international competition within Iran may mean for domestic business interests. If Iranian companies fail to compete effectively, then they may put pressure on government to block off international business - in effect, reverse sanctions. If such were to occur, it could lead hardliners toward having less concern about a return of the sanctions regime, and thus a greater willingness to cheat on the deal. However, competition can increase efficiency while lowering prices. Iranian consumers, overall, may appreciate the lowing of prices and increased job opportunities, as foreign enterprises expand operations within Iran. This could electorally counter the politics of frustrated local business owners. This deal covers a period of twenty-five years; how the economy moves within Iran, what foreign investments shape into, what foreign competition looks like and does within Iran, and how voters respond to all of that, including their popular views regarding the deal itself, can move in any number of unpredictable directions over a quarter century.
Why This Deal is a No-Brainer
The first, and most important part, is first to agree on what the intent is. If the intent of the United States, the European Union, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Germany, and the United Nations is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, then this deal is a glorious success. If the intent of Iran is to continue developing its domestic nuclear power infrastructure with no motive for weapons, as well as opening their economy for growth, this deal is a glorious success. If the goal of Saudi Arabia is to continue to weaken Iran and hope the United States fights a war for them, this deal is terrible. If the goal of Israel is to have a boogieman to help achieve short term electoral victories, and perhaps have the United States fight a war for them, this deal is terrible.
Iran is not Nazi Germany
It is rather shocking a common critique of this deal is it somehow being equivalent to the deal struck in Munich in 1938. It is much easier, and perhaps assuaging, to view such nonsense as little more than simple hyperbolic language for the simple minded. Iran has potential to be a major regional power, but it is not presently one, and regardless, at the time of the negotiation in Munich, Nazi Germany was a major first world industrial power, and could project that power around the world. It had the world's largest and most advanced air force, and perhaps the most effective professional army of the time. Germany's leader was a household name around the globe and Germany had just hosted the Summer Olympics. When war finally did begin, it knocked out nation after nation, including Poland and France, in mere weeks, and marched all the way to the gates of Moscow before seeing defeats for the first time. Can you name the leader of Iran without looking him up? Iran has an old and unimpressive air force made up mostly of American aircraft acquired before the 1979 revolution, a navy that at best is a modest coast guard, and, though it has a large army... the Wehrmacht it is not. Additionally, Munich was a hastily arranged last-minute deal between Britain, France, and Germany, mediated by Italy, over regions within Czechoslovakia. The Iran deal took years of planning, sanctions implementation, and further years of negotiating, and is arranged by the United States, the European Union, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and Germany, and enforced by the entire world, in the form of the United Nations, regarding a mineral ore and industrial facilities within Iran. These two deals are not in the same league, nor the same sport, nor the same planet. It is almost an insult to common decency to even waste time explaining this.
Iran as an Irrational actor
The chief concern of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon is, of course, them using it. The most prominent target discussed is Israel. Their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has made a career out of predicting when Iran could develop a nuclear weapon, having first made predictions of only a few years, over twenty years ago. Much of this is likely just rhetoric for domestic elections, because it demands an assumption that Iran will act irrationally. Any use of such a weapon, if acquired, would spell the end of Iran. For comparison, India and Pakistan have fought many wars over decades, and remain engaged in conflict over the Kashmir region. Both acquired nuclear weapons in the nineteen-nineties, and in spite of ongoing war, a long history of war, terrorist attacks within India, fundamental religious differences, and mutual loathing, neither has ever invoked their nuclear arms. Furthermore, Pakistan is littered with extremist groups, was home to Osama bin Laden for years after the September 11th 2001 attacks in New York and Washington D.C., and yet no group has gotten their hands on Pakistani nuclear weapons. Rational self-interests simply trump a blast against a loathed foe. That noted, a nuclear Iran would prevent Israeli hegemony - they could no longer publically state they can and will bomb Iranian targets at will, if they so choose. It would also prevent the United States from projecting their power, as any strike against Iran could never absolutely guarantee the destruction of all weapons and capabilities. Lastly, Iran has stated no desire to commit to production of such weapons and remains party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Though true, they could leave, as North Korea did. Nevertheless, what rational incentive is there? An opened economy and greater wealth versus total annihilation? While backed into a corner, cut off from the world, becoming an unassailable nuclear weapons state is very attractive. But once opened, with an expanding economy, growing middle class, foreign investment, and the like, what incentive is there to do both, A] break the deal and develop a bomb so as to B] use the bomb? Grant it, given the rhetoric from Israel, a state long recognized as having nuclear weapons, an incentive can simply be to achieve some measure of parity, as seen with India and Pakistan. However, many nations have voluntarily given up their nuclear weapons capability, such as Ukraine and South Africa. There simply is not, as demonstrated, a universal appeal to have such capability.
If the West, led by the United States, were to reject this long, hard-negotiated deal, then a problem ensues. At this time, Iran is only a few months away from having all the materials needed to produce one nuclear weapon. If this deal achieves ratification, they will give up so much material at the outset they will be set back upwards of a year, assuming they were quickly to violate the deal by seeking to restart development of those materials needed for producing a weapons program. If the goal is to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon, this deal does it, by not only immediately setting them back a year, but also preventing it for the next twenty-five years. So what does rejecting it do? Having enough materials to produce a nuclear weapon does not automatically mean using them to do so. However, if rejecting this deal, Iran could produce a weapon. What then? Remember the estimate is only a few months of them developing needed materials. Does rejecting the deal mean a military strike within the next several weeks, in an effort to prevent them from reaching the materials quota? After all, it took a negotiation with the world to get all the major players to agree to impose unified sanctions under the condition such sanctions would be used to inaugurate talks on a nuclear deal with Iran. Then it took more years of holding the sanctions regime in place, further boosted by the election of moderates within Iran during their last presidential election - all of this, coming together, just to get them to the table to begin even more years of negotiations! All of this ultimately to reach this deal now being debated. Those rejecting this deal have two to three months to prevent Iran from having the materials needed to make a nuclear weapon. It seems unrealistic, given all that went in to getting here, short of a military strike with no guarantees of success, to prevent Iran from producing their first device.
A better deal
This all goes back to that earlier assumption: the goal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. If that is the goal, there should be no debate regarding such a historic deal that assures for a quarter-century Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon - or at least not do so unnoticed and without consequence. If the goal is to box Iran into a corner, oppress them, or fight them in war, then obviously this is a terrible deal. If Israel or Saudi Arabia or American politicians desire, prefer, and seek open war with Iran, they should first drop any pretense of sincerely seeking the prevention of Iran developing nuclear weapons, and honestly state their intention. No presentation of alternatives have occurred from opposing parties and an obvious reason is there being none to propose. What we hear is simply this: "we need a better deal". What does that even mean? What does one expect a sovereign nation to rationally agree to, more so than they have already, after so much time, effort, and negotiation? Representatives from the United States, the European Union, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Germany, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran have all agreed to the terms of this deal. That is many disparate ideologies, religions, motives, et al, to come to a single agreement so comprehensive. That, itself, should be convincing enough of this solid, just, and reasonable arrangement. Additionally, it receives the wholehearted endorsement of the Enlightened Republic of Purristan. That should seal the deal. Regardless, if rejected, why would nations like Russia or China continue in the coalition? They just invested years of effort, only to have it dashed at the last minute. They participated only to achieve this deal. Without major economic and nuclear powers like Russia and China - two veto-empowered members of the United Nations Security Council - any further proposed sanctions effort will be only a few states and ineffective, like those before. A weak sanction scheme like those in place while Iran went about developing its capability to produce the materials for nuclear weapons. Furthermore, given the limited timeframe - that of Iran now only being two to three months from having enough materials to produce its first nuclear weapon - and given the massive time invested in reaching this deal, then a rejection would surely indicate to Iran that a military airstrike is imminent. If the goal is to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon, there is only a window of several weeks to get either "a better deal" or Iran will have what it needs to make its bomb. Under such a condition: unlikely to make a deal, with a likelihood of an airstrike, leaving Iran only the choice to go ahead, using those materials, and commit to producing a weapon. The irony of boxing Iran in under an entirely reasonable assumption of an imminent airstrike and basically forcing their hand to commit to something they otherwise have yet to commit to (actually making a nuclear weapon) - all to get "a better deal" - is almost comical.
Support this deal
This deal takes all parties to the year 2040. That is a long time. Aside from cheating, which under this historic inspections scheme should be easy to catch and, regardless, would take Iran more than a year to produce a weapon if attempted, Iran will otherwise have nothing to produce a nuclear weapon until at least 2040. Who knows? By then they may have exhausted their uranium mines. Perhaps fusion power or some other preferable energy technology will be available by then. Perhaps Iran will have an entirely different form of government by then. In any event, an agreement through to 2040 is better than trying to start the whole process all over again, without all the original parties involved, while Iran is only months away from being able to produce a weapon. It is a no-brainer, and if you genuinely seek to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, are even remotely fair, rational, and reasonable, and then this deal should receive your emphatic support.