By Chen Kane, a former director at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, is an expert on nuclear proliferation and the Middle East at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
In an unstable Middle East neighborhood, most people hope for the best and plan for the worst.
If the nuclear accord is fully implemented and honored, Iran’s main pathways to nuclear weapons will be blocked for at least 10 to 15 years. Skeptics should recognize that 10 to 15 years of leeway in the Middle East is not negligible. As fall-out from the “Arab Spring” proved, dramatic change can happen far faster than one can imagine.
The nuclear deal also opens unprecedented communication channels between Iran and the United States that may prevent future crises, just as we witnessed with the recent prisoner swap and Tehran’s speedy release of detained American sailors. But the deal’s success should be judged by a single objective — preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
U.S. allies in the region, though, feel abandoned and are concerned that the deal would encourage the United States to further disengage from the Middle East. They also are concerned that lifting sanctions will revive Iran’s economy and allow it to boost its support for terrorists, its proxies and other nefarious activities.
Tehran’s fingerprints can be found on almost all the region’s conflicts: supplying missiles to Hezbollah and Hamas, supporting the Assad regime with money, training, and troops, backing militias in Iraq that undermine the Baghdad government and supplying arms to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Regional states are already in a frenzy to acquire new conventional weapons and nuclear energy programs that can provide an option to enrich uranium and separate plutonium for nuclear weapons. All of these strategies will further destabilize the region.
To prevent further instability, Washington and its Western allies should do more to assuage their allies’ fears and use their new communication channels with Tehran to provide a countervailing force against Iran’s destabilizing activities.
The United States should work closely to counter Iranian surrogates and proxies throughout the region, selling defensive missile technologies to our allies and participating in joint military exercises. In exchange, regional states will have to lower the temperature of their rivalry with Iran.
In other words, the real work has only just begun.
This article was originally published in The New York Times on January 21, 2016.