The agreement does nothing much to set back Iran’s program, but an already-onerous sanctions regime didn’t do much in that regard, either. As Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, recently noted — with an unseemly but not misplaced air of triumph — his country has been able to radically scale up its centrifuge production capabilities even while suffering under sanctions. Sanctions have not placed the survival of the Iranian regime in doubt, and it is extremely unlikely that tougher sanctions (should U.S. allies even acquiesce to their imposition) would bring the Iranians to the point of nuclear capitulation. Iran is ruled by a tough and immoral regime, one that has been willing to defend its existence by slaughtering large numbers of dissenting citizens.
It’s hard for people like me to admit that sanctions by themselves will not do the job. I believed at one point that sanctions alone — without diplomatic compromise on the one hand or military strikes on the other — would push Iran off the path of full nuclearization. Sanctions helped bring about negotiations, but they will not bring about capitulation. Iran is simply too close to the nuclear threshold now to believe that unconditional surrender on the nuclear question is necessary for regime survival. (As for the military option, at this point starting what could turn into a full-blown regional war to prevent a theoretical war seems a less than sterling idea.)
Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli military intelligence (and one of the most acute observers of Iran’s nuclear program), agrees with Zarif that Iran is close to the threshold. “Iran is on the verge of producing a bomb,” he said. He also said — and this is important — that it is not this interim deal that brought Iran to the verge of producing a bomb. “The fact that Iran is a nuclear threshold state does not derive from this agreement, but because the Iranians have developed capabilities for years” without being stopped.