If you want to understand the U.S.-Iran controversy, know this: It is not about nuclear weapons.
You're thinking: Of course it's about nuclear weapons. Everyone says so.
There is a strange irony in President Obama's announcement of the temporary agreement. He mentioned the term "nuclear weapon" multiple times in his announcement, implying that Iran was on a path to develop such a weapon. One wonders if he actually believes this or if his repeated implied accusation was a rhetorical device designed to placate his hard-line critics.
The president must know by this time that there is no evidence that Iran has or ever had a nuclear weapons program. Every relevant intelligence agency in the world has verified this fact for more than a decade. Two U.S. National Intelligence Estimates that were made public in 2007 and 2011 underscored this. The International Atomic Energy Agency has also consistently asserted that Iran has not diverted any nuclear material for any military purpose.
Even Israeli intelligence analysts agree that Iran is "not a danger" to Israel.
Ironically, when critics of the interim agreement say Iran gave up little, they are right. "By yielding to the P5+1 demands, in essence Iran has allowed itself to be persuaded to stop temporarily doing what it never intended to do — make a nuclear weapon," Beeman writes. "The United States and its allies … made the improbable leap that having enriched uranium would immediately lead to a nuclear weapon. This is an immense mistake — so large that one must suspect that it is essentially hyped for public consumption."
In return for agreeing to stop doing what it had no intention of doing, Iran will get the slightest relief from the economic sanctions that inflict so much suffering on the people.
There's another irony. The reactionaries on all sides – including in the U.S. Congress – oppose rapprochement between Iran and the United States for some of the same reasons.
Look at the leading opponents of the agreement: Israel and Saudi Arabia. They are among the U.S. government's closest allies in the Middle East. For overlapping reasons, both would hate to see the 34-year-old cold war between the United States and Iran come to an end.
Saudi Arabia, which is well-equipped militarily by the United States, is an Arab Sunni Muslim kingdom. Iran is the large, influential Persian state dominated by the other side in the Islamic schism: Shiism. (What Iran calls the Persian Gulf, Arabs call the Arabian Gulf.) Iran was a U.S. client-state until 1979, when the Islamic Revolution overthrew the repressive shah, whom the U.S. government had restored to power after ousting a democratic regime in 1953. Saudi Arabia, which enjoys protection under America's nuclear umbrella, does not want to see Iran back in the good graces of the United States, since it would diminish its prominence in the Middle East.
Israel, the world's largest recipient of U.S. military armaments, a nuclear power, and thus the most potent country in the region, has used its might to subjugate the Palestinians, systematically steal their land, and intimidate its neighbors, for example, by periodically invading Lebanon. Its leadership needs to manufacture enemies to distract the world from its inhumane policies, which the U.S. government, pushed by Israel's lobby, enables. Thus the Iranians, who have made repeated peace overtures, are portrayed as an "existential threat," which is absurd: Even if one were to make all the fantastic assumptions required to see Iran with a nuclear weapon, what good would it be against Israel, which has hundreds of nukes, some of them on invulnerable submarines?
Yoel Guzansky, a former member of Israel's National Security Council, revealed much when he condemned the interim agreement as giving "Iran … a signature that it's a legitimate country." How hypocritical.
The Iranian people, which includes a large, educated middle class, would welcome friendship with America. Both they and the American people would prosper from trade, tourism, and other personal contact.
As a bonus, such friendship would inevitably weaken Iran's theocracy – which is why the hardliners on all sides are determined to prevent it.
This column originally appeared on the Future of Freedom Foundation.