Will Trump take on Tehran?

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, January 13, 2017.

Print-friendly copy

The new US president will soon have to decide whether he is going to overturn the dangerous strategic situation created by his predecessor. How will he enforce or renegotiate the nuclear deal, confront Iran’s expansionism, and work with Russia simultaneously?

Credit: Denys Almaral

The morally darkened international community is this weekend convening in Paris, where predictably, unreasonably and uselessly it will heap criticism on Israel. Alas, it’s a conference driven by the sputtering convulsions of a vindictive, dying American administration that is taking a last whack at Israel.

What the 70 nations gathered in France won’t do is take on the real threat to global security: the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is despite many alarming indications that the ayatollahs of Tehran are tinkering with the nuclear limits in the JCPOA, and ramping-up their hegemonic troublemaking.

Over the past month we have learned (thanks to the indefatigable Jay Solomon of The Wall Street Journal) that since the preliminary nuclear deal was struck in 2013, the Obama-Kerry team has provided Iran with more than $11 billion in sanctions relief in virtually untraceable cash and gold – which can readily be used for criminal, terrorist and illicit nuclear operations. This, in addition to nearly $115 billion in broader sanctions relief.

Where is all this money going?

Dr. Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general of the IAEA, revealed this week that Iran has imported several hundred tons of yellowcake (natural un-enriched uranium, enough to build ten bombs), for which Iran has no plausible need. This is a strong indication that Tehran is stockpiling uranium to reach nuclear breakout before the deal’s initial limitations expire.

The Iranian parliament also decided this week to boost funding for the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guards Corps to five percent of the state budget, based on a plan to increase development of long-range missiles, armed drones and cyber-war capabilities.

In 2015 and 2016, Iran conducted ballistic missile tests at least four times in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. All the UN Secretary General had to say about these tests in his report to the Security Council last July was that they were “not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the nuclear deal.

In his last report to the Security Council before leaving office, Ban Ki-Moon “expressed concern” about Iran. He “took note” of reports that Iran has violated arms embargoes by intensifying its armed support for the Houtis in Yemen and for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. But as everyone knows, the Security Council met in late December to condemn Israeli settlements, not to fret about Iranian arms shipments, aggression or terrorism.

It no longer surprises anyone that the Obama administration has been silent on this. After all, the JCPOA was about helping Iran “get right with the world,” as Obama termed it, and this has meant fraudulently selling the world a narrative about “moderates” in Iran that will partner with the West in stabilizing (pacifying?) the Middle East.

But because of the deceptive way in which the Iran deal was sold, many opponents of the deal are “still chasing the mechanical rabbits that the Obama administration created for them to chase,” explains Lee Smith of the Hudson Institute. “As if the point of the Iran deal was simply to limit Iran’s ability to spin X amount of uranium instead of Y amount at facility Z.”

In fact, the Iran deal was the hinge for a larger geopolitical realignment which offered hegemony in the Mideast to Tehran. Obama re-prioritized US regional interests by downgrading and weakening traditional American allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, while upgrading and empowering Iran.

Incoming US President Donald Trump will soon have to decide whether he is going to overturn the dangerous strategic situation created by Obama, and how. There are competing approaches being discussed in Washington.

Former Senator Joe Lieberman and former US Ambassador to the UN Mark Wallace have argued in The Washington Post for a two-track strategy – combining tough enforcement of the JCPOA (by imposing new sanctions for every Iranian misstep), with renegotiation of the deal beyond its 10-15 year sunset clauses and beyond the confines of the nuclear issue. This would necessarily include verifiable curbs on Iran’s regional aggression, state sponsorship of terrorism, ballistic missile development, and domestic repression of human rights.

The problems with this strategy are obvious, according to Lee Smith.

Firstly, the notion that such Iranian concessions can be negotiated is a fantasy, especially now that Iran is riding high. Remember that Iran is triumphing in Syria and Yemen; has been supercharged by the end of sanctions; and been legitimized by more than a year of overt American political and military backing (including American air force sorties coordinated with Iranian military advances in Iraq).

Secondly, the two strategies (enforcement/sanctions and renegotiation) are contradictory. Sanctions discourage negotiations, while renegotiation preempts sanctions. Remember that the only way Obama kept Iran from walking away from the table was by giving them $700 million a month just to sit through the talks and by promising to block any new non-nuclear sanctions.

Third, enforcement of the actual nuclear deal and a new posture of not turning a blind eye to Iranian aggression across the region assuredly will cause the agreement to collapse, sooner or later. Tehran will renounce all agreements. And then Washington has to be ready for war. Of course, Ayatollah Rouhani and other leading Iranian figures have boasted that they assume the West will never be ready for this.

Fourth, says Smith, is that renegotiation could create a new lobby in Washington for practically endless negotiations with Iran; only perpetuating Obama’s key mechanism for realigning with Iran – the actual process of talking and talking and talking, until the chattering classes are conditioned to cutting ever-softer deals with Iran. And inevitably, renegotiation would end up re-legitimizing Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and have a nuclear program – which was the root cause of all JCPOA evil.

The fifth problem is Russia. America can’t truly check Iran’s aggression in Syria, its arming of Hezbollah, its purchase of advanced jet fighters, and its building of ballistic missiles – without Russian indulgence or cooperation. Russian collaboration in checking Iranian ambitions might be possible, but it will come at a high price elsewhere (such as, perhaps, in eastern Europe). Trump will have to be ready to cut deals with Putin if he intends to take on Tehran.

For Israel, danger lies in the opposite equation. What if Putin tells Trump: Back off my Iranian friends? Will America pay this price in order to obtain the new global partnership with Russia that Trump seems to be seeking?

There is a further inherent problem with Trump’s pursuit of Putin. Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute puts it this way: If the Iran deal is truly the “worst deal ever negotiated,” as Trump has called it, why does Trump appear to embrace its logic with regard to Russia?

Consider: Russian President Vladimir Putin is on the offense. He has invaded three sovereign countries (Georgia, Ukraine and Syria) and threatened several others. He has cheated on nuclear non-proliferation agreements. His navy and air force regularly harass their American counterparts. He apparently hacked his way into an American election campaign, etc.

And yet, in response to all this, Trump essentially seeks to do with Putin what Obama has done with Ayatollah Khameini: Ingratiate himself to the aggressor, hoping that obsequiousness brings lasting rapprochement rather than further aggression. Rubin asks: Can a strategy that failed so resoundingly when applied to Iran be successful with regard to Russia?

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

Accessibility Toolbar