The Iran deal, five years later

Published in The Jerusalem Post, July 24, 2020; and in Israel Hayom, July 26, 2020.

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The nuclear deal between the West and Iran has funded Iran’s aggression, rather than buy its moderation. Who will now curb Iran’s aggression and nuclear progress, and how? Trump’s penchant for grand deals that prove his greatness makes me worry that (in a second term) he could be tempted into a settlement with Iran that falls far short of what is necessary. On the other side of the aisle, most Democrats support re-entering the JCPOA and lifting some sanctions against Iran. 

Cartoon: Shay Charka, Makor Rishon, 5/2018

Hardly any Western media mentioned the fact that last week marked the fifth anniversary of former President Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the sell-out nuclear accord with Iran.

The accord has emboldened Iran’s hegemonic march across the Middle East and has not halted its advance towards nuclear weapons. All of which hastens the day towards all-out Israeli-Iran confrontation.

The JCPOA was based on Western charity for Iranian lies. Back in 2013 when Obama began secretly negotiating with the Iranians, the administration argued that the evidence for Iran’s two-decades-long drive for a working nuclear bomb was based on partial information. Nobody really knew for sure; there was no absolute proof.

In this situation, who wanted to be branded an alarmist or pay the price of moral action to truly stop Iran? It was more comfortable to accept then-president Hassan Rouhani’s denials and then-foreign minister Javad Zarif’s smiles.

Thus, Obama could impute credibility and honesty to the Iranian leadership. As justification for his softball approach to Tehran, Obama referred to a supposed fatwa by the Iranian “Supreme Leader” against the development of nuclear weapons and to Rouhani’s “promise that Iran will never develop a nuclear weapon.” Then-secretary of state John Kerry similarly testified to Congress in 2015 that he believes in the “sincerity of the Supreme Leader.” (Kerry could see no evil in Iran’s leaders, only in Israeli settlements).

Consequently, those American leaders forgave Iran on the demand that it come clean on the “possible military dimensions” of its previous nuclear program, and decided to forgo the demand that Iran categorically allow anytime-anywhere inspections of its military nuclear installations.

In his brave speech to Congress in March 2015, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned of three dangers stemming from the then-impending deal. He predicted, alas correctly, that Iran would become even more aggressive and sponsor ever more terrorism when sanctions against Iran were lifted. Secondly, he noted that under the terms of the accord, Iran could continue to develop centrifuges for uranium enrichment and ballistic missiles for delivery of nuclear weapons; while waiting 10-15 years for sanctions to lift and limits on high-grade enrichment to expire.

Third, Netanyahu warned that Iran’s neighbors would insist on having the same capabilities for themselves, potentially leading to a regional nuclear arms race.

Five years later, Netanyahu clearly has been proven right. As Yaakov Amidror, Jacob Nagel, and Jonathan Schachter have written (each served Netanyahu in a senior national security position) Iran’s aggression throughout the region has never been more audacious. Iran has stepped-up efforts to sow discord, terror and bloodshed in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, and in the region’s waterways. Dr. Yossi Mansharof at JISS has exposed Iran’s worldwide network of terrorist groups and alliances, through which it conducts proxy wars against the US and Israel, as well.

Iran’s military budget has grown by an estimated 30-40%, two-thirds of which goes to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and quite a bit to Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups too.

In short, rather than buying Iran’s moderation, the JCPOA has funded Iran’s aggression.

Two years ago, Israel provided the smoking gun that proves the definite military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. The Mossad’s daring raid on an atomic archive in Tehran produced tens of thousands of official Iranian documents which list the people involved in the Iranian nuclear military effort; locations of hidden nuclear development sites; front organizations Iran set up to pursue nuclear parts and knowhow within the framework of the deal; Westerners who collaborated in smuggling components for the nuclear military effort; extensive weaponization efforts, and more.

The International Atomic Energy Agency finally has begun to follow-up (albeit gently) on these findings. It has fingered Iran for enrichment that violates caps written into the accord and has censured Iran for blocking inspection access to two key nuclear sites.

But of course, none of the Western figures responsible for the sham nuclear deal subsequently have admitted that they were wrong about Iran’s intentions. They will never fess up to being willingly duped by Tehran. They cannot concede the obvious fact that the ayatollahs never took nuclear weapons option off the table.

In the meantime, Netanyahu’s third prediction has come true, as well. Countries across the Middle East have begun jockeying for position in anticipation of a nuclear-armed Iran. Turkey boldly has stated its desire for nuclear weapons. Egypt is seeking technologies relevant for nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia is mulling the idea too.

NOW THE QUESTION IS: Who will curb Iran’s aggression and nuclear progress, and how? US President Trump courageously called the global bluff and reinstated crippling sanctions on Tehran alongside the threat to use military force. He also assassinated IRGC Qods Force leader Qassem Soleimani. He has apparently backed Israel’s ongoing “war between the wars” – covert strikes on Iranian sites in Syria and nuclear installations in Iran.

But Trump’s isolationist instincts (and his woeful electoral situation) means that he is unlikely to strike directly at Iran with US forces. His inability to work well with Western allies (or with Russia and China) means that the regime of sanctions against Iran remains partial. And even if Trump wins reelection, some observers, like Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton, warn that Trump may be disposed towards another soft accord with Iran.

Indeed, Trump’s penchant for grand deals that prove his greatness makes me worry that he could be tempted into a settlement with Iran that falls far short of what is necessary. There is a pattern in Trump’s management of American policy towards China, North Korea, the Palestinians, and perhaps also with Iran. First comes economic pressure, then the offer of quickie talks in pursuit of a “historic” agreement; an agreement that could be more nebulous than valuable.

On the other side of the aisle, most Democrats support re-entering the JCPOA and lifting some sanctions against Iran. Their candidate for president, Joe Biden, has said so too, although he would try to renegotiate some of the details of the accord (like its early expiration dates).

Iran must be forced to relent on five key issues: 1. A complete end to its nuclear military program, including all uranium enrichment and plutonium production – with no sunset, ever. 2. A truly intrusive international inspections regime; not the jokingly weak-to-non-existent regime stipulated in the JCPOA. 3. An end to Iran’s ballistic missile development program. 4. A retreat from the forward bases in Syria that Iran is building to challenge Israel. 5. Complete cessation of Iranian financing of Hamas and Hezbollah military capabilities.

Short of this, a deal with Iran will be perilous and unsustainable. Yet the Iranians playing are their usual games, offering phony concessions (like an end to their oil tanker interceptions) in exchange for up-front substantive American concessions (like an end to oil export sanctions).

“This is how the Iranians play the game,” warned Iran expert Dr. Emily Landau last year before her untimely passing. “This is how they twist things, making it seem there are concessions when there are absolutely no concessions at all.”

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

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