- David M. Weinberg - https://davidmweinberg.com -

Illogical Iran policy

Published in The Jerusalem Post [1], December 11, 2020; and Israel Hayom [2], December 13, 2020.

Print-friendly copy [3]

Israel’s position never has been that a deal with Iran is impossible or undesirable. But abandoning America’s leverage over Iran, and bringing the unctuous Europeans back into Iran policy-making – if that is what Biden does – will lead nowhere good.

[4]Michael McFaul was the architect of US President Barack Obama’s Russian “reset policy,” and later served as Obama’s ambassador to Moscow. We all know how successful that reset was! Now at Stanford University, McFaul is helping president-elect Joe Biden reset America’s Iran policy, by “re-allying” with the rest of the world and offering Iran “inducements.”

McFaul says that, as a matter of principle, Biden must reenter the Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA). This involves freeing Iran from the many layers of nuclear and human rights sanctions that the Trump administration unilaterally imposed on the regime and on Iranian leaders. Once this is done, McFaul argues, “Washington and its allies” should devise and implement a “new comprehensive strategy for containing Iranian influence in the region and promoting democracy inside Iran.”

Biden’s designated Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has said much the same thing. First, America will bring itself “into line with its allies” by rejoining the nuclear deal with Iran. Then America “will be in a position to use our renewed commitment to diplomacy, to work with our allies, to strengthen and lengthen (the nuclear deal).” Furthermore, Blinken believes, “We also would be in a much better position to effectively push back against Iran’s other destabilizing activities, because we would once again, be united with our partners instead of isolated from them.”

And here is Biden himself, speaking to the media this month: “In consultation with our allies and partners, we’re going to engage in negotiations and follow-on agreements to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program… We cannot do this alone. And that’s why we have to be part of a larger group, dealing not only with Iran, but with Russia, with China, and a whole range of other issues.”

This approach, which Biden-ites call a new “strategy,” makes no sense. It would have the US first lift its most powerful economic sanctions against Iran. Then, with America’s leverage severely degraded and the mullahs strengthened by hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, “America and its allies” will get Tehran onboard for “comprehensive new strategy” that does not involve building nuclear weapons. And then, America magically will negotiate a follow-on agreement that ends Iran’s building of ICBM’s and its regional terrorist activities.

This is the brilliant advice of the Democratic foreign policy establishment coming into office in Washington. They seem to want an Iran deal too much and illogically believe their own side’s leverage is a bad thing. They also seem to believe that “America’s allies” (meaning, I guess, craven Europeans and contrary Russians) will assist in pressuring Ayatollahs Khamenei and Rouhani to abandon their 40-year effort to export the Islamic revolution and build a nuclear bomb.

Good luck to Biden, and woe is us.

Listen instead to veteran US diplomat James Jeffrey, who offered a completely different take on “America and its allies” in an interview this week to The Times of Israel. Jeffrey was ambassador to Albania and Turkey under George W. Bush, the top diplomat in Iraq under Barack Obama, and Special Representative for Syria Engagement, and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, under Donald Trump.

“Look around the Middle East among America’s friends and partners in Ankara, Cairo, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kuwait City, Amman. Tell me anybody who’s happy to see the Trump administration go,” Jeffrey said about US policy towards Iran. “All of the front-line countries around the world were happy with what Trump actually did,” Jeffrey asserted.

Most pointedly, Jeffrey proceeded to flatly dismiss a common Democratic criticism that Trump had “trashed” traditional alliances. “What Trump did was trash the intellectual and political elite in parts of Western Europe whose major contribution to global security in the last two decades was to give Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2009) before he did anything,” he said. “You know why? Because he sounded like them (the European elites).”

IN THE MEANTIME, the Iranians are playing their usual games, offering phony concessions (like an end to oil tanker interceptions) in exchange for up-front substantive American concessions (like an end to oil export sanctions). They have ramped-up underground installation of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges (in gross violation of the JCPOA) to have “concessions” to give Biden when he green-lights renewed European investment in Iran by dropping US bank sanctions.

“That is how the Iranians play the game,” according to Iran expert Dr. Emily Landau of Tel Aviv. Before her untimely passing this year, she warned that “That is how Iran twists things, making it seem there are concessions when there are absolutely no concessions at all.”

According to Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, who was national security advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, and his colleagues at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, Israel’s position never has been that a deal with Iran is impossible or undesirable. 

But Netanyahu has made it clear that several key matters need resolved to turn the JCPOA from a dangerous and even disastrous agreement into an accord that will contribute to regional stability instead of undermining it.

First, the Biden transition team must not grant Iran premature concessions like sanctions relief. Second, the so-called “sunset clauses” must be dropped. In other words, the point in time at which Iran will be free to enrich uranium as it sees fit should be postponed indefinitely.

Third, a robust inspections regime must be set in stone that no longer depends on Iranian goodwill. Fourth, a new agreement also must curb Iran’s regional destabilization activities and force its Revolutionary Guards off Israel’s Syrian border. Fifth, Iran’s missile program must be halted. After all, the ICBM’s are meant as nuclear bomb delivery vehicles.

Amidror also says that if Biden is serious about a “better deal” with Iran, he should support development of a “credible military threat” (CMT) against Iran, including development of an independent, implementable, semi-overt, Israeli CMT. Biden should provide Israel with certain bunker-penetrating ordnance and encourage closer military cooperation between Israel and Gulf states.

These measures would lend energy and urgency to efforts to bring Iran to heel. Short of this, a new deal with Iran will be perilous and unsustainable. It is certainly the case that abandoning America’s leverage over Iran, and bringing the unctuous Europeans back into Iran policy-making, will lead nowhere good.