As everyone knows, US President Donald Trump has dumped the so-called “Iran deal” (JCPOA), and re-imposed strict economic sanctions on the Iranian regime.
I agree with PM Netanyahu that not only did the deal not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, it “[paved] Iran’s path to an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs.”
The deal limited the enrichment of uranium, at least at the sites that were known to the IAEA. It mandated the removal of some centrifuges from Iran’s facilities and the sealing of a nuclear reactor that could have produced Plutonium. But it did not prevent the regime from developing advanced centrifuges that will allow it to produce fissionable material much faster once we reach the deal’s “sunset” dates. It did not prevent it from continuing its development of nuclear warheads at military sites that are off-limits to IAEA inspectors. It did not prevent it from developing the missiles that will carry those warheads.
It did provide a diplomatic shield that protected the Iranian program from attack by Israel, which quite reasonably sees herself as a target – the regime itself told us so, more than once. It did offer sanctions relief that provided large amounts of money, which were used to finance the war in Syria, terrorism against Israel, and probably secret nuclear-related work. It also weakened existing UN resolutions against missile development.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, anything but a Trump supporter, said the deal “isn’t really an arms-control agreement; it’s just cover for American inaction, and for President Obama’s acute desire to leave the Middle East.” One might add that the Europeans also had a strong desire to see sanctions lifted so that they could jump into the Iranian market with both feet.
The deal, which wasn’t actually signed by either the US or the Iranian regime, was implemented by the Obama Administration against the wishes of the majority in Congress and the majority of the American people, as Bret Stephens, another non-Trump-supporter, notes. But it was ratified by the UN Security Council, which is how previous Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran not undertake missile development were weakened into one that merely called upon Iran to do so.
Supporters of continuing the deal argue that while it isn’t perfect, it at least slows Iran’s progress to an arsenal of deliverable nuclear weapons. They also suggest that ending the deal will cause Iran to be more aggressive in its nuclear program, ultimately leading to war (either with the US, Israel or both).
In response, we need to consider the objectives of the Iranian regime in the region and in the world. If we take it at its word and by its actions, the revolutionary regime has truly grandiose goals: establishing a Shiite caliphate in the Middle East, removing all US influence from the region, ending America’s world leadership, and destroying Israel – which it sees as both an agent of the US and an unacceptable Jewish presence in what should be an all-Muslim region.
The JCPOA assisted Iran in accomplishing these goals. Although it may have slowed her nuclear program somewhat, it allowed the regime to develop components of nuclear weapons without interference, so that when it is ready it can quickly “break out” before its opponents are able to confront it. In the long term, it guaranteed stability for Iran to carry out her plans.
It goes without saying that Israel and the Sunni Arab powers in the Middle East will not permit this to happen, and that if Iran continues its march toward its goals, regional war is unavoidable. What will happen with the US is less predictable, because it will depend on whether the US returns to appeasing the regime – that is, feeding the crocodile in order to be eaten last, as Churchill said – or continues Trump’s policy of starving it. Unlike the far-away USA, Iran’s regional neighbors don’t have the luxury of embracing appeasement. They will always be the ones it eats first.
I’ve argued that war between Iran and Israel is unlikely in the short term due to Israel’s deterrent strength, and the very astute David P. Goldman agrees with me. The long-term picture is cloudier, but it’s likely that continuing the JCPOA would have resulted in a gradually stronger and more militarily capable Iran that would ultimately be ready to challenge Israel. Its cancellation will weaken Iran economically and strategically, and disrupt her plan to make war on her own terms and at a time of her choosing.
Whether it will be enough to prevent war depends on the actions taken by all the anti-Iranian players: the US, Israel, and the Sunni Arabs. The pressure on Iran must be increased, and internal regime opponents strengthened. Countries like India and China that buy a lot of oil from Iran should be encouraged to find alternative sources. Russia’s anti-Western mischief will continue to be a problem, as well as European greed and shortsightedness. Finally, for Israel there is nothing more important than to continue to build up her deterrent capabilities – and also to continue to demonstrate them as aggressively as possible to Iran.
Iran is truly a rogue state, but in conventional military terms it is a relatively weak one. Today it can be deterred, and perhaps at some point its own people will be able to overthrow the regime. But thanks to Obama’s policy of feeding the Iranian crocodile, it has grown stronger and more dangerous in recent years.
Trump’s decision to end the policy of appeasement is the right one. This is a beast we cannot afford to feed.
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