Iran Deal Gives Legitimacy to Regime

WASHINGTON – Regarding the just signed nuclear agreement with Iran, US President Barack Obama is right on one thing. This is the best deal we could get –under the circumstances. Indeed, whatever the critics may say, it is true that they are unable to come up with a better idea.

Tough sanctions

Yes, in principle, a really, really tough sanctions regime might have forced Iran into bankruptcy and therefore it would have forced the regime to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. But such a tough sanctions regime assumes that the whole world would enforce the restrictions, no exceptions, for an indefinite period of time. And this is clearly a fantasy. The US would never get this unanimity.

No military option

Short of sanctions, there is nothing else. No, contrary to popular belief, the mighty US Air Force does not have the capability to destroy all the hardened Iranian nuclear installations, most of them built underground or inside mountains in order to be protected from attack. The so-called “military option” whereby the US Air Force, possibly supported by Israeli bombers, would mount surprise air raids and completely destroy each and every Iranian installation was also a fantasy.

Given all this, this is probably the best that we can get. And it is what it is. Look, in the best of circumstances, this agreement will delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program. And this is to our advantage.

High political price

However, this delay comes at a very high political price. Indeed, the unintended consequence of the smiles and handshakes in Vienna is that this deal signals Iran’s formal political “rehabilitation”.

No matter what Obama says about America and the West still having major differences with Iran on broader international issues, this agreement will be presented by the Iranians as proof that they can do business with the West and that therefore they are to be trusted.

Verification?

Talking about trust, here we come to another unpleasant detail. The major weakness of this agreement is that deep down it is unverifiable and therefore unenforceable. Yes, there is plenty there about tough IAEA inspections. But, on closer look, the inspection regime has too many stages, too many committees, too many actors, too many opportunities to object, appeal and produce counter arguments. And this means that the inspections that will actually take place will find nothing.

If indeed IAEA inspectors could arrive unannounced, and inspect any facility at will, with no obstacles and no restrictions, I would think that this deal means something. But the inspections regime has been designed in a such a complicated way that it creates far too many opportunities for delays, obfuscation, deceptions and more on the part of the Iranians.

Therefore, based on Iranian past behavior, we can almost guarantee that they are already busy thinking about ways to circumvent or violate the agreement they just signed. We can rest assured that the Iranians will artfully manipulate the various stages of any inspection request to obtain delays in order to prevent the inspectors from gaining hard evidence of any misbehavior.

The best deal we could get

As I said, this is probably the best deal we could get –under the circumstances. But it is a very bad deal. A good deal would have eliminated any and all Iranian enrichment facilities and capabilities. This deal does not do that.

In the past the US was unable to prevent uranium enrichment on the part of the Iranians. This agreement puts some limits to enrichment. But it does not reverse it.

As Henry Kissinger put it a while ago, we have now moved from the era of preventing nuclear proliferation to a new era in which we are trying to manage it. As we have almost no way to exercise any real pressure against Iran, our best hope is that the Ayatollahs will observe this agreement, in good faith.

As much as I would like to, I just cannot believe that national leaders devoted to a messianic anti-Western ideology dressed up as true religion will actually behave towards us the way we would expect Great Britain or Finland to behave.

 




Kissinger And Shultz Issue Strong Warning About Iran Nuclear Deal

WASHINGTON – If you want a detailed but highly readable critique of Obama’s Iran’s nuclear deal,  I strongly encourage you to read the excellent WSJ op-ed piece (The Iran Deal and Its Consequences, April 8, 2015) written by former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. (As a passing comment, let me observe here that the most articulate advocates of the US national interest are two, long retired, former high officials, now well into their 80s. Where is everybody else?)

Managing proliferation

The basic point made by the two authors is that, based on what is publicly available, this deal at best will restrain Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and only for a limited period of time, (10 years). It will not stop, let alone reverse, Iran’s nuclear program. It will only freeze its most dangerous components to a level that will not allow Tehran to produce enough material to make a bomb.

This is to say that US policy gradually shifted from blocking Iran’s uranium enrichment program to regulating it; so that Iran, assuming it will abide by the terms of the treaty, for a 10 year period will not have a chance to go beyond the threshold that will make it effectively a nuclear weapons state.

Compliance and verification

The Obama administration wants us to believe that restraining Iran is a major US foreign policy achievement. Kissinger and Shultz disagree. Much will depend on how this deal will be enforced, they argue. Iran has a very poor record when it comes to full disclosure and true cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. And we are not even sure that we know exactly what is going on in so many dispersed facilities. And what if Iran has other secret installations we do not know about?

That said, do keep in mind that the deal, as far as we know, does not call for the dismantling of any nuclear facilities. It only calls for closing or re-purposing some of them. This being the case, at the very best, considering the limited duration of this agreement, even assuming full compliance, in 10 years Iran will be able to restart all its facilities and get nuclear weapons. Worst case scenario, Iran will cheat, a lot or a little; and it is not clear what the US is prepared to do, should such misbehavior occur.

From a political standpoint, let’s be clear that it would be very difficult to convince the entire international community to reimpose heavy economic sanctions in case of Iranian violations that at least some governments may be prepared to dismiss as minor.

Deal legitimizes Iran

That said, beyond compliance, it is clear that this deal will indirectly legitimize Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the Gulf region and beyond. After signing a “historic”  agreement with Washington and Europe, from pariah state Iran will be viewed by most as a legitimate player whose lawful nuclear program is now recognized by the US, the EU and other key states.

Please do keep in mind that the announced nuclear deal is silent on Iran’s misbehavior throughout the region. And so here are the political consequences. With a deal that in effect re-legitimizes its regime, Iran will continue to destabilize the Middle East, just as before, but now –and this is the crucial difference– with an indirect American blessing.

Indeed, it will be hard for President Obama to explain to the world that Iran is really trustworthy when it comes to respecting the nuclear deal, but it in fact a dangerous rogue state with bellicose intentions when it comes to the rest of its foreign policy.

Message to the Arabs: you are on your own

And this brings us to the last point made by the two co-authors. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states most likely will interpret this agreement as yet another sign of American disengagement. “No, we cannot stop Iran’s nuclear program. The best that Washington can do –dear Arab friends– is to slow it down. In effect, when it comes to major geo-political challenges in your Region –dear friends– from now on, we regret to inform you, you are on your own. Best of luck to you”.

This being the case, will Saudi Arabia buy insurance by developing nuclear capabilities at least equal to what the announced deal will allow Tehran to keep? And what will be the consequences of that? How will deterrence work in a truly unstable environment in which being irrational in the pursuit of ideological objectives is actually considered a virtue?

America should stay engaged

And so it is. Kissinger and Shultz do not recommend an outright rejection of a deal. However they issue a strong warning. Far from solving the problem, a deal with Iran creates many new problems that will require a proactive American engagement.

However, the Obama administration, now nearing its close, has given no signs that it intends to reinforce its political and military presence in the Middle East.

Translation: more troubles ahead.




Get Ready For A Quasi-Nuclear Iran

WASHINGTON – The deadline for a nuclear deal between Iran and the West is approaching, while no meaningful agreement is in sight. My prediction is that the negotiations will be extended, because breaking the talks now would confront President Obama with very unpleasant choices.

Let’s talk

Admitting failure would mean that America would have “to do something” in order to prevent the unpleasant development of an Iran with nuclear weapons. But America is unwilling to go to war on this issue. And it is unlikely that the international community is willing to ratchet up biting economic sanctions in order to force Iran to give up its plans.

Therefore, let’s keep talking; even though it is obvious that these talks will lead to nothing substantial, simply because it is perfectly clear to all that Iran has no intentions to curb its nuclear program.

That said, Iran has a political and public relations interest in giving the impression that it is really trying to find a good solution. From their standpoint, let’s keep talking, for ever if necessary.

But why are we in this unfortunate situation? Who could be so naive to believe that Iran really meant to “solve” this problem through diplomacy? Let’s step back and look at the scenario.

Civilian program?

If Iran really meant to have a nuclear program with only civilian applications it would have gone about this endeavor in an entirely different way. It does not take a genius to appreciate that  nuclear facilities aimed at producing energy do not need to be buried underground or deep in mountains, in multiple, hardened locations.

If Iran had no ambition to manufacture nuclear weapons, it would have presented all its plans to the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA), in an open and totally transparent way. It would have opened all its facilities to IAEA inspectors.

It would have been proactive in providing any kind of additional information and clarifications about the size and scope of its nuclear program and details about all its inventories, equipment and suppliers.

Well, it is pretty clear that Iran did not go about it this way. And it is also clear that Iran is not going about this way even now, as it is negotiating with the US, the other 4 permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia, China, France and the UK) and Germany, (this format is often described as P 5+1).

Iran won

So, where are we now? Not in a good place. Iran has essentially won the most critical public relations fight. The very fact that there are negotiations de facto legitimizes Iran’s positions. The fact that US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with his Iranian counterpart “demonstrates” that Iran is no longer a rogue state. Of course, the optimists in the West will argue that, as long as we talk, there will be no armed confrontation, and this is by definition a good thing.

A deal will legitimize Iran’s program

In the end, realistically I see only two scenarios. Either we keep talking with Tehran for ever, without reaching any conclusion; or we get a bad deal whereby Iran gets to keep all it has, while “promising” that it will go no further. In practice this would mean that Iran will be allowed to have all it takes to develop a nuclear weapon in only a matter of months, should it decide to break the agreement.

In practice, such a deal would legitimize Iran’s military nuclear weapons goal, under the officially endorsed  –even though truly preposterous–  claim that Tehran is pursuing only civilian nuclear power.

Needless to say, the countries in the region would get the message:  “Iran won, while America lost, simply because Washington could not contemplate military action aimed at disabling Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

Bottom line: Iran wins, politically and strategically. As a quasi-nuclear state that happily continues to invest in new, long-range ballistic missiles Tehran’s not so subtle message to its rivals will be: “I may not have a nuclear weapon today; but you know that I can get one in no time. So, you better behave accordingly”.




Iran Is Not Negotiating In Good Faith About Its Nuclear Program

WASHINGTON – By now, as we approach a critical July 20 deadline, it is obvious that the Vienna talks between Iran, America, Europe, Russia and China will go nowhere, for the very simple reason that Iran has no intention to give up its ability to produce weapons grade material.

Iran wants nuclear weapons

If you combine this aspiration with an active Iranian ballistic missiles program, it should be clear to Washington and to everybody else that Iran intends to become a nuclear weapons country and use the military edge that the status implies for political purposes. The only element still in play is how long it will take.

Window dressing negotiations

These Vienna negotiations, now about to hit the July 20 deadline, were and are just window dressing. It is quite possible that Tehran agreed to them in the hope that Washington would sign a bad deal that would leave the door open for further uranium enrichment advances.

In other words, for Iran a good deal would be a Vienna agreement that would allow the regime to be in a pre-nuclear state –with everybody’s blessings. In return for this “concession” Tehran would get the end of the economic sanctions regime.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Iran agrees to freeze its program just a step away from gaining nuclear weapons, while everybody knows that it would take only a small additional effort to produce them.

If the Americans are really fools, then they would take this deal, rationalizing this capitulation by arguing that “at least this way we delay the Iranian nuclear program, and this is better than no deal”.

I have no idea what Secretary of State John Kerry will recommend in the end. Of course, it is always possible to extend the negotiations beyond the July 20 deadline, hoping in some miracle down the line.

No changes in Iran’s foreign policy

But, in my mind, the facts are clear. Tehran never negotiated in good faith. More broadly, beyond the critical nuclear issue, Tehran provided no indication that it has renounced or that it is about to renounce its anti-Western, anti-Israel disruptive foreign policies.

Iran is still actively supporting President Assad in Syria. It is still supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon. Last but not least, Iran is providing advanced rockets to Hamas in Gaza so that they can be launched against Israel.

In other words, Iran remains a rogue state. And the last thing America should want is a rogue state, run by religious zealots, right in the middle of the most important oil-producing region in the world, armed with nuclear weapons.

Iran does not negotiate in good faith 

The Vienna negotiations would make sense only if this worrisome background did not exist, if Iran were indeed a “normal” country.

Lacking this reassurance, are we really so stupid to buy the official Iranian position that all the country is doing is to try to develop nuclear power for purely civilian purposes?

We all know that, had this been the case, years ago Iran would have opened up all its nuclear facilities. It would have welcomed all international International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, inspectors.  It would have been forthcoming in providing all data, documents and records. But no. The Iranian nuclear program is secretive. The facilities are placed underground. And so on, and so forth.

I have no idea as what can be done to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. May be it is too late. Can we go back to a harsh sanctions regime? Would this do it? And would the world be united in this? Probably not.

Still, be that as it may, the Vienna talks are not going to produce anything genuine that will stand the test of time.