Israel is bracing for world powers and Iran to reach an agreement in coming days which it strongly opposes and has lobbied against in the past.
The agreement will revive the 2015 accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in return for world leaders repealing international sanctions against Iran. A White House spokesman this week noted that “substantial progress” during negotiations in Vienna had been reached, making an agreement possible within days.
Signed under President Barak Obama in 2015, the original deal was viewed by then Prime Minister Netanyahu as dangerously lacking in leverage to compel compliance, and as actually paving a path to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.
The Netanyahu government backed former president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the agreement in 2018, and initiate a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran to suspend nuclear work. Trump re-imposed US sanctions on Iran’s economy that slashed its oil exports. Iran responded by ramping up its nuclear production way past the bounds of the accord. The European governments and China who were party to JCPOA took no action to halt this activity.
Quoting an unnamed Israeli security official, the Times of Israel noted that while Israel regarded the original deal as “bad,” the revived accord now taking shape is “spectacularly bad,” in that it takes no account of the nuclear advances Iran has not-so-secretly made in the interim, in wholesale violation of its JCPOA promises.
A Nuclear Threshold State
Referring to a leaked draft of the imminent accord, the security official said Iran will not be required to destroy its advanced centrifuges under the revived deal. “In essence, it is an agreement that leaves Iran as a nuclear threshold state,” the official said.
The terms of the deal will require Iran to halt the production of uranium metal, a crucial element of the nuclear bomb-making process. While nations were in Covid lockdown, Iran exploited the global turning of a blind eye toward its nuclear advances, and acquired the expertise needed to produce uranium metal and other components of the bomb, Iran watchers said.
“The emerging new deal is shorter and weaker than the previous one,” Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett told a meeting of his Cabinet, according to Jerusalem Post. He said the deal would see Iran rein in its nuclear activity for two and a half years, rather than the 10 years under the collapsed previous deal, granting Iran sanctions relief for only a brief slowdown of its nuclear activity. After that, he said, Iran could develop and install “stadiums of centrifuges.”
In addition, Bennett noted that sanctions relief would enable Iran to channel funds to its terrorist proxies along Israel’s borders, in particular the Lebanon terrorist group Hezbollah.
Advocates of JCPOA’s revival admit Iran is closer today to producing a bomb than it was in 2015, when the deal was concluded. Only the deal’s renewal, they insist, can prevent the nightmare of a nuclear Iran. But opponents argue that the accord lacks all bite and rewards Iran extravagantly for promising almost nothing in return.
In exchange for a mere short-term postponement of its nuclear activity—and no restrictions on building a functional warhead or a missile capable of delivering it—the deal is a disaster in the making, critics say.
Writing in the Atlantic, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and author/political activist Yosef Halevi Klein note that JCPOA infused the Iranian economy with tens of billions of dollars in immediate sanctions relief and trade deals. But the regime used portions of this windfall to expand its international terror network, enhancing the military capabilities of Hamas and Hezbollah, trying to kill Israelis and exporting terror wherever possible.
The world sits by in silence as regime-orchestrated military processions accompanied by chants of “Death to Israel” fuel hatred of the Jews and the Jewish State. There was even a recent bill proposed in the Iranian parliament that would commit the government to “eliminate” Israel by 2041, note Oren and Klein. The international community continues to ignore the regime’s aggression, sending Iran the message that it can commit these outrages with impunity.
JCPOA in no way diminished the Iranian nuclear threat and in fact, magnified it, the authors write. “The accord allowed Iran to retain its massive nuclear infrastructure and did not shut down a single nuclear facility or destroy a single centrifuge. JCPOA allowed Iran to both maintain its nuclear program and revitalize its economy. The ease and speed with which Iran has resumed producing large amounts of more highly enriched uranium—doing so at a time of its own choosing—illustrates the danger and colossal error of leaving the regime with these capabilities.”
As long as the agreement fails to insist on the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, it remains fatally flawed, the authors write.
Republicans Threaten to Kill Nuclear Deal
More than 160 Republican legislators are threatening to scuttle a potential nuclear deal with Iran, the Hill reported. The lawmakers have warned President Biden that any agreement signed without congressional approval will be opposed by members of the caucus – and overturned if Republicans retake power.
In a letter to Biden last Wednesday, members of the House GOP referenced reports that Iran is demanding a “guarantee” that the U.S. will never re-impose sanctions once a new accord is signed. The lawmakers, however, emphasized that Biden does “not have the power” to make such a guarantee, and threatened to oppose an agreement made between the two countries that does not first receive Congressional approval.
They said such a deal would be “non-binding” and rendered worthless in the same way JCPOA was abandoned by former President Trump in 2018.
“If you forge an agreement with the Supreme Leader of Iran without formal Congressional approval, it will be temporary and non-binding and will meet the same fate as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, according to the Hill.
The Republicans said they will oppose a deal to lift sanctions if Iran has not “fully dismantled their enrichment and reprocessing-related infrastructure capabilities” among other terms, including that all Americans hostages are released and the country’s sponsorship of terrorism is ended.
A group of Senate Republicans sent a similar letter to Biden last week, suggesting that the Senate could block an attempt to return to JCPOA if its stipulations were unacceptable.
The Elephant in the Room—A New Nuke Facility
Far from Vienna, where world leaders haggle over the renewal of JCPOA, an ominous scenario plays out miles beneath a tall mountain range in Iran. A new nuke facility is currently under construction there –viewed as impenetrable by military analysts. Although the Iranian plant should be of grave concern to the signatories of JCPOA, it is being treated as the proverbial elephant-in-the-room which everyone is aware of but is studiously ignoring.
The nuclear facility in question is in Natanz, built under a massive mountain, making it extremely difficult for the IDF or any force to ever bomb it, the Jerusalem Post reports. This is the region where the Mossad allegedly blew up two different nuclear facilities in July 2020 and April 2021.
The parties to the JCPOA talks in Vienna, including China, Germany, France, Russia, the United States and Great Britain, are well aware this new nuclear threat could be a game-changer in the region. All indications are that the construction of the facility will proceed regardless of the outcome of the JCPOA talks, almost making a mockery of the negotiations, analysts say.
In a report for the Institute for Science and International Security, President David Albright wrote, “Fordow (Iran’s centrifuge enrichment plant) is already viewed as so deeply buried that it would be difficult to destroy via aerial attack. The new Natanz site may be even harder to destroy.”
According to the Albright report, the mountain harboring the new Natanz tunnel complex reaches as high as a mile above sea level, while the mountain under which the Fordow centrifuge enrichment plant was excavated reaches a height of about a half mile.
Whether Israel’s vaunted air force has the military capacity to strike deep enough underground to destroy Fordow has long been the subject of debate among military strategists. If Israel’s weaponry cannot penetrate far enough to deliver a decisive strike, that raises hard questions about whether a show of military force against Iran’s nuclear program would be likely to succeed.
According to the report, the underground facility is huge enough to house the largest segments of Tehran’s nuclear programs, which could eventually be moved to this site.
Following the two previous sabotage operations that set back Iran’s nuclear programs significantly, the construction of the new underground complex has apparently been an Iranian priority. Satellite images throughout 2021 show extensive excavation activities, with construction material growing steadily, said the report.
Albright recommended that “efforts should be made to dissuade Iran from finishing this facility, or… to at least disrupt its procurements of needed equipment and raw materials,” since otherwise, the facility could “reconstitute Iran’s ability to deploy thousands of advanced centrifuges each year, once again complicating any effort to lengthen its breakout or “sneak-out” timelines in a nuclear agreement.”
The Bitter Fruits of Obama’s Legacy
Why this nuclear facility largely remains off the world’s radar is due to one of the fatal flaws of JCPOA, analysts say. “Although the agreement contains provisions for inspecting enrichment-related facilities, none exist for inspecting potential bomb-making sites or punishing Iran should any be discovered,” write Oren and Klein in the Atlantic. “Instead, there is merely a declaration by the Islamic Republic regime that it will not seek to build a bomb—a promise the regime has systematically broken for years.”
The regime’s clandestine nuclear work was exposed when Israel found its secret nuclear archive in 2018. Among its many thousands of pages were documents detailing undeclared nuclear sites and radioactive materials, as well as blueprints for a missile-delivered bomb. Tellingly, the archive confirmed that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program did not stop in 2003 as the regime promised, but was merely split into hidden branches and disguised, like those embedded in universities camouflaged under the innocent-sounding title of ‘Scientific Development.”
In contrast to what many expected, these discoveries sparked almost no reaction from Washington. This silence has been traced to a major foreign policy blunder by the Obama administration. Obama fell prey to the belief that if Iran were treated respectfully and reintegrated into the international community, the regime would abandon its pursuit of nuclear bomb, choosing instead to become “a successful regional power.”
In line with this philosophy, reconciliation with Iran became a key component of Obama’s Middle East policy. And to achieve reconciliation, he was ready to overlook almost any outrage, including a 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi and Israeli ambassadors in Washington and the ongoing harassment of U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf. Teheran was given a pass for its complicity in the Syrian civil war, which has left some 500,000 civilians dead.
Faced with these acts of terror and belligerence by Iran, Obama’s response seemed prepared to sacrifice all on the altar of “reconciliation.” His policy ultimately became inseparable from appeasement and surrender. It sent the message to Teheran that it had nothing to fear in exporting terror and murder, and in violating all of its agreements.
“Rather than forcing Iran’s hand, the Obama administration made far-reaching concessions. American negotiators effectively recognized the regime’s “right to enrich,” overriding UN resolutions denying it that right, and even dropped their previous demand for a temporary freeze of enrichment,” note Oren and Klein in the Atlantic op-ed.
The legacy of the Obama years has come to fruition in the current JCPOA negotiations, where it is the Iranian regime making demands and setting the terms for reviving JCPOA. And the parties in Vienna are reduced to wrangling over the details.
Era of Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran is Over
Although President Biden has made it clear he wants the United States to rejoin the accord, critics say the era of nuclear diplomacy with Iran is over. The Islamic Republic is adamant it will not settle for any accord other than a permissive one that allows it to continue essential atomic activities.
Thus, “nuclear negotiations with Iran — financial relief in exchange for nuclear concessions — has run its course,” writes Politico. “Instead of gathering at months-long diplomatic conclaves and exhaustively hashing over the same details, it’s time America accepts the end of the JCPOA.”
Experience shows that Iran retreats when threatened by the United States in a no-nonsense manner, the article points out. In 2003, America marched triumphantly into Iraq. The Iranian establishment was shocked at how quickly America defeated the Iraqi army, and despite its belligerent rhetoric about the “Great Satan,” agreed to halt its nuclear program. Fear of armed conflict with America forced the regime to back down.
“In its own way,” writes Politico, “the Trump administration also demonstrated the impact of American military power on Iran. When Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian terrorist commander Qasem Soleimani, there was little by way of Iranian retaliation: Iran’s only response was to attack an American military base, with advance notice and in a manner that did not inflict fatalities.”
For all his fanaticism, the article notes, Iran’s Khamenei appears to respect America’s hard power. He is the longest-serving ruler in the region, and this lengthy tenure is partly due to his avoiding a direct armed clash with the United States.
Despite the credibility loss that resulted from Washington’s helter-skelter withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States still has the military power to impose its mandates on weakened adversaries such as Iran. “Rather than cobble together another deficient accord whereby Iran gets a massive injection of funds” while pressing forward with its nuclear ambitions, “the U.S. should draw its red lines and insist that any violation of them will lead to military retaliation,” the article argued.
This admittedly would take strong, confident leadership, of which, during times of crisis, there is often a short supply in the halls of power.
Observers say that President Biden’s diplomacy has no chance of obstructing Iran’s path to nuclear weapons, but that he is likely to be satisfied with the illusion that he has gained a temporary respite. Illusions tend to die hard. But this one, analysts say, will die a quick death.
Ten Historic Seconds That Exposed the Truth
A shocking, unprecedented event took place in Iran a few weeks ago, opening a brief window on the strength of anti-government dissent in the Islamic Republic and the cracks in the dictatorship’s facade, as reported on by Townhall.
On January 27, Channel 1, Iran’s flagship network on state-run television, was suddenly hacked. As commercials were about to be aired, what millions of Iranians witnessed instead was something unthinkable: an array of opposition leaders appeared on television screens across the nation.
Images that the Iranian regime has banned for 42 years stunned people all over Iran. For ten seconds, the screen celebrated the opposition’s leading figures: Iranian Resistance Leader Massoud Rajavi and Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Excerpts of a stirring speech by Massoud Rajavi exhorting people of conscience not to surrender to the tyrannical regime accompanied the images, and voices could be heard chanting, “Viva Rajavi!”
Perhaps the worst outrage, from the regime’s standpoint, was the image on the screen of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, with a big ‘X’ plastered across it, as voices in the background shouted “Death to Khamenei!” In total, 14 TV channels and 13 radio stations in Iran’s tightly controlled media were affected. According to field reports, more than 400 servers belonging to the state broadcaster (IRIB) went offline.
“The episode sent shockwaves across the country,” said the author of the Townhall report, A. Safavi, of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Images and messages of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi are strictly banned, and anyone advocating for them or for the key opposition movement, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), would potentially face imprisonment or execution in Iran. Chants of “Death to Khamenei!” – although commonly heard in street protests – had never been heard on state-run television before, Iranians attest.
Seconds after the drama, security forces reportedly stormed into television and radio offices in Tehran, sealed off the premises, prevented staff from leaving and began to interrogate employees on site. Shattered was the regime’s pretense of infallibility and absolute power. The 10-second disruption of government airtime decimated decades of relentless state propaganda, including recent claims that the regime boasts the “fifth strongest cyber army in the world,” easily targeting world governments.
In a theocracy and dictatorship such as Iran, the news rocked the country, feeding growing calls for regime change. In an incident earlier in January, Iran’s leaders erected a statue to commemorate the assassinated terrorist mastermind, Qassem Soleimani. Reflecting mounting grassroots sentiments, young activists of the Resistance Units torched the statue within hours of its unveiling.
Iran’s domestic ills pervade the country, fueling popular unrest. “Its economy reportedly suffers from a 40 percent inflation rate, while millions are living below the poverty line,” writes Politico. “Amid work stoppages and protests, nearly every segment of society has become disenchanted with theocratic rule.”
Iran’s human rights record is abysmal. Since 1979, the regime has put to death least 120,000 political opponents, mostly MEK supporters. In the summer of 1988, it executed 30,000 political prisoners, according to the Townhall article. But the regime is weakening, in a state of decay, observers say. It is clinging to power with ruthless brutality, while increasingly out of touch with a citizenry furious over economic deprivation and political tyranny.