President Joe Biden and his foreign policy team are still trying to find a way to reach a deal with the Islamic government of Iran to revive the flawed 2015 nuclear deal that was negotiated by the Obama-Biden administration, despite the fact that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has clearly rejected the Biden’s overly generous offer.
As soon as Biden took office in January 2021, he appointed Robert Malley, who had served as then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s lead negotiators for the 2105 nuclear deal, to lead the effort to revive the agreement which collapsed after then-President Donald Trump walked away from it in 2018. Biden’s offer reportedly would have given Iran “up to $275 billion in financial benefits during its first year in effect and $1 trillion by 2030.”
Based upon what Iran did with the planeloads of cash it received from the US when it agreed to the original 2015 deal, much of the money in the new deal would likely to be used to support its terrorist proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as attacks carried out by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps against US interests and friends around the world, as well as inside the United States itself.
Reportedly, in 2022, IRGC assassins targeted former top officials of the Trump administration, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. The IRGC also tried to kidnap Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American women’s rights campaigner and Voice of America journalist who lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Yet none of this stopped Biden’s determined efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal. After more than a year of on-again, off-again indirect negotiations in Vienna and Doha between Iran, the US, and the other signatories to the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement seemed imminent. But this past September, Iran suddenly rejected the offer, and the talks collapsed.
BIDEN’S IRAN POLICY STUCK IN DENIAL
Nevertheless, the Biden administration still appears to be in denial over the apparent lack of interest by Iran’s leaders in reviving the nuclear deal. Last week, instead of blaming the Iranians for rejecting the US offer, Secretary of State Antony Blinken again criticized the Trump administration for having abandoned the agreement after Iran refused to renegotiate its glaring flaws and shortcomings.
“When the Iran nuclear deal was actually enforced,” Blinken claimed, “it did exactly what it was designed to do. It put Iran’s nuclear program in a box.” But Blinken ignored the fact that the 2015 deal left Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact, and that its restrictions on Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon will soon expire.
Blinken also claimed that the US “will continue to look and act on ways to make sure that, one way or another, Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon,” totally ignoring the fact that in November, the chief of Iran’s nuclear program boasted that its heavily fortified underground nuclear facility at Fordow was now producing near-weapons grade 60% enriched uranium in clear violation of both the letter and the spirit of the 2015 deal.
The Biden administration was so obsessed with reviving the nuclear deal that this past March, it was ready to agree to Iran’s demands that the IRGC be removed from the State Department’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations. However, reports that administration was ready to make such a concession sparked widespread outrage, particularly among the family members of over 600 American military personnel killed by IRGC attacks across the Middle East. The public outcry and protests by the members of these Gold Star families eventually forced the Biden administration to withdraw its offer to delist the IRGC.
THE LIMITS OF BIDEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITMENT
Back in March 2021, Blinken had announced that “President Biden has committed to putting human rights back at the center of American foreign policy, and that’s a commitment that I and the entire the Department of State take very seriously.”
Yet apparently the Biden administration has not applied that to Iran after more than 100 days of street demonstrations which began as a protest against the torture and killing in September of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, by Iran’s notorious Islamic morality police for failing to wear a hijab head covering. Since that time, as the protests have evolved into a general challenge to the legitimacy of the Islamic regime, the ayatollahs have responded by using more force against the demonstrators.
While Amini was far from the first Iranian protester to be arrested and killed by Iran’s Islamic religious police, her death ignited a surprisingly strong protest movement giving voice to public anger that had been building among various Iranian groups for some time. Farmers have been complaining about the lack of water, students have complaining about the lack of freedom, teachers have been complaining about the inadequate pay, and retirees have been complaining about a lack of benefits.
WHY THE CURRENT PROTESTS IN IRAN ARE DIFFERENT
This is not the first angry Iranians have taken to the streets in recent years to demand change from their Islamic government. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist newspaper. In 2009, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in a rigged election, sparking the creation of the middle-class Green Movement which demanded electoral reforms. In 2017 and 2019, the rising of fuel and bread prices led to revolts among poor Iranians.
But whereas all the previous uprisings against Iran’s Islamic regime were by social and economic classes, today’s protests, under the banner of “Women, Life, and Liberty,” demanding more freedom and government accountability, have a much broader base. Many of today’s Iranian protesters are also different from their predecessors because they are no longer calling for reform but rather for regime change, which would mean the end of Iran’s Islamic Republic.
The current wave of protests has also defeated the Islamic regime’s standard strategy for suppressing opposition, which begins by confronting demonstrators with a quick show of force, disabling social media platforms in Iran to prevent coordination, arresting the ringleaders, and then waiting for the protest movement to gradually die out. But this time, that strategy does not seem to be working. More than three months after the protests started, the revolt still lacks identifiable leaders and an organized structure that government forces can attack. The opposition has also staged successful strikes in most of Iran’s provinces in which closed businesses have become a gesture of solidarity with the protesters.
This time, Iran’s intelligence services were late to recognize the onset of the rebellion and have still not fully come to grips with its growing dimensions. Its strategy of using escalating violence to dissuade the demonstrators has so far killed more than 500 people, generating martyrs but not yet sufficient fear to subdue the spreading protest movement. Further escalation would also be problematic, because regime leaders have become aware that every time they execute another protester, they alienate more citizens and prompt them to turn against their rule.
According to Tina Ghazimorad, an editor at the London-based Manoto Farsi-language TV channel, “the crackdown is incredibly brutal. The most peaceful, most harmless acts, even gestures, can result in the most dire consequences. Even innocent bystanders — women, elderly, and children — are not spared.”
IRANIAN PROTESTERS STILL WAITING FOR US SUPPORT
Ghazimorad added that the failure of the US to speak out and act more forcefully in defense of the human rights protests which have already continued for more than 100 days has been a deep disappointment. “In such an atmosphere, it’s only the courage and the creativity of the Iranian youth that is keeping the protests going. It is important that the momentum continues, but some tangible results are needed, otherwise fatigue can set in,” she said.
For example, when a spokesman for Biden’s State Department was asked last week by Fox News whether it is still determined to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, there was no mention of the human rights issue. Instead, the response was that, “the door for diplomacy will always remain open, but as of now, we don’t see [a revived nuclear] deal coming together anytime soon and it is not our focus.”
When asked directly whether the US would seek to impose new sanctions against Iran because of its violence again women and the peaceful protesters, the spokesman again avoided giving a direct answer. Instead, he said, “Robust US sanctions remain in place, and we will continue to vigorously enforce them,” and then added, almost as an afterthought, “we continue to coordinate with a wide range of international partners to respond to Iran’s state-sponsored violence against women and the government’s ongoing, violent crackdown on peaceful protesters.”
Lisa Daftari, editor-in-chief of the Foreign Desk news website, told Fox News that while, “the Biden administration has said that they will not be moving towards the deal right now, they have stopped short of canceling negotiations altogether and moving toward supporting regime change, which is what the Iranian people want.”
Daftari added, “More than anything, Iranian protesters, and those who support them around the world, are hoping that in 2023 there will be more awareness, and more importantly, more public support of their movement.”
BIDEN HAS NO “PLAN B” FOR IRAN
According to Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the Rand Corporation think tank, “The Biden administration and its Europeans counterparts are engaging in wishful thinking that a nuclear agreement can [still] come through, and that they won’t have to worry about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. It shows how desperate the Biden administration is when it comes to the Islamic Republic. Biden does not have any ideas beyond nuclear negotiations.”
Nader also told Fox News that the Biden White House “never had a plan B” should the negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal fail. That is why “even though the Iranian [people] are trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic, the Biden administration is not doing very much to help them.”
According to Beni Sabti, an expert on Iran from the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, the Biden administration apparently sees the ongoing Iranian human rights demonstrations as an inconvenience. “Biden still wants to go back to negotiations [on the nuclear deal],” Sabti said, but “can’t ignore the protests and executions.”
Biden appears to be stuck pursuing an obsolete, seven-year-old strategy which no longer fits Iran’s current nuclear capabilities, the diplomatic realities in the region, or the social and political realities on the ground in Iran.
PROTESTS ARE DIVIDING IRAN’S ELITES
Meanwhile, according to a Jerusalem Post report, there were new signs last week that the ongoing anti-government street protests had resulted in growing divisions within the ranks of Iran’s ruling elite, as reflected by statements of two senior IRGC officers. In a broadcast speech, Hamid Abazari stated that senior commanders and officials had “failed [to speak out against the protests] and stood against the values [of Ayatollah Khamenei] and the regime.”
Another IRGC commander, Gholamhossein Gheybparvar, who was in charge of a unit assigned to confront the anti-government demonstrators, was quoted by Iranian media as saying that “some of Iran’s elites were afraid of being harmed and damaged in their world and kept silent [instead of condemning the protests] and were rejected.”
Gheybparvar added, “We do not deny the economic problems, high prices, unemployment, etc., but was it the right that anyone who comes can insert a knife into the body of the [Islamic] regime?”
A leaked report prepared for IRGC commander-in-chief Hossein Salam also cited “some experts” as saying that there is an “accumulation of doubts and uncertainty” among the “revolutionary forces.” The report also states that leaders of the protests “consider the greatest achievement of the recent riots to be the loss of people’s fear of the military and police forces.”
Meanwhile, Mohammad Sadr, one of the senior advisors to Ayatollah Khamenei, noted in an interview that even though the street protesters have been focusing on human rights rather than Iran’s economic problems, Iran’s deteriorating economy “is very dangerous” and that “dialogue is the best solution” for keeping the ongoing unrest from getting out of hand.
“One hundred percent of the demands of the protesters are not impractical, and we can implement some of these demands over time to move towards a more peaceful country,” Sadr suggested. He also warned that “if we don’t use this method, we will be forced to continue to use the previous security methods, and even if the protests seem to be reduced, [the unrest] will still remain in the heart of society, youth, and political figures and will continue to resurface.”
IRAN DOUBLING DOWN ON SUPPRESSION AS PROTESTS SPREAD
Meanwhile, the street demonstrations and other forms of protest have continued to spread. In the capital city of Tehran, as well as Javanrood, Najafabad, and Semirom, street protests continue into the night, as demonstrators chant anti-government slogans from their rooftops.
Workers at the Arak and Abadan oil refineries and the Azar Mehrn oil company went on strike to protest their working conditions, and in Javanrood, the December 31 funeral of 22-year-old protester Borhan Elyasi, who was shot to death by the IRGC, turned into a spontaneous anti-government demonstration.
But Iran’s rulers have not heeded these warning signs. Instead, the Fars News Agency reported, they have doubled down on their enforcement measures by starting a new program which sends warning texts to women spotted not wearing hijabs while riding in vehicles.
BIDEN DOING NOTHING TO STOP IRANIAN DRONES ATTACKING UKRAINE
The Biden administration has also failed to respond effectively to Iran’s key role in supporting Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, by supplying Russia with over 3,500 drones with which to attack and destroy Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
While the State Department spokesman acknowledged to Fox News that “Iran is killing its young people and selling [aerial drones] to Russia to kill Ukrainians,” and claimed that “our focus is on practical ways to confront them in these areas,” there is no sign the US has found any such ways, aside from sending Ukraine more weapons with which to shoot down the Iranian-made drones.
Once again, Biden’s obsessive desire to revive the 2015 deal at any cost seems to be the culprit. According to women’s rights activist Manda Zand Ervin, “While the [Biden] administration has been supporting Ukraine, [Ayatollah] Khamenei is giving drones to his friend Putin and yet President Biden is still talking about negotiations, with Putin as the middleman with Khamenei.”
The 2015 deal also included an embargo on Iran to keep it from selling such weapons to other countries. However, according to the terms of the original agreement, that embargo expired in 2020, and Trump’s efforts to extend that embargo were blocked by Russia and China.
ISRAEL’S LEADERS ARE PREPARED TO ATTACK IRAN
Meanwhile, shortly before leaving office last week, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid reiterated that all of Israel’s political leaders remain committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, even if that requires Israel to launch a preemptive military strike.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots, Lapid noted the most recent preparations for just such an attack. “Two weeks ago, we held a large-scale joint exercise with the US Air Force. The exercise, which simulated an attack thousands of kilometers beyond Israel’s borders, was the first in a series of planned exercises in the near future.
“Our enemies need to know that we will not sit idly by in the face of threats that we deem to be existential. I discussed this with incoming Prime Minister Netanyahu and this is one of the few topics on which there is wall-to-wall consensus among the Israeli public. No Israeli government will allow a nuclear Iran. If it is necessary to act, we will act,” Lapid declared.
At the same pilot graduation ceremony, outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz also said that “Israel has significantly increased its preparedness in recent years and is readying for the possibility of an attack on Iran.”
Meanwhile, Binyomin Netanyahu’s newly-appointed chairman of Israel’s National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, wrote in an op-ed that the primary reason Netanyahu sought to run again for prime minister was the nuclear threat still posed by Iran, rather than his current legal problems. Hanegbi also agreed that all of Israel’s leaders are in agreement on the need to encourage the Free World and “our greatest ally,” the United States, to use all available means to delay Iran’s nuclear program for as long as possible. Hanegbi also warned that if the rest of the world does not cooperate, Israel reserves the right to protect itself from Iran — by itself.
ISRAELI ATTACK CLOSES THE DAMASCUS AIRPORT FOR A SECOND TIME
Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force has once again proven it is ready to do anything necessary to prevent Iran from transferring more advanced weapons, including drones and precision-guided munitions, to its Lebanese terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. On Sunday, Israel carried out an attack on the Damascus International Airport which inflicted major damage and temporarily forced the closure of both of the airport’s runways, which has been receiving planeloads of Iranian arms.
A similar air Israeli air attack temporarily closed the Damascus airport this past June. That prompted Iran to begin using the airport in Aleppo for such deliveries, until it, too, was targeted by an Israeli air strike in September.
The Associated Press quoted a report from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which said that four people were killed in the air strike on the airport and that it also destroyed a nearby Iranian arms depot.
Israel’s airstrike on the Damascus airport is the latest of thousands of such missions in recent years carried out against Iranian military targets throughout Syria. The timing of the most recent attack is interesting for several reasons.
First, it came just a few days after Prime Minister Netanyahu, who considers Iran to be an existential threat to Israel’s national security, took office. Second, it interrupted plans by Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi to pay a visit to Syria this week. Third, it came when Iran was planning to commemorate the death of former IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a US missile strike at the Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020.
ISRAEL’S NEW GOVERNMENT TAKING THE INITIATIVE
Israel’s newly-installed Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has already told Secretary of State Blinken on the phone that the 2015 nuclear deal is dead, and that instead of trying to revive it, the US should urge its European allies to turn up the pressure on Iran.
Cohen has also announced plans for a second regional summit to be hosted by Morocco in March, including Israel and its current partners in the Abraham Accords. The first such meeting, which Israel hosted and was called the Negev Summit, took place last March, bringing together the foreign ministers of the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Egypt, as well as Secretary of State Blinken. Cohen also predicted that “expanding the accords to other countries is not a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when.’”
In his inaugural speech to the Foreign Ministry staff, Cohen stated that Israel’s relationship with the US still “stands at the top of our priorities. There is no replacement for Israel-US ties. This is a long-term strategic partnership based first and foremost on shared values and on interests that we share.” But Cohen also made it clear that the new Israeli government is ready to act alone — if it must — to deal with the Iranian threat.
While the Biden administration remains stuck in denial, still pursuing the revival of a failed nuclear deal that Iran has already rendered moot, Netanyahu’s new government is publicly reaching out to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni neighbor states who also see Iran as their common enemy.
By bringing more Arab states into the already successful Abraham Accords, with or without the Biden administration’s help, Israel hopes to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat, while at the same time making more progress toward the goal of achieving a durable regionwide peace through shared prosperity.