(Previously published on Forward.com)
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East and is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.
Last summer, a fierce debate in the pro-Israel community over how to best curtail the Iranian nuclear program took place. On July 14, 2015, after 20 months of arduous talks, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran, the P5+1 countries, and the EU was announced. On the deal’s anniversary, we asked two pro-Israel leaders, one on the right and one on the left, to share their thoughts on how the deal is working one year later. To read the other perspective, click here.
President Obama “has bet global security and his own legacy that one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism will adhere to an agreement to curtail its nuclear program.”
~Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic
“In the United States, support is growing for the notion that (President Obama) has failed to hold Tehran accountable for nuclear violations, downplayed Iran’s economic windfall from sanctions relief, and ignored the deal’s negative regional implications for state sponsorship of terrorism.”
~Raymond Tanter, Foreign Policy Magazine
The one-year anniversary of the JCPOA is an important, yet premature time to reflect on the accomplishments and failures of the nuclear agreement.
I was privileged to work with members of Congress, and their foreign policy and national security advisors who were grappling over many years with the challenges and ambitions of the revolutionary Iranian theocracy.
During the contentious debate over the merits of the JCPOA, a false choice was offered, either accept this agreement or you are a warmonger, willing to drag America into another Middle East quagmire. Yet almost everyone I spoke with in Congress preferred a negotiated settlement, just not a bad one that would weaken American national security interests. A new relationship with Iran was desired, just not one based on empowering the misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-American, Islamic Republic of Iran, without significant security concessions.
So where did we begin.
In 2012 the President said, “The deal we’ll accept…is that they end their nuclear program.” The administration told Congress that it would not sign an agreement that did not require Iran to forsake its nuclear weapons capability. The President claimed that the JCPOA indeed ended every pathway to a nuclear weapons capability through plutonium and uranium enrichment.
In April 2015 when the “Key parameters” of the deal were released, the Washington Post’s Editorial Board wrote, “Obama’s Deal Falls Far Short of His Own Goals.” They complained that none of Iran’s nuclear facilities will be closed, not one of its 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain “intact”, and in ten years Iran “instantly” becomes nuclear state.
President Obama’s first Iran advisor Ambassador Dennis Ross said, “The agreement…does not reflect the objective we had hoped to achieve.”
The administration said their deal would empower the moderates and reign in Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and domestic human rights abuses. When this clearly became untrue, they backtracked and claimed the deal was never about reigning in the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, but was exclusively about nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Even that limited goal needed to be amended when Iranian missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon were tested, violating a number of UN Security Council resolutions. German Chancellor Merkel recently told Parliament, “Iran (has) continued unabated to develop its rocket program in conflict with the relevant provisions of the UN Security Council.”
The administration also choose to ignore Iran’s more dangerous regional ambitions threatening American allies, and shut its eyes on Iran’s direct role in the genocide in Syria, fighting arm and arm with Hezbollah and Assad. Obama’s own State Department still lists Iran as the leading state sponsor of terror, while this agreement provides hundreds of millions of dollars in sanctions relief and new trade deals, strengthening the Iranian regime.
As for the agreement itself, a partial list of what was allowed contradicts the assurances the administration gave to Congress.
- Allows Iran in ten years to build an unlimited numbers of heavy water nuclear reactors
- Conduct advanced centrifuge R&D immediately
- Denies immediate anytime, anywhere access to check for violations of the agreement. Considering that Iran’s whole nuclear program was clandestine, this concession was particularly egregious.
- At year 15, allows Iran to become a nuclear weapons power with unlimited uranium production, and unlimited number of centrifuges.
In the Middle East, 15 years is a blink of the eye.
To evaluate where this deal is going you need to understand the reality of the Islamic Republic. Iran today is motivated by a combination of Persian nationalism, Islamic revolutionary ambition, and the desire for Shiite control of Mecca and Medina. Anti-Americanism and the destruction of Israel are not rhetoric, but part of its core DNA, foundational principles of the Republic. Iranian diplomacy practices taqiyah, an Islamic doctrine that permits Iran to deceive its enemies, signing agreements with no intention of being faithful to them.
As for the deal itself, did you know that the JCPOA and its companion the UNSC Resolution 2231 are different documents? UNSC Res. 2231 was sold to the American people as the UN version of the JCPOA. Wrong!
Why is this so important? Because the more restrictive aspects of the Iran deal that Iran refused to agree to, were put only into UNSC 2231 but are not in the JCPOA. Iran now claims that 2231 is not legally binding on them!
Here is another shocker. Did you know that the JCPOA is not an agreement or a binding contract? It is simply a set of understandings that remain unsigned by the Ayatollah. What should have been a negotiated treaty, the most important American foreign policy agreement of the early 21st century, intentionally bypassed the Senate with Presidential prerogative because the President knew that the majority of the American people and Congress were against the concessions in the deal. Mind you not against a deal, just against this deal.
As for a partial but growing list of its faults, we conceded finding out the past military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program, and then delinked sanctions relief from PMD.
Did you know that the sanctions relief’s main beneficiaries are the Ayatollah’s 100 billion dollar Setad conglomerate, and his Iranian Revolutionary Guard storm troopers, both who control much of the Iranian economy.
So what has happened since the agreement went into effect.
- This month Germany’s FBI said Iran has a “clandestine” effort seeking illicit nuclear technology
- Iran violated UNSC 2231 which compelled it to stop ballistic missile work for 8 years.
- Iran fired live missiles within 1500 yards from an American aircraft carrier and humiliated American sailors
- Multi-billion dollar sales to Iran of Russian arms including the advanced Sukhol super jets, and the S300 surface to air missile system.
So why did we sign this deal?
I have written for the last eight years that the administration’s goal was to develop a new U.S.-Iranian relationship at the expense of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and America’s traditional Sunni allies. The President told Jeffery Goldberg that the Saudis have to learn to share the Middle East with Iran.
This deal is the culmination of that dream; it is about the President’s foreign policy legacy. The writing was on the wall way back in 2009 when the President mystifyingly abandoned the Iranian people during their Green Revolution, siding with the Ayatollah.
The agreement not only reinforced the regime’s hold on domestic power, but also fundamentally reversed the regime’s decline caused by the 2009 protests, the international unity against Iran’s nuclear program after 2011 IAEA report, the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions laws in late 2011 and 2012 that isolated and contracted Iran’s economy and obliterated the rial’s value.
We now know with certainty that in ten to fifteen years Iran will be a nuclear weapons power at any time of its choosing, with complete international legitimacy, memorialized in the President’s JCPOA.
This totally contradicts the Presidents stated goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, as with time, more and more nations will fear an unrestrained hegemonic nuclear Iran, developing their own nuclear weapons capabilities, and dramatically increasing the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamist non-state actors. God help us!
As for the President’s promise of snap-back sanctions if Iran fails to comply with the JCPOA that is not happening. Iran has already crossed a number of redlines that should have prompted American action but have instead been excused and rationalized. No matter what, nothing is to sabotage the President’s legacy.
As former Iran expert at the Pentagon and Georgetown Professor Matthew Kroenig said,
“Iran would like to build nuclear weapons. The only people Tehran is fooling at this point are people who want to be fooled.”
When the Iran deal eventually implodes, the current administration will be long gone. But the President and his inner circle will blame whoever is in power in the White House for the failure of an agreement that was destined to fail in the first place.