Category Archives: The Iran Deal

Which is the Most Dangerous:  Preserve, Fix or Tear Up the Iran Deal?

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

The time to strike new legislation is now, this spring, before the next election season is in full swing.

‘We will produce any weapons of any kind that we need and use them at any time to defend ourselves”– Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, October 2017.

A new bill, the “Iran Freedom Policy and Sanctions Act,” has been introduced in the US House of Representatives that attempts to fix the flaws in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, the “Iran deal”), while also sanctioning Iranian human rights abuses, terrorism and ballistic missile development.

To understand why the JCPOA needs to be fixed, we need only focus on the unfulfilled promise of unfettered inspections of Iranian military sites; the most likely place Iran will weaponize a nuclear device.

According to The Guardian, US secretary of state John Kerry told the Israelis back in 2015, “I absolutely guarantee that in the future we will have the ability to know what they are doing so that we can still stop them if they decided to move to a bomb… We will have inspectors in there every single day … forever.”

Last month, Kerry opined in The Washington Post that the agreement is “grounded in the transparency rules of the IAEA’s [International Atomic Energy Agency] Additional Protocol” allowing inspections in military sites. President Barack Obama also promised “inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities.”

In other words, the promise of “anytime, anywhere inspections.”

Only one problem: Iran has repeatedly said it will never abide by the Additional Protocol. As senior adviser to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati said, “Nobody is allowed to visit Iran’s military sites.” Ayatollah Khamenei agrees. He told Reuters that access to military sites is a “red line.”

What is the Additional Protocol and Section T? Section T restricts Iran from weaponizing a nuclear explosive device or acquired dual-use technology, while the Additional Protocol was “sold” to Congress as the transparency allowing unfettered access to military sites. You often hear from supporters of the deal that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA. But if your inspectors have never visited a military site, you will never have anything to report.

Indeed, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told Reuters last fall that his agency doesn’t have the “tools” to verify Iran’s compliance.

The “Iran Freedom Policy and Sanctions Act” attempts to fix this profound flaw in the deal, while also toughening economic sanctions against the Republican Guards and Basij Force, who profit from nuclear and missile development and are at the vanguard of Iranian human rights abuses, terrorism and missile development. The problem is that the Senate will not be able to fix the flaws of the JCPOA because it would require 60 votes, a virtual impossibility in this political climate.

There is a path forward. It’s a two-pronged approach.

Create legislation from both houses of Congress to provide new, enforceable, non-waivable sanctions that focus on Iran’s human rights abuses, missile development, and terrorism. (Recall that non-nuclear sanctions were promised but not acted upon by the Obama administration.) Leave the issue of reinstating sanctions regarding the JCPOA for President Donald Trump.

In other words, Congress should take half a loaf that would accomplish the same goal of economically punishing Iran with new sanctions, while avoiding the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate for fixing the JCPOA. Dealing with the JCPOA is best addressed by President Trump as he could reimpose sanctions on the nuclear program in 120 days.

Shouldn’t Democratic senators who did not support the JCPOA also want to sign on to non-nuclear sanctions? The answer is President Trump and politics.

Anything that Trump supports – even if clearly in the national interest – is dismissed and rationalized away with the hope that it will translate into a political victory in the midterm elections.

The question for senators Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who all voted against the JCPOA, is why are you now in favor of preserving the Iran agreement? Don’t you want to be on the right side of Iranian human rights, and against the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism? Senator Cardin claims to be interested in fixing the deal but has demanded the Europeans be given a veto on any new American legislation that fixes the JCPOA. Has Iran decreased its cooperation with the North Korean missile and nuclear program, stopped supporting terrorists, decreased its executions of women and children or its calls to exterminate Israel? Senator Cardin, please reconsider.

Won’t the Europeans go ballistic? Sure, but they will choose the American market and financial system and not run afoul of American sanctions.

Supporters of the agreement say that if the US withdraws from the JCPOA, Iran will quickly restart its nuclear program; the JCPOA, they say, has increased Iranian nuclear “break-out” time from three months to a year. Even if it were true in 2015, the one-year delay will completely evaporate over the next eight years because the Obama administration inexplicably allowed Iran to immediately develop advanced centrifuges, reducing to a few months the time needed to produce weapons-grade material.

Which is more dangerous – preserving the JCPOA, fixing it or ripping it up? The most dangerous option is preserving the status quo without changing the deal’s fundamental flaws, that undermine American national security. Congress needs to pass new, biting economic sanctions on the regime for human rights abuses, terrorism and missile development, requiring only 50 votes, while leaving decertification of the JCPOA for the executive branch.

The time to strike new legislation is now, this spring, before the next election season is in full swing.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East.

A Fair Investigation into the Alleged Obama-Hezbollah-Iran Connection

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

There is currently a bipartisan consensus in Congress that understands Hezbollah is a criminal organization undermining American foreign policy interests.

How far did the Obama administration go to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran?

An investigative report in Politico, “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook,” has gotten the attention of the US Congress because of its comprehensive documentation, centrist origin, and potentially devastating findings.

According to its author, Josh Meyer, “In its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign (Project Cassandra) targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States.”

Did the Obama administration really impede a DEA probe into Hezbollah’s billion-dollar narcotics trafficking so as to not antagonize Iran during the secret negotiations? If true it might dwarf the Reagan- era Iran-Contra scandal because of the magnitude of what was given to the Iranians in the nuclear agreement.

Add to that the public disinformation campaign by Obama adviser Ben Rhodes, who bragged of deliberately manipulating the press to influence the passage of the Iran agreement, and how profoundly American national security interests will be affected for generations by the deal, and this potentially becomes a huge story.

What makes the report so credible is that it did not come from a right-wing media source, where it would have been quickly dismissed as another partisan attack, but arose from a respected centrist news source on Capitol Hill.

Leaving aside the liabilities of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), does it still matter if these allegations are true, knowing that the Iran agreement is a fait accompli and Obama is out of office?

Obama’s allies will defend his legacy no matter what, especially because the new president is so hated in their circles, and his policy on Iran is diametrically opposed to Obama’s.

In addition, Obama administration officials’ reputations are on the line and they have pre-emptively claimed this is much ado about nothing, telling like-minded members of the media that this is just another Republican political hatchet job on the former president.

Some Democrats, if they weren’t under a Trump administration, would be seriously interested in finding out the truth about impeding a massive narcotics operation in cooperation with a state sponsor of terrorism.

So are these allegations against the Obama administration plausible? The Obama administration strategy of rebalancing and realigning American interests to Iran began in 2009 with the abandonment of the Iranian people in the Green Revolution, refusing to see how fragile the Iranian government was.

When new sanctions were placed on Iran, the president watered down their full effect.

In Syria the president chose not to interfere with the Iranian- supported slaughter or its carving out the foundation for a land corridor to the Mediterranean Sea, as negotiations for a nuclear agreement were proceeding in secret.

The distancing of American allies was part of the appeasement of Iran. This realpolitik strategy might be excused if only the negotiated deal indefinitely stopped the Iranian nuclear program as promised.

Poor choices in foreign policy come with the territory for any administration, Republican or Democratic, and should not be challenged for purely political ends.

However, the profound national security implications of the way the deal was negotiated makes finding out the truth regarding the Obama-Hezbollah- Iran connection vital to our interests going forward.

Getting that truth in this toxic hyper-political environment in Washington will be difficult, as we live in an era where politics trumps national security.

So how far did the administration go in order to placate the Iranians during the negotiations? According to the Politico report, the State Department and the Justice Department were used as roadblocks to avoid criminal charges against money-laundering banks, and even a member of the Iranian Quds force, a designated terrorist organization.

Let’s remember that Hezbollah is a transnational narco-terrorist organization that works with other criminal enterprises to traffic weapons, while laundering profits to sponsor terrorism.

The see-no-evil Europeans have created a distinction between the political and terrorist divisions of Hezbollah, allowing its “political” wing to operate freely in Europe. Let’s be clear: there is no distinction to anyone who isn’t deliberately morally obtuse.

This policy is analogous to differentiating the North Korea military and its narco-trafficking from its political wing, as if they were two independent entities.

Administration defenders have claimed enforcement of criminal inquiries and sanctions relating to Iran and Hezbollah were never diminished intentionally.

Derek Maltz, who oversaw Project Cassandra as the head of the DEA’s Special Operations Division ending in July 2014 said, “There is certainly an argument to be made that if tomorrow all the agencies were ordered to come together and sit in a room and put all the evidence on the table against all these bad guys, that there could be a hell of a lot of indictments.”

So what should be done going ahead?

Congress has already written new legislation urging Europe to end the false distinction between the terrorist and political arms of Hezbollah, while increasing sanctions.

Based on my meetings in Washington, the Trump administration needs to increase its funding to enforce Hezbollah and Iranian sanctions, and let its federal agencies know that this is an administrative priority to starve Hezbollah of funds. According to Vox, under Trump the “State Department eliminated the Coordinator for Sanctions Policy Office,” decreasing the staff from five to one.

There is currently a bipartisan consensus in Congress that understands Hezbollah is a criminal organization undermining American foreign policy interests.

Therefore even in this difficult political climate, Congress should be able to come together to write stronger legislation to unambiguously designate Hezbollah as a transnational criminal organization subject to RICO statutes. It should be fast-tracked in Congress and coordinated with the executive branch.

And yes, a thorough investigation to determine if the Obama administration crossed the line in its pursuit of an Iran nuclear agreement is mandatory.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

Deconstructing Kerry, His Legacy May Cause a Third Lebanon War 

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The toxic combination of an emboldened Iran using Shi’ite proxies to fill the Islamic State vacuum while America chooses to cede influence to Russia has set the stage for further destabilizations.

John Kerry is on another campaign swing, this time at London’s Chatham House, trying to convince the world that his Iran agreement is an overwhelming diplomatic success. I witnessed the debates in the Senate leading up to the JCPOA (Iran Agreement), and Kerry’s speech repeated many of the same factually flawed arguments.

Now, two years later, it is clear that the JCPOA has increased the likelihood of war on Israel’s northern border, which could quickly escalate to involve many regional players and Russia.

The toxic combination of an emboldened Iran using Shi’ite proxies to fill the Islamic State (ISIS) vacuum while America chooses to cede influence to Russia has set the stage for further destabilizations, where one false move could set the region on fire, putting American troops in harm’s way.

According to The Wall Street Journal and corroborated to me in my visits to Congress, Israel and think thanks, there is no American consensus on an Iran strategy.

Our military officials haven’t been able to decide to call a spade a spade and fully support listing the terrorist arm of Iran, the Revolutionary Guard, as a terrorist entity.

Memo to the unnamed military officials: appeasement of Iran’s regime will not work; the Supreme Leader and his minions accept carrots with a smile.

The JCPOA is perceived by Iran as weakness, emboldening its vision for a permanent presence in Syria, including a naval base on the Mediterranean.

All of this came into focus for me after speaking to members of Congress and their foreign policy teams with an expert analyst on Israel’s northern border this week, and during my speech to the American defense industry with the participation of Arab and other Muslim government officials.

My goal in Congress was to shine a spotlight on the growing dangers to American and Israeli security interests that have been catalyzed by the hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief Iran has received as a consequence of Kerry’s agreement, and how it has been invested in a Shi’ite land corridor that has exacerbated an already volatile situation in southern Lebanon and Syria.

The toxic stew of an emboldened Iran and its proxies Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guard-controlled Popular Mobilization Units, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, all with Russian backing, have created a tinderbox in the Levant where one match, either a single Hezbollah missile attack in northern Israel killing civilians or the downing of an Israeli aircraft over Syria or Lebanon, could set the region on fire.

Add to that the unknown effect of the vacuum created by the resignation of the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, seemingly orchestrated by the Saudis due to his cozening up with archenemy Iran and Hezbollah, and this part of the Middle East is ground zero for the next regional war.

Iran sees Kerry’s continued support of the JCPOA despite its profound negative consequences as a green light that America can continue to be manipulated and dissuaded from stopping its number one regional goal, effective control of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

So let’s break down Kerry’s assertions at the Chatham House as reported by The Jerusalem Post, and how they have added to the destabilization of the overall region.

Kerry: “Bombing Iran does not necessarily stop them from having a nuclear weapon.”

Iran is hell-bent on getting nuclear weapons, and no agreement is going to deter this revolutionary theocratic movement from its worldwide ambitions.

Kerry: “I guarantee you, once you bomb the country [Iran], you have surely given them a good reason to want to have a weapon.”

They aren’t waiting for us to give them a good reason. They are putting in a huge, determined effort to have nuclear-armed missiles as leverage to achieve hegemony over their enemies right now. Also, the analysis of anyone who guarantees you anything in the Middle East should be suspect from the start.

Kerry said that Iran could have “dug two miles deep into a mountain” to create a facility to produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran is already building deep underground bunkers for its nuclear-capable missiles, which Iran has publicly acknowledged with photos. An NBC news report showed pictures of a massive bunker with Emad nuclear- capable missiles. The only real question is how many underground missile cities North Korea has helped Iran dig already in the uninspected military sites Kerry conveniently agreed to ignore in the negotiated agreement.

Kerry said that when the deal was concluded Iran was two months away from having the ability to produce a nuclear weapon, but that now it is a year away.

His friend, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said that Iran could within five days begin enrichment of uranium to 20%. Kerry should have shared with his audience that his agreement allowed immediate unrestrained Iranian R&D on advanced centrifuges, corroborating Salehi’s claim.

Kerry claimed Iran wouldn’t be able to produce a nuclear weapon for 15 years, and then only with an additional 10 years of oversight.

In just eight years Iran is allowed to openly advance its nuclear program. His claim that there will be oversight over the next 20 years is silly in light of the current oversight that is already ineffective and filled with loopholes.

The legacy of the JCPOA is still being written, but in a few years its authors will be creating new mythologies and rationalizations to explain its failures, blaming everyone but themselves, while our allies in the region will have to bear the consequences of its failures, perhaps beginning with explaining how it ignited the third Lebanon war.

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East, and is a regular contributor to
 The Jerusalem Post.

What Congress Now Needs to Do After Decertification 

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The real question is whether congressional Republicans can act in concert for the national good, and avoid internal bickering.

For years I have tried to persuade my friends in Congress that they need to assert their constitutional responsibility to influence and shape our foreign policy as the elected leaders closest to the people, not leaving all foreign policy decisions to the executive branch of government.

President Donald Trump’s decertification of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is the perfect opportunity for Congress to join together with the executive branch to advance American security interests.

Decertification creates an opening for Congress to take the lead and change the balance of power, which is currently in Iran’s favor.

Congress’ goal should be to reestablish American leverage over Iran’s malevolent behavior, to renegotiate the terms of the JCPOA on sunset provisions, R&D, inspections, and cooperation with North Korea, by creating new, non-nuclear related sanctions against Iranian nuclear missile development, international terrorism, and human rights abuses, all of which are not addressed by the JCPOA (Iran deal).

If these new sanctions are effective, there will be no need to reintroduce nuclear-related sanctions threatening to bring us in confrontation with our allies.

Trying instead to add triggers to the current Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), requiring 60 votes in the Senate, would be a failing strategy. New sanctions should be constructed requiring only a simple majority for passage.

Let’s be clear: if the president wanted to withdraw from the deal he certainly has more than enough evidence to do so.

It does not take much to make the case that Iran is advancing its nuclear program through North Korea, or as reported in the British Sunday Telegraph, the British Foreign Office believes “For [North Korea] to have done this entirely on their own stretches the bounds of credulity.”

Not to mention multiple German intelligence reports documenting continued Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons in defiance of the JCPOA through front companies, most recently in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with over 30 nuclear procurement attempts.

Even president Barack Obama promised that the JCPOA would not inhibit future non-nuclear sanctions, and indeed he extended non-nuclear sanctions before leaving office in January.

According to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, Obama said, “Iran’s… support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and repeated threats against Israel remain contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

The Trump administration’s decertification of the JCPOA is a step in the right direction, but it will be effective only if Congress takes the lead and has the vision to force Iran back to the bargaining table due to financial pressure.

The carrot of billions in front-loaded sanctions relief has not changed Iranian behavior, so the stick of new sanctions is the only logical step.

President Trump should be commended for listing the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) as a terrorist group and authorizing the Treasury to further sanction the IRGC, as it is the vanguard for the ayatollahs, advancing their worldwide ambitions against American interests. But that is not enough.

The president chose not to order the State Department to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist group, under pressure from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. This was a mistake.

Congress needs to legislate and force the hand of the administration to use this much more effective strategy to bring Iran back to negotiations.

As IRGC commander Maj.-Gen. Ali Ja’afari said, “We are on the path that leads to the rule of Islam worldwide.”

We should take his words seriously.

The administration needs to understand that Iran is not a rational state actor but a revolutionary ideological movement that does not use Western rationales to advance its interests.

Therefore, I would avoid at this point reimposing nuclear-related sanctions like the Iran Sanctions Act, the Iran Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act or Iran Threat Reduction Syrian Human Rights Act.

However, even more onerous sanctions should be legislated on their other nefarious activities, which will in effect bring them back to renegotiate the JCPOA, New sanctions need to be even more tough if Congress wants to give the administration leverage to renegotiate the nuclear deal.

The key is pressure on the financial stability of the IRGC, which is intimately involved in terrorism as well as with nuclear weapons development at home and in North Korea. The IRGC controls somewhere between 20% to 50% of the Iranian economy, in essence stealing the Iranian people’s money, just as the totalitarian Soviet Union did.

But what about the Europeans? How will they react to new American sanctions affecting their lucrative economic deals with Iran? As Richard Goldberg, one of the unsung heroes of the original sanctions legislation, wrote in Foreign Policy this month, “Trump should…hold a sanctions Sword of Damocles over the Iranian economy: change your behavior or risk total economic collapse… Cry as they might along the way, no European or Asian corporation is going to choose a terrorist regime over access to the US dollar.”

European companies doing business with Iran will have to choose between the $400 billion Iranian economy and having full access to the $17 trillion American financial system. The Europeans don’t have to support sanctions, but they will have to respect them if constructed properly by Congress and in their financial interest.

The real question is whether congressional Republicans can act in concert for the national good, and avoid internal bickering.

As reported in the Washington Free Beacon, “This is the party [Republican] whose platform reads, ‘A Republican president will not be bound by the [Iran] deal and we must retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the survival of our friends.’ Now they must act.”

What about Democrats like Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, and ranking members of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Elliot Engel, all who spoke out and voted against the deal in 2015? Are they willing to choose national interests over loyalty to president Obama’s legacy, or will they choose party loyalty that reflexively opposes anything Republicans propose, even if in the national interest? Now the ball is in Congress’ court.

Let’s hope they act.

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

Can U.S. Withdraw from JCPOA if it Endangers American Interests? 

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Can the US wash its hands of the agreement, or are we stuck with it?

“The Iran deal is not a fair deal to this country” – US President Donald Trump, September 14, 2017 What if the Trump administration comes to the conclusion that the Iran agreement  (JCPOA ) authored by the previous administration has destabilized the Middle East and undermined American interests? Since it was signed, Iran has actively supported the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis, while being complicit in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s genocide of his own people.

Can the US wash its hands of the agreement, or are we stuck with it? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly asked President Trump to either amend or withdraw from the 2015 agreement. There is no doubt that president Barack Obama believed that he knew better than the Israelis what was in their best interest, but now there is a new sheriff in town, who for years has made it clear that he believes the Iran agreement is a danger to America.

There are no American inspectors anywhere in Iran, or anyone else inspecting military sites, where agreement-breaking nuclear weapons development may be taking place. Can America withdraw or amend the agreement if Iran technically adheres to its commitment according to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), which refuses to confront Iranian intransigence on military inspections? Can Trump say sayonara, even if the other members of the P5+1 think it is not in their interest to leave the agreement? The answer is yes, but with a few caveats.

First, the Iran deal is not what it was presented by its authors to be. President Obama signed an agreement that betrayed his own words, promising to “end their nuclear program.” The agreement in fact guarantees an internationally accepted nuclear program in eight more years.

However, critics of withdrawal point out that despite the agreement having never having been signed, it is a commitment that was witnessed by five other major powers, and the consequences of America withdrawing would cast doubt on Western assurances in the future, undermining future negotiations.

The JCPOA is the most important American treaty of the 21st century, except that it was never submitted to the Senate for approval as a treaty.

According to Bruce Fein in The Washington Times, the JCPOA was “intended to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for a relaxation of sanctions, and must be construed as a “treaty” under Article II, section 2, clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution.”

As National Review’s Andrew McCarthy explained, the Constitution “does not empower the president to make binding agreements with foreign countries all on his own.”

Even the Yale Journal of International Law, a strong supporter of the JCPOA which believes withdrawal is unwise, opines that “nothing in the JCPOA …formally binds the United States to the Agreement.”

There is even a precedent for walking away from the agreement, set by Rahm Emanuel and the Obama administration itself.

Let us recall that president Obama disavowed the Bush-Sharon letters of 2004, which said that the “existing major Israeli population centers” were “realities on the ground” and it is unrealistic to expect Israel to return them in any final agreement, with the quid pro quo of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the disengagement plan.

According to Ben Caspit’s book The Netanyahu Years, an illuminating exchange occurred between Israeli ambassador Michael Oren and Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

Ambassador Oren called Emanuel for a clarification and said, “You can’t repudiate former understandings… it will cause long-term damage.”

Emanuel responded emphatically, “If we think they are not effective it is our right to say so isn’t it? We can’t be committed to everything the previous administration thought.”

So the Obama administration itself created a framework for walking away from the JCPOA , a set of unsigned understandings according to the State Department. If the JCPOA is not effective in moderating Iranian ambitions, and is a glide path to a nuclear weapons program, isn’t it then the right of the new administration to cancel that agreement? Of course it is.

Non-binding agreements that are not treaties can be withdrawn from. If president Obama wanted a binding agreement for perpetuity, all he had to do was present it as a treaty to the Senate.

So what should the US do now? Work with Congress to write legislation to annul the JCPOA if Iran cooperates in any way with North Korea on nuclear or missile related technology, while imposing new sanctions. Better yet, submit the JCPOA for Senate ratification.

As for the Europeans, their latest rationale for maintaining the Iran deal is that it is the model for a resolution of the North Korean nuclear conflict. They say the Iran deal mustn’t be touched, in order to reassure the North Koreans that if they strike a diplomatic deal the West will not renege on it.

So then we should show the North Koreans that they, like Iran, can have an internationally recognized nuclear program in 10 years, free of military site inspections in the meanwhile, and free to build nuclear-armed ICBMs, with billions of dollars as a reward for signing a piece of paper it has no intent of honoring.

The Iranian-sponsored ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population in Syria and Iraq is a war crime, and has caused a catastrophic refugee exodus with profound demographic national security threats to Western European nations.

So why is Western Europe so blind to the fact that the JCPOA is a major source of resources for Iranian belligerency, a primary cause of the refugee epidemic? It seems today’s Western European leaders are so lost in political correctness that they are content to author their own suicide.

As US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “It is this unwillingness to challenge Iranian behavior for fear of damaging the nuclear agreement that gets to the heart of the threat the deal poses to our national security.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iran is “clearly in default” of the nuclear deal, and “the Trump administration is fully committed to addressing the totality of malign activities attributable to the Iran regime and its proxies.”

But is it willing to see the JCPOA as the primary driver of those malign activates?

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network ™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

Will America Recertify the JCPOA, Abandon its Influence in Middle East?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

One of US President Donald Trump’s most longstanding conservative critics, Bret Stephens of The New York Times, recently challenged pro-Israel conservatives on why they still support the president.

“The president’s Jewish supporters are left to wonder why the Iran deal remains in force… Bashar al-Assad is stronger than ever, [and] the Israeli government is outraged by the deals the administration has cut with Russia at Israel’s strategic expense.”

While America, the media, and the world have completely focused on the presidential melodrama, America has taken its eye off potentially more consequential issues in the Middle East affecting national security interests for years to come. First among the essential decisions coming due is on Iran.

Will Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis convince President Trump, for the third time, to recertify Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in October, despite evidence of serious violations? Only UN Ambassador Nikki Haley seems inclined to oppose recertification, but she is not in the inner circle.

As Ambassador Eric Edelman and Gen. (ret.) Charles Wald, former deputy commander of US European Command, wrote in Politico, abiding by the JCPOA “will only enable a nuclear and hegemonic Iran. It provides Tehran significant financial, military and geopolitical benefits… in exchange for minimal, reversible and temporary concessions on its nuclear program… the JCPOA puts Iran on track to become as intractable a challenge as North Korea is today.”

The first two certifications may have been understandable in light of a new administration getting its house in order while seriously evaluating the consequences of a difficult choice between abandoning a campaign promise to end a very bad deal, and the diplomatic and strategic consequences of withdrawal.

The problem now is that the president’s political weakness makes any choice, especially decertification, a much higher hill to climb because of its controversial nature, Democrats having been generally supportive, while Republicans on the whole against the deal from the start. It is a political sword of Damocles hanging over an embattled president, no matter the merits. The president’s political opponents include a growing number in Congress who would ordinarily back decertification on principle, but may choose to remain on the sidelines due to political expediency, avoiding any association with this administration.

Forcefully standing up to any adversary breaking an agreement is a long-term American diplomatic interest that should be beyond politics. Under normal circumstances transgressing UNSC resolutions on ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead alone would be more than reasonable grounds for renegotiation or decertification.

But these are not normal times. The impulse of the administration to avoid hard choices in this political climate and their inclination for less American involvement in the region overall may move them to again recertify compliance with the JCPOA, no matter the violations or longterm effect. Three times might well make it a fait accompli to never decertify the deal.

In this region America’s allies will perceive it as profound weakness, sending a green light for an Iranian march toward the Syrian-Iraqi border, putting a final nail in the coffin of stopping a land corridor to the Mediterranean, joining Tehran to Hezbollah- dominated Lebanon.

Politico’s chief international affairs correspondent Susan Glasser wrote, “Russia won in Syria thanks to President Barack Obama’s inaction.”

But now President Trump’s State Department has handed Russia control of enforcing a cease-fire that directly endangers Israel and Jordan.

If Iran, Hezbollah, or Syria violates the Russian cease-fire, will America respond and impose consequences, or will this administration follow the Obama policy of creating vacuums undermining American national security interests for generations to come?

There is no reason to believe that Russia will do anything to impede its allies when they inevitably move toward the Israeli Golan Heights while continuing their ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in the southwest of Syria.

Israel has sent a high-level national security team to meet with its counterparts in Washington to talk about Israel’s fear of a permanent Iranian/Hezbollah/Shi’ite presence mere kilometers from the Israeli Golan.

There is little doubt Iran will have a naval presence in Syrian territory on the Mediterranean, forever changing the region’s security balance, but an additional land link to supply Hezbollah and their bases in Syria will put a noose around Israel from the north, creating conditions for a new war.

Iran’s next logical step would be to create instability in a fragile Jordan, already home to millions of refugees. Its new relationship with Hamas could be a prelude to destabilization of the Hashemite dynasty, placing an Iranian ally like Hamas as a compliant friend in Jordan.

The threat to Israel from the west would be a war Israel could not avoid, as it is committed to militarily keeping the Hashemite Kingdom in power as a buffer with Iraq.

A tipping point could be reached if Iran coordinates with Hamas from Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Golan, to create three simultaneous fronts against Israel. You can imagine what the West Bank Palestinians would do with this opportunity to bloody a distracted Israel.

How would any of this be good for American national security interests?

Should Israel trust anyone but itself to enforce the Syrian agreement? History clearly answers with a resounding “no.”

Just a few examples:

1. A unanimous UNSC Resolution 1701 after the Second Lebanon War declared: “[T]he disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon… no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.” Today Hezbollah effectively controls Lebanon with 125,000 missiles, none ever stopped by the impotent UN Interim Security force.

2. American policy over many administrations, including the Obama administration, until 2013 was unambiguous: no Iranian nuclear weapons capability. The promise was turned into a lie as UNSCR 2231 and the JCPOA guarantee Iran the right to an unlimited nuclear capability in 10-15 years with international approval.

3. On to chemical weapons promises. Remember when secretary of state John Kerry told the world, “We got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out” while national security adviser Susan Rice claimed that president Obama got Syria to “verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile forever.”

So much for pieces of paper guaranteeing regional security.

Have Tillerson and Co. learned anything from the broken promises of the last administration, which American allies still point to as one of the fundamental reasons of lost trust for American guarantees? Is this administration interested in repairing American credibility?

While the media was focused on Fayetteville, Reuters reported that diplomats and weapons inspectors now believe that Syrian dictator Assad never gave up his chemical weapons.

Now Israel is supposed to trust an American- sanctioned agreement allowing Russian control of enforcing a cease-fire in Syria, the vital link in the Iranian land corridor. Considering that every negotiated cease-fire in Syrian eventually failed, Israel should be more than alarmed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming fourth visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin reveals Israel’s concern and the address of the major power player in the region, Russia, because of the American- created vacuum in the region.

In the Middle East, the only thing worse than overzealous American intervention is American abandonment.

Obama was wrong when he claimed that Syria would become Russia’s Vietnam, as Russia beyond all expectations now has new and upgraded military bases in Syria, including the port in Tartus and air base in Latakia.

The question now in this season of American political turmoil is, can the Trump administration rise to the occasion, reasserting American influence in the region for its own national security interests?

Or will it follow the devastating counterproductive policy of president Obama’s abandonment of the region and its allies that first led to the rise of Islamic State and Russian dominance, and next to the more consequential Iranian dominance of the Levant.

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

Should the Flawed Iran Deal Alter U.S. Interest in Regime Change? 

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

With Obama’s out, what happens next with Iran?

It has become painfully clear that former US president Obama’s desire to make the Islamic Republic of Iran a “very successful regional power” has come to fruition. Iran is on the verge of creating its long-sought Shi’ite Islamist land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, Obama’s goal to develop “an equilibrium…between Sunni states and Iran in which there’s competition…but not an active or proxy warfare” has utterly failed. Just look at Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

This is an important moment to reassess American foreign policy in the region, as we mark the second anniversary of the still unsigned Iran agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has persuaded President Donald Trump to again recertify Iran, fearing that pursuing full compliance would endanger his fragile cease-fire in Syria and his working relationship with Russia and its Iranian ally. Appeasement is rarely a successful strategy in this part of the world.

Iran has violated both in spirit and the law the JCPOA and UN Security Council resolutions by exceeding heavy water limits, testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, and refusing to grant full access to international inspectors.

As German Intelligence recently reported, Iran has continued to seek “products and scientific know-how for developing weapons of mass destruction as well missile technology.”

The JCPOA was a transactional set of understandings that was sold to the American people as strictly about nuclear weapons, after it became clear that none of the moderation promised by the deals supporters had materialized. The Iran agreement was supposed to be vigorously enforced, while not inhibiting consequences for violations of UN Security Council resolutions, human rights abuses, terrorism, or destabilization and threats against its neighbors.

Yet Iran’s supreme leader’s rhetoric and actions against American interests have only increased and worsened since July 2015. Iran is now planning a naval port on the Mediterranean, is entrenched in Syria, and is more hostile than ever to America and its allies.

American foreign policy advisers should be asking:

• Would American national security interests be better served by a change in the Iranian government?

• Can America openly desire a peaceful regime change, while not being accused of wanting to start a new war?

• Wouldn’t the Iran agreement more likely be adhered to, if the regime in Iran were not the Islamic Republic of Iran?

In 1983, then-president Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” In 1987, in the name of freedom and American interests, he unapologetically called for regime change in the brutal authoritarian communist expanse by famously declaring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Yet, like the JCPOA, he continued to seek transactional agreements with that evil empire. There is little doubt that what Reagan wanted to achieve was a regime change in the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism, yet no bullet was ever fired.

Could the same approach work with the Islamist theocracy, if the Iranian people were given moral encouragement to take charge of their own destiny? Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran, like the former Soviet Union, poses one of the most consequential threats to American security interests in the 21st century.

Its aspirations are megalomaniacal, and it is on the threshold of irrevocably changing the character of the Middle East against American interests.

As Saeed Ghasseminejad and Emanuele Ottolenghi wrote in The Huffington Post last year on the first anniversary of the JCPOA: “In the administration’s telling, the agreement would help loosen hard-liner’s grip on power in favor of more moderate forces…

the sad truth is unavoidable: the very opposite has occurred.”

Iranian ascendancy was validated and supported by Obama’s Iran agreement, which purposely ignored its hegemonic ambitions to reach a legacy agreement that almost certainly guarantees Iran an industrial-size nuclear program with full international approval in just 10-15 years.

When a pro-peace, pro-Israel progressive organization on the second anniversary of the JCPOA claimed that the agreement had “utterly defanged” Iran, it strained credulity.

It is troubling to see so many progressive groups act as Iranian advocates while Iran still remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, routinely imprisons and tortures its opponents, treats women as second class citizens, and is openly antagonistic to LGBTQ.

The JCPOA has betrayed the people of Iran. Ironically, Iran’s citizens would be among the most Western- oriented people in the Muslim Middle East, if only they could unshackle themselves from their repressive Islamist leadership. This would give them the opportunity to vote in a truly representative election, not one controlled by the Guardian Council, which disallowed 99% of presidential candidates in the last election and does not allow a women to be elected president.

As Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations said, the “Islamic republic… features a constant struggle between an authoritarian regime and restive population seeking democratic empowerment…. one thing certain about Iran’s future is that another protest movement will rise at some point seeking to displace the regime.”

Nothing could have been so contradictory to American values than the Obama administration’s abandonment of the Iranian people in 2009 during their Green Revolution, when Iranians by the millions rose to challenge their repressive Islamist government.

In 2015, when Iran was on the threshold of collapse from congressional sanctions with an economy in free-fall, Obama rescued the supreme leader and the fortunes of the Revolutionary Guard with front-loaded sanctions relief, undermining the Iranian people’s chances for more freedom.

So is it wise for an American administration two years into the JCPOA to publicly state that it is in the interests of the Iranian people and American security, to view with favor an eventual change in the leadership of the Islamist Republic, one that is representative of its people while not endangering its neighbors? With the blood of so many Americans directly staining the hands of Iran, ranging from its 1983 orchestrated bombing that murdered 241 American servicemen in Beirut to the untold number of American servicemen maimed and killed by Iranian supplied IED’s in Iraq, America does not have to be apologetic to state the obvious – that Iran is a menace to the world and its people.

It’s time to be there for the Iranian people if they again rise up against the fascists who now control their country. This does not mean military intervention, but it does mean that, at least rhetorically, America would welcome new leadership in Iran. Maybe that is all the Iranian people need to hear.

Unlike all of the Arab peoples who rose up during the failed Arab Spring, the Iranian people is Western oriented and is more likely to democratize in a non-Islamist fashion. But they won’t be free until the regime is gone, and it won’t be gone without a revolution of its indigenous Persian people. They will fail again if America abandons them.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

 

 

 

Next Stop for Iran: Bahrain

The presence of Iran casts an ominous shadow on the whole Gulf.

Tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia, the Popular Mobilization Units, have been trained and are controlled by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah.  They are the vanguard of a Shi’ite jihad stretching from Tehran to the shores of the Mediterranean, while simultaneously ethnically cleansing tens of thousands of Sunnis without a whimper from the United Nations.Ever since the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka, “the Iran Deal”) was agreed to in the summer of 2015, Iran has become empowered both militarily and economically.

Now that Iran and Hezbollah are well on their way to claiming Syria and Iraq as trophies, they may goose-step their way toward their next targets. Iranian support for the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war has tied up the Saudis while allowing Iran to focus on its next likely target, Bahrain.

Bahrain may be the next epicenter in the war for Islamic supremacy, the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict. Iran has made no secret of the fact that it wants to overthrow the Sunni Al Khalifa Bahrainian dynasty, which rules a majority Shi’ite population in what Iran considers one of its provinces. Just two years after the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979, he tried to foment a coup in Bahrain.

Here is a glimpse into some of Iran’s recent nefarious activity in Bahrain:

As The Washington Post reported, “[The] U.S. increasingly sees Iran’s hand in the arming of Bahraini militants.”

According to the Post, US and European officials said raids have revealed “game-changer” weapons, and “an elaborate training program, orchestrated by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to school Bahraini militants in the techniques of advanced bomb making and guerrilla warfare.”

In 2016 Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the overseas Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Quds Force), threatened Bahrain with a “bloody intifada.”

According to the Washington Institute’s Matthew Levitt and Michael Knights, there is a “growing network of bomb making facilities and weapons stores,” part of a coordinated “destabilization campaign” by Iran in Bahrain.

Shi’ite militias and underground cells trained in Iran and Iraq are producing highly advanced weapons. Iran’s fingerprints are all over the imported weapons; the military explosive C-4 could only have come only from Iran.

This month Bahrain arrested 14 people trained by Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who were allegedly planning assassinations.

Let’s be clear: Bahrain is not an exemplar of human rights, and represses its majority Shi’ite populace. But in the name of shared interests, American administrations of both parties have relied on Bahrainian territory for American security interests.

So why is Bahrain so vital to American national security interests? The answer is the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet, tasked with security of the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

Up to 20% of the world’s fossil fuels transit these waters and only America’s Fifth Fleet is capable of the indispensable mission of protecting free passage for shipping. The Straits of Hormuz are just a few miles wide, connecting the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea. Every ship transiting the straits is in easy target range of Iranian missiles, endangering the worldwide economy.

If Iran takes over Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, a key American ally, will be exposed and vulnerable. It would destabilize the region and dramatically increase the risks for American forces.

The King Fahd Causeway connects Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and was used by the Saudis to help quell the Bahrainian Shi’ite uprising during the Arab Winter. If Iran overtakes Bahrain, it could easily be used by Iran to threaten or overrun Sunni Arab oil fields and incite a Shi’ite uprising in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Shi’ites live near some of the most vital Saudi oil fields and could easily become a fifth column within the kingdom.

The presence of Iran casts an ominous shadow on the whole Gulf, where Oman has already acquiesced to Iranian extortion.

Oman fears Iran, which lies just across the straits and for decades has been compelled for its survival to be Iran’s ally in the Gulf.

Oman has allowed Iran to use its territory to threaten shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, and may build with Iran both a gas pipeline and a causeway to connect the nations.

According to the official Iranian Press TV in 2014, “the responsibility for seizing vessels trespassing on Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf has been officially given to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy, according to Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, the commander of the IRGC Navy.”

Fadavi told the country’s quasi- official Fars news agency, “The Americans can sense by all means how their warships will be sunk…in combat against Iran.”

For the past few years Iranian speedboats controlled by the IRGC have been harassing American naval vessels.

Now that US President Donald Trump has dipped his toe into the treacherous water of Iranian hegemony with his strike in Syria, will he also realize it is also the time to act decisively the next time the Iranian navy endangers American vessels in the international waters of the Persian Gulf?

The world is waiting to see whether his attack against the use of chemical weapons was a “one and done,” or is America beginning to reassert its authority for its national interest that was so carelessly abandoned by president Obama, Susan Rice and John Kerry.

The author is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

The Obama Administration’s Faulty Reasoning and Analysis

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Obama’s conviction borders on delusion as he ignores the dangers of nuclear weapons in the hands of an apocalyptical revolutionary theocracy.”

 The Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) “has worked exactly the way we said it was going to… it’s not just the assessment of our intelligence community. It’s the assessment of the Israeli military and intelligence community.” – President Barack Obama “One year later, it can clearly be said that the nuclear talks reversed power relations in Iran’s favor, with the US forfeiting a historic opportunity to dismantle Iran’s nuclear capability…

Iran has been given the legitimacy to maintain, develop, and move forward along the path of uranium enrichment after the deal… the scope of the deal’s damage is wider still. It has turned Iran into a superpower… Iran is the only country that has the potential to pose a threat to the existence of Israel.” – IDF Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former Israeli national security adviser When a politician or government official assures you something in the Middle East “has worked exactly the way we said it was going to,” you should take it with a large grain of Dead Sea salt. Humility is a prerequisite for Middle East analysis; where understanding regional variables is more akin to playing five-dimensional chess, where your enemies’ enemy is just as likely to be your friend as your foe, and tomorrow, guess again.

Humility is demanded to even begin to understand the complexities of the conflicting myriad of tribal Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim interests. As Scott Anderson wrote in The New York Times Magazine, “[J]ust beneath the sectarian and regional divisions… there lay extraordinarily complex tapestries of tribes and sub-tribes and clans, ancient social orders that remained the populations’ principal source of identification and allegiance.”

Simplistically connecting the dots between the 2003 Iraq War and the chaos that now afflicts the Muslim world projects a misleading narrative of simple cause and effect. To both Sunnis and Shi’ites of the region, 13 years is a blink of an eye, where Muhammad’s word and the death of the fourth caliph ring as clearly to the faithful as though they occurred only yesterday. Westerners cannot understand that 21st-century Islam sees separation of church and state as an alien concept.

Few experts saw the “Arab Winter” coming, just as the best and brightest Israeli military intelligence experts miscalculated the possibility of an Arab invasion in 1973 (Yom Kippur War).

So when US President Barack Obama said with confidence, “The country [Israel] that was most opposed to the deal… [Now] acknowledges this has been a game-changer,” it strains credulity.

Claiming all now agree that the JCPOA is a good agreement makes sense only if your audience is members of Meretz or J Street, not mainstream Israeli parties of the Left, Center and Right, or the American electorate.

I guess the administration missed the Pentagon report in Bloomberg this month, according to which Iran “improved its offensive cyber abilities and developed more advanced ballistic missiles since signing an accord last year to curb its nuclear program.” This violates UNSC resolutions 1929/2231 banning ballistic missile tests, and betrays the president’s own words that snap-back sanctions would occur if Iran violated the deal, as a missile program is essential to an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Worst of all, the legitimization of the Iranian nuclear program betrays Obama’s promise that the “prohibition on Iran having a nuclear weapon is permanent.” As Alan Dershowitz, who studied the deal’s language, wrote in The Times of Israel, “There’s nothing in the deal that says they’re not allowed to develop nuclear weapons.”

In 1973 the same level of certainty was reached by the Israeli military intelligence chief, who was convinced that an Arab attack on Israel was highly unlikely since they had no new jet fighters or Scud missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv. His marching orders were not to panic the nation with repeated call-ups of reservists, disrupting the national economy. So even massive Arab troop movements did not budge him.

False certainty and the desire for “legacy have blinded this American administration, which concluded that Iran is a better long-term friend than Israel or the Gulf States. Just as [with] the inability of the Israeli intelligence chief in 1973 to think out of the box, Mr.

Obama’s conviction borders on delusion as he ignores the dangers of nuclear weapons in the hands of an apocalyptical revolutionary theocracy.”

Karen Armstrong wrote, “Socrates made it his life’s work to compel people to question their most fundamental assumptions… The people who conversed with Socrates usually thought they knew what they were talking about, but by the end of the conversation he had exposed the flaws at the heart of each firmly held opinion.”

This is excellent advice for President Obama, and the next American president, if they really think they know what is going to happen next in the Middle East.

The author is the director MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org), read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

A Year Later, Failure of Iran Nuclear Deal is Clearer Than Ever

(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.