Category Archives: The Iran Deal

Should the US consider Iran’s ‘deniable’ attacks a significant threat?

Source: Getty

Published in The Hill.

For years, Iranian-directed proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Syria have attacked the Islamic Republic’s enemies. The West has willfully ignored the overwhelming evidence and allowed Iran to continue its violence with impunity.

Today, the Biden administration and the G-5 + 1 fear upsetting Iran’s leaders, hoping to appease them through willful ignorance, and cajole them into rejoining the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This one-sided “agreement” was never sent for Senate approval as a treaty, and it outsourced American security interests to international actors.

Read the rest from The Hill.

Just how dangerous is Iran to the world?

Source: Getty Images

In this article:

  • Using a Western mindset to understand Iran will be counterproductive
  • Former UK PM Tony Blair: Iran is a state with an ideology, but more accurately should be seen as an ideology with a state
  • Iran wants nuclear weapons to make them immune to attack
  • Iran’s revolutionary DNA demands Israel be destroyed

Read the rest from The Hill.

The real reason America has never found common ground with Iran

The Iranian regime is a fundamentalist Twelver Shi’ite revolutionary movement of true believers whose mission is to spread their repressive understanding of Islam throughout the world.

Protesters burn an American flag.
Source: Times of Israel

Published in JNS.

Every American administration since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 has tried to find some way to accommodate and work with the Islamic Republic of Iran. More specifically, they have attempted to identify some working arrangement with the Supreme Leader, the regime’s ultimate authority and final word.

Carrots in the form of economic inducements and sticks in the shape of sanctions relief have not fundamentally moved the needle in dealing with Iran. Only the perceived threat of an American invasion of Iran after the United States went into Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s forced the Iranians to slow-walk some of their malign and nuclear activities.

But what is absent in the current administration’s thinking and strategizing is the willingness to look with fresh eyes at why 40 years of efforts have entirely failed. Those failures had real consequences in the death of more than 600 American servicemen killed in Iraq by Iranian-supplied improvised explosive devices, the hundreds of Americans killed by Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and the kidnapping of Americans who never again saw the light of day. This is not to mention the tens of millions of Iranians who are forced to live under a brutal regime that tortures, imprisons and kills its citizens for the crimes of homosexuality and speaking their minds.

The answer is right in front of the noses of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez and President Joe Biden. The Iranian regime is a fundamentalist Twelver Shi’ite revolutionary movement of true believers whose mission is to spread their repressive understanding of Islam throughout the world, including among their Sunni brethren. They are as doctrinaire as ISIS in their beliefs, except the Iranians will soon have the capability to have nuclear weapons. Since 1979, many Republicans and most Democrats have not been able to deal with this complex reality.

The Achilles’ heel of American foreign policy is the false belief that all nations, including those that are horrifically repressive and sponsors of terrorists, can be induced to choose a more conciliatory and less confrontational posture to the U.S. and its allies by Western reason and economic inducement. This comes despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary that our outreach has been interpreted as a weakness.

Administrations from both parties have chosen to ignore the obvious because of our Western conceit, that we know how to manipulate this regime if we only bend enough, give enough money and show respect. The manipulation masters are the Iranians. Religiously sanctioned dissimulation, also known as Taqiyya, permits deception of one’s enemy. The Iranians’ patsies are their naïve Western nuclear negotiation counterparts.

None of this is new. In 2006, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute wrote, “It is dangerous to assume that both Washington and Tehran operate from the same set of ground rules. [Former Supreme Leader Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini] spoke of the Shi’ite concept of taqiyah…the necessity to engage in such religiously sanctioned lying…If the Islamic Republic perceives itself as under threat, its leaders may not only feel compelled to lie but may also feel justified in so doing. From a religious and political perspective, the ends justify the means.”

Iran is not capable of fundamental reform in any Western sense under this regime. The quicker we understand that, the more realistic will be our foreign policy. For President Biden and previous administrations from both parties, ignoring it is a prescription for national security nightmares.

As Bret Stephens, writing in The New York Times, said, “If Iran’s ambitions are fundamentally ideological – to spread the cause of its Islamic Revolution to every part of the Middle East and beyond – then negotiations are largely pointless. Iran will be bent on dominance and subversion, not stability. Those who thought that Iranian politics would ultimately move in a more moderate direction were wrong. The regime is doubling down on religion, repression, and revolution.”

Let us be clear: That does not mean America should put boots on the ground to overthrow the Iranian republic. That is the false accusation of Iranian regime apologists and isolationists in our government, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

It does mean we are hurting the Iranian people’s chance to throw off their yoke of repression when we appease Iran with economic relief, this time by wanting to return to a bad nuclear deal that economically strengthens an economy on the ropes.

American values and security interests demand that we not economically empower Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They have repeatedly proven that they cannot be trusted, especially in exchange for a nuclear agreement that doesn’t allow genuine inspections or end their nuclear program. We are giving them just what they want — to delay the weaponization of a nuclear device for a few years, in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in economic relief which will support the terrorism of Hezbollah, Hamas, South American tyrants, Iraqi and Syrian militias and the Houthis. This is not to mention handing a lifeline to their hate-mongering government while building missiles capable of hitting the U.S. Even if Iran chooses not to cross the nuclear weapons threshold, its neighbors know that it can turn on the nuclear weapons spigot at any time of its choosing.

One just needs an open mind to understand that projecting a Western perspective on a revolutionary Islamic regime is not only misguided but dangerous. This regime can’t abandon its extremist agenda without collapsing. There is no way that will happen when the revolutionary regime’s raison d’etre is a religiously motivated movement that cannot abandon its most fervently held beliefs.

The shortsightedness of the Biden administration and other powers extends to projecting Western timeframes on a Persian Islamist power. For example, the American maximum pressure campaign that has brought the Iranian regime to the edge of the economic cliff is claimed to be a failure by supporters of the Iran nuclear deal because Iran has advanced its nuclear enrichment since Trump withdrew from the agreement.

However, the timeframe of the revolutionaries in Iran is measured in decades and centuries, willing to wait out an impatient America. A nuclear agreement at this time guarantees Iran weapons capabilities in less than a decade. Thus, a continued and strengthened maximal economic pressure campaign may be the only thing that could change the inevitability of a nuclear Iran. But that requires more patience than the American democracy has, as it changes its executive branch every four or eight years.

A nuclear Iran may be inevitable. So, which is better for American interests: Strengthening the revolutionary regime with economic relief, or continuing to keep the Iranian government on financial life support under maximum pressure sanctions until one way or another Iran ceases to be one of the worst actors on the world’s stage?

Totalitarian regimes like the former Soviet Union need to collapse under the weight of their failed economies, whether they are communists or Islamist revolutionaries. Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who is likely to be the next Supreme Leader, is another true believer, with a long history as a heartless butcher of those who stands in the way of the “revolution.” The only way to find common ground with this fundamentalist revolutionary regime is to let them have their way. If we rejoin a nuclear deal that is not truly longer and stronger, this administration will not have learned the lessons of why we have never found common ground with Iran.

The important story on Iran’s new president

Published in the Jerusalem Post.

Iran’s new president may become its next supreme leader.

THE WINNER of Iran’s presidential election, Ebrahim Raisi, looks on at a polling station in Iran this past Friday
(photo credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR/WANA/REUTERS)

Much has been written about Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who has been branded as a hard-liner compared to the departing “moderate” President Rouhani, and how he will influence Iran’s return to the JCPOA (Iran nuclear agreement). Raisi had earned the hard-liner status by playing a pivotal role in executing thousands of opposition prisoners in 1988 as part of the Death Committee. During the Green Revolution in 2009, he brutally suppressed the protesters who attempted to throw off the shackles of the repressive Islamic government, while the Obama administration pointedly ignored their struggle.

But the American designation of any Iranian government official as a moderate is not only false but dangerous. Rouhani was never a moderate. He was the most moderate hard-liner tolerated by the Guardian Council in 2013 that approved presidential candidates and which the supreme leader controls. Hundreds of Iranians try to enter the presidential race each cycle, but only those vetted to be reliably obedient to the leadership of the “revolution” are allowed to become candidates.

As the Foundation for Democracies’ Iran expert Reuel Gerecht has said, “Rouhani is one of the architects of the national security state [in Iran]. He’s got so much blood on his hands, he’ll never be able to wash it off.”

Back to Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-liner of hard-liners who was elected to his first term as president. The former head of the judiciary is not opposed to rejoining the JCPOA, as long as he, the supreme leader, and the leadership of the IRGC can get sanctions relief to reverse the devastating effects on the regime of the Trump-era sanctions. They are all quite cognizant and satisfied that they will be returning to basically the same deal that guarantees Iran an industrial-size nuclear program with international approval in less than 10 years. We should hire the Iranians to help us negotiate with the Chinese.

What makes this election so consequential is that Raisi is not only close to Ayatollah Khamenei but is also the likely favorite of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which chooses the next supreme leader. Raisi is close to the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which acts more and more as a state within a state, with disproportionate and growing influence. Khamenei would like his son to follow him as supreme leader, but he does not get to choose his successor.

According to CNBC, “In 2019, Saeid Golkar of Al Jazeera called Raisi “the most likely successor of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei” as supreme leader of Iran. In 2020, Dexter Filkins of The New York Times described him as “frequently mentioned” as a successor to Khamenei.”

That makes Raisi’s influence as president more consequential than Rouhani’s ever was. Unlike when Khamenei criticized Rouhani over the JCPOA and the re-imposition of sanctions by Trump, there are likely to be far fewer public disagreements between the ailing supreme leader, the IRGC, and President Raisi.

According to the Atlantic Council’s Iran expert Raz Zimmt, “Raisi’s presidency may be characterized by a higher level of coordination with the supreme leader’s office because, unlike former presidents, Raisi expresses positions that are even more aligned to Khamenei’s views on domestic and foreign issues. Similarly, Khamenei seems to have a clear interest in ensuring Raisi’s success as president – assuming the former truly considers the latter a leading candidate to succeed him.”

Raisi’s job will be made infinitely easier as the Biden administration is already chomping at the bit to return to the JCPOA and celebrate a return to the JCPOA as an American victory. If only.

The US has already blinked, removing some Trump sanctions. The Iranians, who are master negotiators, are just waiting for the sanctions house of cards to completely crumble in exchange for an Iranian nuclear deal heavily in their favor.

Raisi will play his part acting tough. The US and its European sycophants will feign frustration. A few changes will be made to the JCPOA, and the selling of the deal in Ben Rhodes fashion to a compliant media will seal the American and European return to the Iran nuclear deal. At the same time, the Russians and Chinese will see this as a sign of American weakness for future dealings with them.

Rhodes, it should be remembered, was infamous for bragging about how he bamboozled and manipulated the press to advance the Iran deal during the Obama/Biden administration. The media were so in bed with the former president and his agenda that they didn’t even object when Rhodes’s comments became public. Today’s mainstream journalists may be even more willing to accept a return to the deal without any investigative reporting on why missile development, terrorism, Iranian human rights abuses or hegemony into the Levant are not addressed.

It is not if, but when will the supreme leader pass away, whether from his metastatic prostate cancer or some other ailment not shared with the Iranian people. When that happens, President Raisi will most likely ascend to the dictator’s throne of the Iranian Revolution as supreme leader. As the rock band The Who sang, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Israel is watching carefully, and so should the United States. If Israel still believes in the Begin Doctrine, never to let an enemy state have nuclear weapons, the ascendancy of Raisi and the end of American sanctions increases the chance for a preemptive Israeli strike in Iran and a large-scale regional war drawing in all players.

Let us hope that Biden’s allegiance to former president Obama’s legacy does not blind him to the likely consequences of a deal that President-elect and future supreme leader Raisi will appreciate.

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.