With Iranian help, Hamas, which controls Gaza, is creating a presence in Hezbollah’s backyard in Lebanon. Should it be of any concern to American security interests that Iran supports both of these terrorist organizations?
The answer is yes. An emergent and unpredictable Hamas military presence in Lebanon could destabilize the whole region. This is because Hamas may not feel as restrained to act in Lebanon as in Gaza, where it fills the role of being the de facto power. Palestinian Hamas knows it would not primarily bear the consequence of Israeli retaliation for its actions emanating from Lebanon. It does not take much imagination to understand that this could spiral out of control into a regional war — and possibly throw a wrench into America’s pivot toward China.
Ten years ago, the Arab Spring gave hope to people of the Middle East that they could take more control of their lives away from repressive regimes. Those in the West hoped that new governments would be more aligned with their interests, even without adopting Western-style democracy. Such dreams were dashed when Islamists and new authoritarians took advantage of the moment to seize control. The prospects of that “spring” turned into a lasting “Middle East Winter.” The one glimmer of hope was Tunisia, and that fragile democracy now also has turned authoritarian.
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.
Iran’s new president may become its next supreme leader.
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.
In Europe, the number of Jews continues to decline, but the disease of antisemitism continues to rise. According to a European Union poll, the vast majority (85%) of European Jews see antisemitism as a major problem in their lives.
Welcome to the world of 21st-century European antisemitism and its most popular contemporary form, Israel-bashing. This begs the question, why are Europeans still obsessed with Jews and the Jew among nations while working overtime to support their enemies?
A 2018 CNN survey found only 54% of Europeans said “Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state.” Get that? Nearly half of Europeans think the one Jewish state has no right to exist. This does not bode well for future Israeli-European relations. From an Israeli economic perspective, this matters greatly because Europe is its number one trading partner. How the European Union acts politically against Israel, whether it chooses to increase its support of the BDS movement, can profoundly affect Israel’s economic and military security in the years to come.
According to Michael Sieveking, deputy director of AJC Transatlantic Institute, “Making matters even worse a dangerous fallacy is on the rise that denies that anti-Zionism is antisemitism at all. Anti-Zionism hides behind a veneer of respectability. At its rotten core is the notion that it’s acceptable to deny the Jewish people the freedom to exercise its right to self-determination. There is no shortage of European politicians mourning dead Jews. But where are some of those leaders when living Jews are being victimized for real or imaged actions of Israel?”
Using a politicized definition of human rights as a weapon against Israel allows Europeans to claim the moral high ground. But their morality appears bankrupt as they developed an entrenched double standard against Israel as compared to their muted response to obviously more egregious human rights problems around the world. For example, lobbying for unrestricted trade with one of the world’s most odious malefactors, Iran, shows that the European human rights emperor has no clothes.
They see no hypocrisy supporting a gas pipeline from Russia that will enrich a nation that not only is a human rights nightmare but one that occupies other sovereign nations’ territory, i.e. Crimea, Ukraine, Georgia. China, the world’s number one human rights abuser, has upwards of a million of its Uighur people in “re-education” camps, threatens the democracy of Taiwan, and throws democracy activists in jail in Hong Kong, but still has virtually unrestricted trade with Europe. Yet, the Europeans invest a disproportionate amount of time discussing and strategizing on ways to boycott Israeli goods. Adding fuel to the antisemitic fire, most European nations at best only abstain from UN resolutions against Israel.
Israel and Europe have a complex relationship. The EU is Israel’s number one trading partner, yet the EU seems to be on its way to accepting some form of boycotting Israel for its occupation of the disputed territories in the West Bank.
With the line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism disappearing by the day, Europe is not only hostile to Israel, but Jews themselves.
To understand European antisemitism, you just need to look at the tragedy of Sarah Halimi. “Why France Refuses to Prosecute an Antisemitic Murderer” is the title of an article written by former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss, a journalist run out of town because she reports on antisemitism coming from the Right, Left and Islam, and doesn’t follow the woke orthodoxy on Israel. Like much of Western Europe, her former employer minimizes antisemitism unless it emanates from the far-right.
The story of Halimi, the victim of one of the most vicious hate crimes in recent memory, was underreported by the press because the victim was a Jew killed by a Muslim man. While torturing her, he called her a shaitan (Satan). Then he threw her out of her third-story apartment window while shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is great in Arabic). What is even more frightening was the response of French prosecutors. The alleged killer was not charged because he had smoked marijuana, which is a convenient excuse not to antagonize their antisemitic Muslim citizens. Just ask yourself, if the victim was a Christian or a Muslim, and the killer was Jewish, would the prosecutor have acted similarly? Weiss wrote, “We are suffering from a widespread social health epidemic, and it is rooted in the cheapening of Jewish blood.”
Nothing drives home Europe’s ambivalent feelings regarding Israel than its attempts to economically support the antisemitic theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran, a nation whose authoritarian Islamist leaders repeatedly call for eliminating the Zionist state, while trafficking in demonization of the Jews. Europeans even tried to create a financial system (INSTEX) to bypass American sanctions and enrich the terror state. Western European enthusiasm for a nuclear agreement that guarantees to put nuclear weapons in the hands of Israel’s nemesis while paying lip service to their human rights behavior, Jew-hatred, and maniacally hateful rhetoric makes one wonder what motivates such persistent animosity.
According to European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, reviving Iran’s nuclear deal (JCPOA) is “the most urgent and important” diplomatic priority for the Biden administration in order to improve US-European relations. Borrell completely rejects any efforts to expand the agreement to address matters outside its current scope, i.e. human rights or terrorism. “For us, the Europeans, the Iran nuclear deal, it’s a triumph of diplomacy, and we are very proud of it.”
Despite European self-righteous proselytizing to Israel to improve its human rights record, the EU chooses to defend a regime dripping with Jew-hatred. The EU showed its true colors when it did not stand with the Iranian people, who risked their lives to express their outrage at their government for its abuse and torture of its people. This human rights disaster does not rise to Borrell’s sanctimonious standard as an “urgent” European priority.
Perhaps there is some self-preservation involved. In 2018, The Washington Examiner asked why European policymakers are so determined to “prop up the (Iranian) government. Europeans may feel the pressure of Iran’s threats… the head of the country’s atomic agency warned of ominous consequences if Iran doesn’t see its promised economic benefits. Ominous in this context would seem to mean: Give us sanctions relief, or we will build a nuclear bomb.”
Iranian-backed terrorism on European soil is not unheard of; just look at the Iranian-Hezbollah bombing in Burgas in 2012 targeting Jewish tourists. European anti-Zionism, i.e., antisemitism, expresses itself in many ways. Why has Europe given over 100 million dollars to 35 NGOs supporting the International Criminal Court’s witchhunt to delegitimize Israel? In 2015, the European Commission decided to create a double standard against Israel by labeling all Israeli goods produced over the Armistice Line (1967 Line) to help consumers boycott Israel. It’s a move reminiscent of the Nazi era. Still, anti-Zionist Europeans see it more analogous to the boycott of South Africa, opposing that country’s apartheid. No other nation’s goods in disputed territories from Kashmir to Northern Cyprus warrant such a boycott by Europe.
So is all this explained by the Europeans’ two millennia-long history of antisemitism that now expresses itself as the more politically correct hatred of the Jewish nation? Or is it the modern European bureaucrat who is part of the self-anointed enlightened, progressive left who sees Israel as an aberration in modernity, a nationalist colonial project that belongs to a different era?
A more contemporary answer to understand the resurrection of Europe’s long history of Jew-hatred while painting itself as a moral force for good began with the 1974 Arab Oil Embargo after the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War. It was a significant turning point in moving Europeans from begrudging support of Israel that assuaged their guilt for the holocaust to resurrecting antisemitism but in a politically correct incarnation.
This was best evidenced by French President de Gaulle’s antisemitic response after the Israelis defeated the Arabs in the Six-Day War, calling Jews “an elitist… and domineering people.” De Gaulle, like Israel’s Arab enemies, used the word Jew interchangeably with Israeli. Immediately, French foreign policy turned decidedly pro-Arab and anti-Israel, allowing France to pull other European nations against Israel after the Arab oil embargo. French president Jacques Chirac in 2001 blamed Israel for the failure of Camp David, not Arafat, who started the Second Intifada and rejected a Palestinian state. Even today, French animosity to Israel is expressed by its president, Emmanuel Macron, who, unlike other EU leaders, has not criticized the inappropriateness of the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of Israel for war crimes against Hamas.
Supporting the Palestinian cause to appease the Arab oil states had the added benefit of demonizing that “shitty little nation,” as one French diplomat undiplomatically said publicly years later, without the stigma of hating the individual Jews or their religion. Placating Europe’s growing unassimilated Muslim populations is also a significant factor in aligning against the Jewish State. An ADL survey of second and third-grade Muslims in Europe in the 21st century found that 50% could be classified as anti-Semites. These are children, and this is growing worse with time. Yet, Arabs in the Gulf states are warming to Jews and Israel as evidenced by the Abraham Accords, while Turkish, Tunisian, Algerian, Pakistani, and Syrians living in Europe remain persistently hostile to Jews and Israel.
Being able to label Israel as an occupying state allowed Europe to transition to become a cheerleader of the anti-Israel movement, ubiquitous among European elites and on European university campuses. Europeans have perfected their rationale that their harsh criticism of Israel is never antisemitism. Palestinian rejectionism and antisemitism are either ignored or turned into, at best, a moral equivalence.
But Europe is not homogeneous. Eastern Europe is more sympathetic to Israel but has an even more tainted antisemitic history. Their leaders are less liberal than western Europeans but admire Israel’s nationalism. Is it possible for Israel to strengthen relations with Western Europe, with whom it shares more values, but are also its loudest critics? How does it foster a relationship with Eastern Europe that diplomatically supports them while some of their populist leaders dabble in antisemitic tropes and policies? Granted, it is not either-or, and foreign policy is about interests, not usually values, but it would be nice to have some friends who share your values and also support Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jews.
Israel will quietly continue to hedge its bets and quietly economically pivot from Europe to the Far East and the Asian sub-continent over the next generation or two. If boycotts grow and are enforced, for Israel’s economic survival this will become a necessity. Strengthening relationships in China, India, Korea, Taiwan, and other nations, where there is no legacy of antisemitism, decreases the impact of growing European boycotts. Within a few generations, Europe will likely be overwhelmed by its Muslim population, and its move away from Israel and support of the BDS movement will only accelerate.
Yet, there is some hope. According to Algemeiner, at a recent conference on Protection Against Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance, the European Commission allocated 2 billion dollars that included a strategy that, “will provide a comprehensive framework to prevent and combat antisemitism…. Holocaust remembrance and fostering Jewish life in Europe.”
But unless they deal with their growing Muslim population’s Jewish hatred, which doesn’t distinguish between Jewish citizens of Europe and Israel, any progress fighting antisemitism will be marginal at best. Concurrently they must address their political class whose default position is harsh criticism of Israel, or the Jews of Europe will continue to emigrate and fulfill Hitler’s dream of a Europe without Jews.
If President Joe Biden changes or adjusts the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—then he is obligated to bring it to Congress. This is not the wishful thinking of critics of the agreement; it is according to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) of 2015.
In May of 2015, Congress passed INARA, giving itself the right to review any future agreements or modifications reached regarding the Iran nuclear deal, in essence reserving the right to assess any changes made. Since it’s almost impossible to restore the deal intact since six years have passed since it was written, a return to the JCPOA promised by Biden means a new agreement. The administration’s strategy will be to ignore Congress, claiming that any changes will not be substantive, so INARA does not apply.
According to former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker, writing in RealClearWorld, “The Act mandates congressional review—and provides for potential disapproval—of not just the JCPOA, but any “agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran … regardless of the form it takes … the Act (also) prohibits the extension of sanctions relief during the 30 days the law sets aside for congressional review of any nuclear agreement with Iran.”
Biden promised to rejoin the JCPOA, and lengthen and strengthen the unsigned agreement. Unfortunately, his Iran envoy Robert Malley has said that if Iran returns to full compliance, then they will immediately get sanctions relief. Does that mean removing all sanctions, including those for their egregious human-rights abuses, missile proliferation and counterterrorism? U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that no significant amendments will be added before rejoining the agreement. I don’t follow the administration’s logic—beginning negotiations with the wily Iranian regime by giving away all its leverage.
In response this month, Sens. James Risch (-Wis.) and Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation called the Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act of 2021 (S. 488) to address the administration’s contradictory approach and messaging. Risch said, “It’s increasingly clear that the Biden administration’s promises to ‘lengthen and strengthen’ the Iran nuclear deal are instead an attempt to re-enter the flawed 2015 JCPOA at any cost. … This bill would require Congress to approve any Biden administration effort to lift sanctions against the Iranian regime. The United States currently maintains a position of significant leverage with Iran because our sanctions are working. Given that reality, the administration should keep its promises to address the JCPOA’s looming sunsets, as well as Iran’s regional terrorism, ballistic-missile activity and wrongful imprisonment of Americans.”
And that is where INARA comes in. If Biden keeps his promise to be the anti-Trump, following the law he needs to go back to Congress before obligating America to trust the theocratic Islamic regime, which hid and lied about its nuclear program for decades. Like all recent executives of both parties, Biden will claim that foreign policy is the exclusive purview of the president. That is because the Senate has allowed presidents to run roughshod over its constitutional duties for decades. The Senate should speak up now—that includes members on both sides of the aisle. Will Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who voted against the deal the first time, speak up again and act? The JCPOA in 2015 should have been submitted to the Senate as a treaty, being the most consequential American foreign-policy agreement of the 21st century.
According to an article in Foreign Policy by Daniel Kutzer, Aaron Miller and Steven Simon, “Little constituency exists in Washington for returning to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran on precisely the same terms as before. Republicans and even some crucial Democrats oppose it.” If that is true, then the president is bound by law to send any updates or changes to Congress for review.
I received a request from a reader about what voters should “ask for” from Congress. First, don’t be fooled by rhetoric that claims we are all on the same page, agreeing that Iran should never get a nuclear weapon. That does not mean and is not the same as improving the JCPOA now. When Brett McGurk, Biden’s national security council coordinator for the Middle East, said this week concerning the United States and Israel’s goals regarding Iran, “there is no disagreement. … Iran can never get a nuclear weapon, period,” that is political doublespeak. It does not address that the JCPOA, which the administration has vowed to return to, still allows Iran to develop an industrial-size nuclear program in less than 10 years when its sunset provisions fully kick in.
The answer for pro-Israel Americans is to let the Democratic Majority for Israel, the Jewish Democratic Council and their state legislators know the JCPOA’s weaknesses are your No. 1 foreign-policy concern. Let them know you expect Biden to keep his word to strengthen and lengthen the deal, but to do it before rejoining a flawed JCPOA. And you want the Senate to be able to weigh in and review the modifications. Let them know that rhetoric alone without a fundamental change of the sunset provisions is not enough. The handwriting is already on the wall for a return to the old JCPOA. Now is the time to speak up.
A controversy that occurred during a recent question-and-answer session for reporters by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby may have revealed a troubling insight into the Biden administration’s approach in rebranding Iran’s problematic image. He claimed that Shia militias that are causing so much trouble in the Middle East are not Iranian-controlled. After criticism made its way into the public arena, Kirby partially walked back his statement in a subsequent press conference, agreeing that some Shia militias are Iranian-backed. Was this a Freudian slip, a trial balloon or a real insight into administration thinking?
There is a well-documented history of the Obama-Biden administration misleading the public about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Therefore, it is prudent to ask if Kirby’s first answer to a softball question that should not have flustered an experienced spokesperson was an accurate representation of the administration’s thinking. It’s all part of a strategy to create the illusion that the Islamic Republic is not responsible for supporting the majority of Shia militias throughout the Middle East in the hopes that in preparing the ground to rejoin JCPOA, Iran will be more palatable to the U.S. public.
So a primer on Iranian-controlled Shi’ite militias and what the administration is doing is in order.
What Kirby may have been attempting to do is frame the situation as an internal ethnic conflict between Shi’ite groups who are independent of Iranian influence. However, the overwhelming evidence is that Iran’s strategy is to create Iranian-controlled militias in the region’s crumbling nations to exert control and undermine U.S. interests while threatening American allies.
Statements like Kirby’s intensify Israel’s well-founded fears that America wants to pretend it doesn’t see Iran’s malign activity. Instead, the administration chooses to put all of its eggs in the JCPOA basket, focusing on the nuclear issue while ignoring Islamic imperialism. Almost no serious military or intelligence analyst believes the Islamic Republic of Iran does not control Shia militias, such as the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq or Syria (local militias). Iran’s hegemonic ambitions carried out through its proxy network are a threat to be taken seriously.
A not-so-subtle warning for Israel not to attack Iran was posted by the White House in its Interim National Security Guidelines. The administration stated, “We do not believe that military force is the answer. … We will not give our partners in the Middle East a blank check to pursue policies at odds with American interests.” Is that a warning not to attack Iran in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon?
As in Lebanon, Iran is slowly swallowing Syria and Iraq. Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah is the dominant military force while effectively controlling its parliament. Iranian symbols appear everywhere, as though you were walking in Tehran. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) martyr Gen. Qassem Soleimani was commemorated this year throughout the country with a massive statue placed in the center of the Lebanese capital Beirut. At rallies, Lebanese citizens under Hezbollah’s thumb wave the Iranian flag, not the Lebanese one.
What is groundbreaking in Syria is that Iran not only sent its IRGC troops with its Hezbollah proxy but has now recruited former Syrian rebels of local Sunni militias to create a permanent Iranian presence. The blueprint is the Hezbollah model in Lebanon. Iran’s goal is to surround Israel with its militias, proxies and allies, including Sunnis who are easily bought for money, bread or ammunition. Just think of the Sunni Arab Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip working with Persian Shi’ite Iran.
Alma, Israel’s best source for independent research on its northern border, has documented Iran’s support and control of Hezbollah, Shia militias, and now Iranian-controlled former rebel Sunni militias. This is groundbreaking information. The militias receive orders and salaries from Iran in conjunction with a well-thought-out civilian investment to support a long-term Iranian military entrenchment. In this way, Iran effectively takes control of weak nation-states like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. For example, Iran is heavily involved in Syria’s post-war reconstruction, buying agricultural land, establishing community and educational centers to promote the Islamic Revolution’s values among the local Sunni population.
One should bear in mind that the IRGC’s Quds force’s raison d’être since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s is to spread the Iranian revolution throughout the Middle East while backing almost every terrorist Shia militia to further its goal. Thousands of IRCG soldiers and commanders operate beyond Iran’s borders, leading and strategizing on how to get the United States out of the Middle East and put Israel out of existence.
This is based on the concept of velayat-e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist,” which gives absolute religious authority to the Iranian Supreme Leader, who is in charge of the world’s Shi’ites. Shias are thereby obligated to support the Islamic revolution everywhere in the world. The Biden administration should be cautious replacing radical Sunnis like ISIS and Al-Qaeda with extremist Iranian Shi’ism.
More than half of the pieces are in place to surround Israel. Next on the target list is the West Bank and Jordan to surround Israel with the threat of missiles and militias under Iranian control. All in preparation for a day when Islamist Iran unleashes its proxies to devastate Israeli civilians and destroy Israel’s infrastructure, with the hope that Israelis will abandon the Zionist experiment.
Going forward, U.S President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should make clear the obvious. Iran is responsible for Shia militias’ creation and actions that threaten Middle East stability and American soldiers’ lives, and that rejoining the JCPOA should not obscure that fact.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”
U.S. President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes late last week in eastern Syria against the Iranian-controlled militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. This was in retaliation for their most recent attack against an American base in northern Iraq (Kurdistan) that injured an American soldier and killed allied personnel.
According to Politico, “The Biden administration is taking heat from fellow Democrats as lawmakers pressure the White House to provide a legal justification for (the) airstrike…giv(ing) new ammunition to lawmakers who want to roll back broad presidential war powers (claiming) offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional.”
For years, I have written and urged members of Congress to exert their constitutional role in foreign affairs and not be a rubber stamp for executive actions, whether they are kinetic or diplomatic. Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tim Kaine of Virginia—members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations—claim that Congress must be consulted according to the War Powers Act (2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq) for military actions. Their goal is transparent: extricate America from its forever wars in the Middle East. Last year, the Democratic-controlled House voted to end military actions against Iran after the U.S. strike against Iranian terror mastermind Gen. Qassem Soleimani for directing strikes against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and bases in Iraq.
Although I disagree that the president has to clear all military actions with Congress, Congress does have a right to demand that they be briefed on significant engagements. Their opinion is to be taken seriously. However, the final decision is still with the president. Senators have many ways of punishing a sitting president if he/she does not take their advice with the proper respect it deserves.
Yet such punctilious study of the Constitution, as the senators claim, regarding the controversial use of war powers by this president is absent in their support of Biden’s desire to rejoin America’s most consequential treaty in 50 years without a Senate vote as proscribed by the Constitution.
The importance of the Iran nuclear deal—or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—and its binding consequences demand the Senate’s deliberation and approval. Murphy and Kaine were against using the constitutional standard for treaties in 2015 and remain curiously silent today for members who demand that America follow the rule of law regarding the War Powers Act, which is legislative but doesn’t have the gravitas of the Constitution itself.
The Constitution demands that the president make treaties with the Senate’s advice and consent, providing two-thirds of the Senate vote in favor (Article II, section 2). Murphy and Kaine want to check presidential power concerning military actions, which is their prerogative. However, abandoning the demand that the Senate be presented with the JCPOA as a treaty smacks of politicization that undermines American national security interests and the American people’s will.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Texas), a longtime anti-war advocate who also favors limiting presidential military actions, should be applauded for honesty. She makes it clear that military action should be stopped so as not to handicap America’s return to the Iran nuclear deal. This is something most advocates of the JCPOA choose not to articulate, hoping that the American people will not catch on. This is the same logic used by the Obama administration in not adding sanctions for Iran’s malevolent behavior after 2015, lest it cause Iran to walk away from its legacy foreign-policy achievement.
Lee’s wing of the party wants to give Iran a pass on attacking Americans and American bases. To say nothing of attacking its own people, being complicit in the Syrian genocide and its role in the humanitarian disaster in Yemen—all to rejoin a nuclear deal that guarantees a revolutionary Islamist Republic nuclear weapons while it vows to destroy the State of Israel and burn effigies of the Great Satan.
Unfortunately, advocates like Murphy, Kaine and Lee subscribe to the discredited idea that the nuclear agreement ends Iran’s ability to have a nuclear weapon. Although former President Barack Obama said the JCPOA “cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to the bomb,” he also said that in 2028, just seven years from now, “breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”
So is a temporary pause in its nuclear program, which would end sanctions and empower this malign regime, something any president should be able to do of his or her own accord? The financial rewards of sanctions relief should be reserved for an indefinite end of their nuclear program, the end of the sunset provisions, and nothing less, something the current JCPOA does not do.
So which is it: Senators and the Constitution only when it is politically convenient, or doing what the Senate is supposed to do and look beyond the political fray and prioritize the Constitution and American national security interests?
As former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in Jan. 21 article “The Case Against the Iran Deal” in The Atlantic: “Reviving the JCPOA will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it.” It is hard to believe that Kaine and Murphy would want that.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is the senior editor for security at “The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”
It has been seven years since an Iranian member of parliament, who reportedly was close to the Supreme Leader, claimed Iran already controlled four Arab capitals. This occurred after Iranian supported Shia rebels, the Houthis, conquered the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. So what are Iran’s next targeted Arab capitals?
Iran is more patient than the West, willing to wait years for the right opportunity to pounce. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the capital of the desert Kingdom, is undoubtedly high on the theocratic Islamist Republic’s list, especially as the holiest cities in the Islamic world, Mecca and Medina, are ruled by their rival, the Sunni Saudis. American policy makers underestimate Iran’s desire to export its revolutionary message; rejoining the JCPOA will do nothing to moderate their determination to change the face of the Islamic world by in effect conquering the region.
Today, Iran effectively controls Beirut, Lebanon through its Hezbollah division. Baghdad, Iraq is under Iranian influence through control of the Iraqi Parliament’s pro-Iranian majority, and their affiliated Iraqi militias under the Iranian Republican Guards Corps’ authority. Damascus, Syria is in the Iranian camp because Syrian President Assad acquiesces in Iranian control throughout southern Syria being grateful for them saving his despicable regime, and also powerless to resist their entrenchment there anyway.
And in Sanaa, Yemen, the Iranian proxy Houthis are on the march again, looking to permanently control the vital Bab El Mandeb passage between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This strategic choke point connects the Mediterranean Sea with South Asia and the Far East through the Suez Canal.
The Iranians next Arab capital to target could be Manama, Bahrain. Iran considers Shiite majority Bahrain its own. If the Iranians feel empowered by American weakness over time, Bahrain may be targeted by Iran to test America’s resolve to curb Iran’s imperialist ambitions. If this occurred and America did not back Saudi efforts to fight an Iranian incursion on the western bank of the Persian Gulf, a stone’s throw from Saudi territory, it would be a major destabilizing development for the region. The JCPOA’s sanction relief fuels the fire.
The Biden administration is gaining a reputation for itself in the Middle East as willing to talk the tough talk against adversaries, but America’s Sunni Arab allies don’t believe Biden’s crew are willing to walk the walk of tangible actions that match their rhetoric. Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen said the US is “not going to allow Saudi Arabia to be target practice,” reacting to the recent increase in missile and drone attacks against the kingdom. Yet White House spokesperson Jen Psaki undermined the credibility of that support by saying, “We’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.” The Iranians are loving it.
Noting more contradictory messages, according to AP, the State Department warned Houthi rebels to stop killing civilians, “just 48 hours after moving to strike the group from a terrorism blacklist.” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, We urge the Houthis to refrain from destabilizing actions.” I am sure they and their Iranian patrons are shaking in their boots.
The message is clear to Iran: rejoin the JCPOA, and we will only challenge you rhetorically. In reality, we will turn a blind eye on your missile development, attacks on US allies, undermining Iraq, and your human rights behavior, from targeting gays and women who don’t toe the line, to assassinating your political opponents. Empty rhetorical warnings. Sounds like the Obama administration all over again.
Just think of the chemical weapons red-line that Syria crossed and Obama blinked, undermining American credibility throughout the world. Biden’s resurrection of the Obama administration’s Middle East team sends at best mixed signals to Israel, while making our Gulf allies feel more vulnerable to abandonment.
As the former director general of the Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs General Yossi Kuperwasser said, Iran doesn’t believe President Biden would put all military operations on the table. Iran is a good poker player and they know the current administration is bluffing.
BUT THE most prized Iranian Arab capital is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Supreme Leader and his Shiite revolutionary regime’s primary desire is the Arabian peninsula where Mecca and Medina, the holiest cities in Islam are located, and it galls them that are under Sunni control. Shiite Iran believes, and with some justification, that Shiism has been delegitimized by Sunnis over the centuries. The Islamic Republic of Iran believes its destiny is to control the Middle East and beyond, based on a dangerous mix of modern political Islamism with ancient Persian imperialism.
Last year’s devastating cruise missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, emanating from Iranian-controlled proxies in Iraq and Yemen, exposed the soft underbelly of Saudi defenses. Despite its size and strategic depth, Saudi Arabia’s vastness is also a vulnerability where anti-missile and drone defense is a more complex challenge than in Israel, whose Achilles heel is the opposite, having too little strategic depth.
The message Iran hears from America is that the US is distancing if not abandoning Saudi Arabia. Based on this assessment Iran is going to test American limits to see how far it can go before the US is forced to act and support its Sunni allies. Nothing makes this more explicit then when the administration repeatedly says the nuclear agreement is entirely separate from all of Iran’s other malevolent activity, and sanctions will be rescinded by simply returning to the JCPOA.
Iran’s strategy is to increase their provocative behavior as a bargaining chip to gain leverage in negotiations with America. For example, Iran will be rewarded in negotiations for stopping Iranian-controlled attacks against Saudi Arabia, knowing that billions of dollars are on their way into the Supreme Leader’s and the Republican Guards’ coffers. They can always return to their aggressive behavior at a more opportune time when America is distracted with other foreign policy challenges.
Saudi Arabia is a flawed ally seen by the Biden administration as murderers in light of the Khashoggi assassination. In the words of President Biden, it is a “pariah” nation. Yet its strategic location and the free flow of oil is still a Western priority for the stability of the world economy.
The best way to change the Saudis’ human rights behavior and curb its nuclear ambitions in response to the JCPOA is to quietly pressure the Kingdom behind the scenes, with an implied threat of a distancing of relations if it doesn’t improve its behavior. However, the Biden administration’s public chastisements and public abandonment threats only embolden the Iranians, destabilizing the region by inviting Iran to take more risks against Saudi Arabia through their proxy network. And it will force Saudi Arabia to turn to China as their superpower friend, something not in America’s national security interest. The Chinese are already binding many of the region’s players through their Belt and Road economic initiative. It was music to the Iranian Supreme Leaders’ ears when Biden said he “would make it very clear we were not going to … sell more weapons” to Saudi Arabia.”
Biden has already snubbed the Crown Prince (MbS), stating that he will not speak with him directly, only his ailing father. But MbS is the de facto leader and will likely control Saudi Arabia for the next 50 years.
But just as I would recommend that Biden speak to MbS, I even more strongly recommend that he talk directly to the only real power in Iran, the Supreme Leader. The claim that the Iranian President has independent decision-making power is ludicrous. It plays into their negotiating strategy, which they used brilliantly to their advantage from 2012-2015 with John Kerry, Robert Malley and Wendy Sherman.
America’s goal for the Middle East is stability, not the virtually impossible resolution of it many age-old conflicts. The best path for American, Israeli, and allied national security interests is to encourage and nurture the Abraham Accords, which are the most effective non-kinetic counterweight to Iran at this time.
Desperately trying to revive the current form of the JCPOA without concurrently prioritizing the normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia sends the wrong message to Iran. American weakness increases the chance for Iran to take aggressive actions and the possibility of Shiite control of Saudi Arabia in this generation. That is something not in American national security interests, unless we want to be pulled back into another Middle Eastern conflict.
The writer is the senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report. He is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JNS, Thinc., JTA, the Forward, Israel-Gulf Report, and Israel Hayom among others.