Tag Archives: JCPOA

The Question Israel’s Leaders Ask Every Day: Will Tomorrow be Too Late?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

How far away is the day when Israelis and Americans will wake up and realize that it is too late to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program? This is not a new question. Seven years ago Jonathan Tobin writing in Commentary also asked, “Is it already too late to stop Iran?

Last week, I met with Israeli military, security and intelligence experts, and I asked if it is already too late to significantly affect the progress of the Iranian nuclear program with a pre-emptive strike, and the answer was always that it is not too late. But the caveat that followed was, the Americans can do it much more effectively than we can.

Critics of any pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities rightly claim that Israel cannot totally destroy the Iranian nuclear program. But that misses the point.

Delaying the program five or 10 years, which would be the case with an Israeli strike, could be game changing, especially in conjunction with continued cyberattacks and escalating American sanctions that undermine the support for the regime by the Iranian people, who are increasingly becoming economically harmed and blaming it on the Mullahs and their corrupt cronies.

We know that before the 2015 JCPOA deal, Iran was already technically capable of reaching the crucial 20% uranium enrichment level, and was within a just a few months of amassing enough 90% uranium for a nuclear weapon, even using obsolete and unpredictable IR-1 centrifuges.

So the question to ask now is, how much have Iran’s nuclear capabilities advanced over the last four years since the beginning of the JCPOA? How much closer are they to a nuclear breakout?

We know that the agreement allowed Iran to continue to develop advanced centrifuges that can enrich weapons-grade material in a significantly shorter amount of time than the older IR-1 centrifuges, reducing the critical time to produce enough fissile material to just a few months. These advanced centrifuges are also much smaller and harder to detect.

Additionally, Iran never accepted the Additional Protocol, a nuclear addendum that allowed international inspectors to visit military sites where they would likely be developing nuclear missile warhead production.

Already last year, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, estimated that Iran could enrich enough material for a bomb in eight to 10 months. The deal’s supporters claimed that the agreement would not allow Iran to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon for one year during the length of the agreement, something that is already probably untrue.

After Israel’s revelation of Iran’s nuclear archive, we now know without doubt that Iran planned to build a nuclear weapon, and still has the information and capabilities to accomplish this. This is not Saddam Hussein all over again.

Even if international inspectors wanted to visit a military faculty, the JCPOA gives them a month’s time to comply, more than enough time to clear away any evidence.

THE DAY Iran passes the threshold for creating a nuclear weapon, everything will change for Israel, the Sunni Gulf states, Turkey, the US and Europe, and the world will be a much more dangerous place. A nuclear arms race will begin in the Sunni world, dramatically increasing the potential dangers of a nuclear conflict in the future.

So can Israel, this late in the game, still effectively strike the Iranian program? The answer is yes – but again, the US can do it better.

Iran has a plan to make Israel think twice before attacking. According to former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror, now a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a distinguished fellow at JINSA, Iran’s strategic plan – which is well underway – is to create a deterrence barrier around Israel, stretching from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to the Gaza Strip, in order to threaten Israel with an overwhelming and devastating strike on its homeland, should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Is delaying their program five years worth the price Israel will pay if tens of thousands of missiles are unleashed, capable of hitting everywhere in the country, while the negative diplomatic fallout will be enormous, especially if Donald Trump is not US president?

Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies wrote “In both word and deed, Israel is firmly committed to its redlines. The reddest of all is that Israel will not permit Syria to be turned into a forward base for direct Iranian operations and a manufacturing center for precision-guided missiles.”

Which means the noose will only tighten around Israel, as the Iranian operating bases in Syria over time will eventually look more like Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Yet when I ask the Israeli experts if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the paper tiger that the Obama administration portrayed when a senior official called him chickens**t, the response was clear. If Bibi is convinced tomorrow is too late to stop a functioning Iranian nuclear weapon, he will indeed act today.

What will an Israeli attack on Iran look like?

Think out of the box. Not only cyberattacks and sophisticated strikes against known and presumed nuclear sites like Natanz, Fordow and the unnamed military sites conducting nuclear work, but targeting the lifeline of the Iranian economy – the port of Bandar Abbas, where almost all of Iranian commercial shipping trade transits, and Kharg Island, the location where Iran exports most of its fossil fuels.

An Israeli attack at Kharg or Bandar Abbas would make the impact of the current sanctions look like a popgun, and the survival of the regime would hang in the balance, as an economically devastated Iran will be imperiled from within.

If Israel does launch an attack on Iran, what would Israel look like the day after?

I remember visiting the North after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hospitals hit, hundreds of thousands of residents displaced to the South or living in steaming hot underground shelters and millions of Israelis throughout the country feeling vulnerable and angry.

Now imagine a hundred times worse, with the Dimona nuclear faculty in the South and Azrieli towers in central Tel Aviv in the crosshairs of Iran. The layers of Israel’s missile defense are remarkable but are incapable of stopping all the missiles heading for Israeli cities.

Time is not on Israel’s side, but when will tomorrow be too late?

The writer is the Director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the 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.

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.