Tag Archives: JCPOA

Will the Biden administration follow the law on the Iranian nuclear agreement?

Published by JNS

Credit: frontpagemag.com

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.

Israel needs Russia, but it is not a marriage made in heaven

Published in The Hill

How did we reach a point where America’s most important ally in the Middle East is forced to deal with Russia if it wants to act against Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias in Lebanon and Syria? Today, all of the Middle East’s major players, from Iran to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Israel, know that Russia is the “go-to mediator” that has relations across the region’s ideological spectrum and can successfully navigate between opposing sides.  

As Jonathan Spyer wrote in the Jerusalem Post, Russia “maintains open channels …with the main players …which the United States has chosen through weariness or other priorities to keep absent. … [Russia is] comfortable in the environment of frozen conflicts and divided countries. … Under Biden [the U.S.] shows no signs of wanting to come roaring back to major commitments in the region.”  

America has outsourced its foreign policy in the Middle East to Russia, which has forced Israel to change its approach to its most imminent threat from its northern Iranian front in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. With American financial help for its anti-missile systems and Israel’s essential intelligence-gathering to advance American national security interests, the U.S. and Israel are indispensable allies. Beyond that, there is little America can do, or is willing to do, since it has decided not to be an active player in the Levant.

The relationship between Israel and Russian President Vladimir Putin is a complex cat-and-mouse game, in which Russia winks and allows Israel to strike its erstwhile allies — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Iranian-controlled militias. Yet, Russian interests demand that it also keeps those entities in control of Syria and Lebanon to solidify the crucial gains it attained by supporting the Syrian civil war’s winning side. Russia’s Syria victory allowed it to expand and upgrade its Tartus seaport on the Mediterranean Sea, a warm water port that expands its regional influence toward  Europe. Add to that its upgraded Khmeimim Air Base near the Syrian city of Latakia, and Russia is as much a victor as Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Source: JTA

According to the former head of research for the Israel Defense Force Military Intelligence Division, retired Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, “Everyone understands that Israel isn’t acting against the Syrian regime [as long as it is not] doing anything that jeopardizes Russian interests. Russia appears to be giving Israel a free hand against game-changing technology transfers from Iran, as long as it plays by its rules.”  

How did Russia become the most influential force in the region?

The die was cast nearly 10 years ago when former President Obama allowed his chemical weapons “red line” to be crossed, choosing not to militarily respond to Assad’s use of sarin gas that killed 1,400 civilians. Instead, Obama chose to abandon Syria and turn over the removal of chemical weapons to Putin, who was more than willing to accept the invitation as a path to becoming the dominant power in the Levant. The Obama administration apparently was convinced that turning Syria over to the Russians would be analogous to America’s experience with Vietnam. Russia thanked Obama and immediately proceeded to change the Syrian war in favor of Iran and Syria.

According to The Atlantic, “Obama’s failure to follow through on (his) threat … has continued to haunt America’s involvement in the Syrian tragedy. The subsequent U.S.-Russian agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal did not prevent the horror of April 4 [2017] when … Assad’s forces mounted a new sarin attack on civilians. … The agreement and its implementation mechanism were deeply flawed.”  

Israel’s long-term plan of playing Iranian Whac-a-Mole — hitting game-changing military targets as they emerge throughout Syria, Iraq and Lebanon — needs Putin’s consent. Israel’s continuing air campaign must be coordinated with the Russian military to avoid its accidentally targeting Israeli aircraft. Neither Israel nor Russia would like Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-aircraft system to shoot down an Israeli jet aircraft, or worse, to force Israel to target a Russian missile system in response. That would be a diplomatic disaster. Syrian anti-aircraft destroyed a Russian plane during an alleged Israeli missile strike in 2018.   

The unspoken “quid pro quo” between Israel and Russia is that Israel must settle for half a loaf. It can attack Iranian proxies and their advanced missile facilities, but it must accept a permanent Iranian presence and influence in Syria, just as it has in Lebanon with Hezbollah. In 2017, Russian promises to keep Iran and its proxies 53 miles away from the Israeli Golan evaporated almost from the moment they were uttered.  

Russian pronouncements regarding Israeli actions in Syria and Lebanon are decidedly hostile. According to Newsweek, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov said, “Israel is attacking Hezbollah; Hezbollah is not attacking Israel. … The problem is Israel, not the Iranians. … There is no way we are approving any Israeli strikes on Syria.” But so far, it’s more Russian bluster than any tangible action inhibiting Israeli actions in Lebanon and Syria. 

Israel knows the address is Moscow if it wants to advance its interests and attempt to minimize Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Watching Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Hezbollah’s Lebanese parliament leader Mohammad Raad be given equal access and respect in Moscow this month must have turned a few Israeli stomachs. Then again, Russia is no angel — it delights in any opportunity to diminish the United States. 

The status quo in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq won’t last forever. Iran could turn the screws on Israel at any time if it senses weakness or military advantage. With American willingness to return to the Iranian nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Israel could decide at some point to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, prompting a massive Iranian directed attack emanating from Syria or Lebanon. The likelihood that the situation on Israel’s northern border would spiral out of control over the next decade is high. However, Israel and Russia share an interest in not letting things escalate. Russia wants to solidify its gains, and Israel would like to avoid the costs of a major war with Iran.

If Israel’s northern Iranian border gets hot, some would argue that it is in American interests to actively engage in diplomacy to quiet the situation. The last time the U.S. worked with Russia on the northern border, the U.S. trusted Putin to keep Iran from permanently entrenching itself on Syria’s border with Israel. As with chemical weapons, Russia held the cards and did as it pleased, making America look impotent to its allies and enemies alike. With both Democrats and Republicans eager to get the U.S. out of the Middle East, Israel is left to deal with Russia for the foreseeable future.

Does the Biden administration believe Iran is behind most Shia militias?

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

{Previously published in JNS}

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.”

A Return to the Iran Nuclear Deal Would Increase the Chances of War

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Report}

For the third time in 2021, the US recently flew B-52 bombers along the Iranian coast, in what The Wall Street Journal called “a show of the deterrence (to) reassure allies in the region.”

Unfortunately, both the supreme leader of Iran and America’s regional allies know this is more show than a serious threat. They know US military options under Biden are far off the table, as his administration has repeatedly telegraphed its intention to allow Iran to rejoin the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by merely returning to compliance with the flawed 2015 deal, without demanding any significant changes, despite Iran’s egregious behavior over the last five years.

The administration refuses to acknowledge that Iran desperately wants to rejoin a deal that was skewed in its favor. It will relieve the Iranians’ financial predicament, solidify the regime’s repressive grip on its people, while allowing the pathway to nuclear weapons capabilities the JCPOA granted over time. The administration’s analysis is that unless America enables Iran to return to the original deal, hardliners may be victorious in this year’s Iranian election, marching more quickly to a nuclear weapon. This completely misreads the situation. As Alexander Grinberg of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security wrote, there is no difference between so called “moderates” and hardliners; both want to return to the deal. The only difference is their tactics to do it.

If you want to understand how Israel views the threat of an Iranian return to the JCPOA, just listen to the recent words of the IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Aviv Kochavi. In unprecedented public remarks, he said that if the US returns to the JCPOA, it will be considered an “intolerable threat… we cannot allow it.” He went on to state that he is ordering new operational plans to confront Iran this year. This is not bravado. After years of speaking to experts, military officials, politicians, and intelligence experts, I have concluded that a return to the original JCPOA means a likely regional war.

The only question is tactics. Mossad director Yossi Cohen, a hard-liner on the nuclear agreement and who has had an amicable relationship with Biden, recommends quiet behind-the-scenes lobbying in contrast to the more public approach of Kochavi. Yet both are close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is no wallflower in letting the world know that the current JCPOA is a deal breaker.

No nation, especially the US, should be surprised if Israel decides to act if the “new” version of the JCPOA does not indefinitely end Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon. JCPOA opponents’ greatest fear is that Iran will return to the deal, knowing that it will become immune to a future attack from its enemies once it becomes a nuclear power. If the Biden team does not want the region to spiral out of control, they would be wise to listen to the words of one of Israel’s most astute military and intelligence experts, retired Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s former national security adviser, “In a situation where the United States returns to the old nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel will have no choice but to act militarily against Iran to prevent it from manufacturing a nuclear weapon,” he says.

It is that simple, and Amidror also has Netanyahu’s ear. Israel takes Iran’s supreme leader at his word. His goal is the “elimination” of the Zionist entity that must “be uprooted and destroyed.” To Western sensibilities, this seems just incendiary rhetoric. US President Joe Biden must think again about how his decision about how to reenter the JCPOA can make all the difference in the world. No one wants a regional war, least of all Israel. But when faced with the potential for another Holocaust, Israel will not shy away from preemptively acting. To avoid conflict, Biden should not dismiss Israel’s red lines like US president Barack Obama did, paying lip service to their legitimate security concerns.

In 1981, Israel struck the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak. In 2007 Israel struck the North Korean-built Syrian reactor that was undetected by America. Today, Iran can enrich uranium to 90%, deliver a nuclear warhead on its advanced missile system, and is working on compartmentalizing the core of a nuclear warhead. Today America has little idea how far along Iran’s weaponization program is, as the JCPOA didn’t allow intrusive inspections in its military facilities. In fact, the JCPOA didn’t require a single centrifuge or nuclear facility to be destroyed, something JCPOA advocates fail to acknowledge but which Israel is well aware of.

If Biden signs onto a JCPOA agreement that does not significantly change the agreement’s sunset provisions, it will tie Israel’s hands. It will then be forced to make a fateful decision to either live with a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, hoping mutually assured destruction will be a deterrent, or preemptively attack Iran and bear all the risks of retaliatory attacks. The international diplomatic fallout resulting from a preemptive attack will be led by the West, sanctioning Israel for its aggression.

The refrain of the Obama-Biden administration officials is the choice is binary: return to the JCPOA or you are asking for war. They have it backward; returning to this deal without significant improvement means war. They just don’t get it. As Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in The Atlantic, “Reviving the JCPOA will ensure either the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it.”

During the years after the agreement went into effect in 2015, the same team that is now in place in the Biden administration did not enact a single new sanction for their miserable human rights record, growing missile development, support of terrorism, or support of Islamists, despite promises to the contrary. Sanctions relief today will support clandestine nuclear work in uninspected military sites and support Hezbollah and Iranian controlled militias throughout the Middle East. Billions of dollars will return to the coffers of the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Is there a plan to deal with this beyond the hope for diplomatic engagement where the US would have lost its leverage?

Let’s take the Biden administration at its word – that it will rejoin the JCPOA. What does that mean?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that there will be “no significant amendments added before rejoining the agreement.” Translation: the old deal is back with the hope that someday the Iranians may grace the Biden administration with another negotiation to address the failings of the JCPOA and their bad behavior. If you have seen the North Korean-American nuclear negotiations, don’t watch this sequel, it will be the same sad story, undermining American interests and increasing the chance that Israel will preemptively attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

Israel has contemplated preemptive attacks against Iranian nuclear facilities many times over many years. Some thought it would act in 2007 when a politically manipulated American National Intelligence Estimate claimed Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program, something disproved when Israel stole the Iranian secret atomic archive in 2018. As Oren and Halevi wrote, “The archive confirmed that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program did not stop in 2003 but was merely split into overt and covert channels.” Netanyahu and his former defense minister Ehud Barak were reportedly in favor of an attack in 2012 but were thwarted by their security cabinet.

There should be little doubt that no matter who is prime minister after Israel’s fourth election in two years, the decision on a pre-emption strike will rise to the top of the agenda if the US returns to the deal it struck in 2015. That deal was not popular with Israelis, the American people, or Congress at the time, as evidenced by the fact that Obama never submitted it to the Senate as a treaty, knowing he was 24 senate votes short of approval. So it remains an unsigned document, not a treaty, to this day.

Fast forward to 2021’s hyper-polarization. You may find some Democrats in the Senate who were against the JCPOA in 2015 but may now be more likely to find some rationale to favor the JCPOA, even though its flaws remain while Iran has become an even more dangerous and authoritarian state. Will Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who voted against the original deal, claim in 2021 that some minor reform by the Biden team that does not substantially change the agreement’s essence allow him to vote in favor of a “new” JCPOA agreement? In 2015, he chose not to lobby a single senator against voting in favor of the deal despite speaking an excellent game to anti-JCPOA constituent groups. Will he choose politics over principle this time?

Iran is a revolutionary Islamist country whose core beliefs demand the extermination of the Jewish state. To western ears, this is unfathomable, but it is nevertheless true. Failing to understand the foundational core of Iran’s regime’s founding and beliefs dramatically increases the chance that Israel will need to strike Iran with all of the profound and dangerous consequences it will produce for the region and the world.

So will Israel strike? When will it strike? How will it strike?

Israel knows it will face a multi-front war and need to figure out how to survive a conventional missile onslaught from Hezbollah, Hamas, Iranian controlled Syria and Iraqi militias, and from Iran itself. We saw how devastating the Iranian cruise missile attack on Saudi oil facilities was last year, and Israel fears these capabilities even with its multitiered anti-missile defenses.

How would the Biden administration respond to a preemptive Israeli attack? Would they act like Henry Kissinger in 1973, telling associates to let Israel get a bloody nose before resupplying to gain leverage for the future?

Israel’s preemption would not necessarily be immediate as it would need to monitor the Iranian nuclear timeline, but once Iran gets close to that line in the sand, it will act. Cyber and clandestine attacks will continue. But conventional wisdom says Israel will need a kinetic attack in Iran to delay its program and repeat when it again comes close to crossing the nuclear weapons threshold again. The new variable is the Abraham Accords and the open relationship between Israel and Sunni states. Israel would likely coordinate defense and intelligence sharing, as the Gulf states share the same mortal threat, but Israel will fear its plans could be leaked and will keep its timing close to the vest.

Administration officials claim that the maximum pressure campaign has failed because Tehran has not rolled back its nefarious activity. The problem with this logic is that for the two and a half years Obama remained in office after the JCPOA went into effect, none of the moderation Obama anticipated happened. Iran became an emboldened hegemon. Today Iran deserves maximum sanctions for its clandestine nuclear work, to keep maximum leverage to negotiate a better deal, and impose a cost on their worsening human rights abuses and their support of terrorism.

Biden has the power to set the region on its course. What will he choose?

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives and their foreign policy advisers.

Republicans Should Insist Biden Submit the JCPOA as a Treaty to the Senate

{Previously published by the JNS}

The Obama-Biden administration claimed in 2015 that the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—was a non-binding agreement requiring only executive action. Critics claimed that it was consequential enough that the U.S. Constitution required that it be submitted to the U.S Senate as a treaty. A CNN politics article at the time asked, “If it looks like a treaty, walks like a treaty, and talks like a treaty, is it a treaty? According to the White House, only if the president of the United States says it is.” The late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was blunter: “This is clearly a treaty. They can call it a banana, but it’s a treaty.”

So does it still matter that political sleight of hand was needed because the Obama-Biden White House was more than 20 Senate votes short of being able to pass it as a treaty in 2015? The answer is yes. Joe Biden, now U.S. president, intends to fast-track rejoining the JCPOA as one of his major foreign-policy priorities, only requiring Iran to return to compliance with the agreement, acting under the same executive prerogative that former President Barack Obama used.

What is not reported but must not be forgotten is that if Iran re-enters the JCPOA in 2021, it will have no limitations on uranium centrifuge use in just five years’ time (2026). It will have the ability to enrich uranium to 90 percent weapons-grade with international approval in just 10 years’ time (2031). And the pièce de résistance for the Supreme Leader is not a single U.N. nuclear inspector will be allowed at an Iranian undeclared nuclear site in just nine years’ time (2030).

That’s a far cry from the Obama-Biden administration’s promise when they said repeatedly, emphatically, they would not sign a deal that would allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Let’s leave aside the elephant in the room: that the Obama team chose not to address development of nuclear-capable missiles—one of the three pillars of a nuclear-weapons program.

Just because Republicans don’t have a majority in the Senate in 2021 and failed to stop Obama from implementing the 2015 deal by executive action doesn’t mean they should be mute. They need to follow their constitutional responsibility and point out to an uninformed American public that constitutional issues were sidestepped six years ago and are even more relevant today for our nation’s security, as we are that much closer to the dates the agreement permits the Iranian regime to become a nuclear-armed bully, immune to attack.

Republicans should ask Biden to follow the Constitution’s intent and finally submit the JCPOA for Senate ratification as a treaty. It should not outsource American security interests to the United Nations as was done in 2015, when the Obama White House used a U.N. Security Council Resolution (2231) to bind America to the agreement, which the legislative branch of the American people had not been given its proper opportunity to consider. It may not make a difference, but it will make an important point.

This is not about politics; it is about the rule of law. According to the U.S. Senate website, “the Constitution provides that the president “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur” (Article II, section 2). The Constitution’s framers gave the Senate a share of the treaty power in order to give the president the benefit of the Senate’s advice and counsel, check presidential power, safeguard the sovereignty of the states by giving each state an equal vote in the treaty-making process,” ensuring that the arguments pro and con would be made openly.

Two wrongs never make a right. Like Obama, Biden is subverting the intent of the Constitution by not submitting the most critical American international agreement of the 21st century to the Senate as required.

So why did Obama not submit the JCPOA to the Senate? According to former Secretary of State John Kerry, answering a congressional question under oath, said that the administration did not do so because, “I spent quite a few years ago trying to get a lot of treaties through the United States Senate. … And frankly, it’s become physically impossible. That’s why. … So we thought that the easiest way to get something that … could achieve our goal was through a political agreement.”

According to Kerry, “We’ve been clear from the beginning. We’re not negotiating a ‘legally binding plan.’ ” This was outrageous then, and it still has relevance today as the Biden administration has said it will return to the same JCPOA without any plans to amend the profound flaws that have become self-evident in the past several years. Republicans should take the constitutional high road and again demand the president submit the JCPOA to the Senate. There should be no political loophole for something so crucial to American national security.

In 2021, much like as in 2015, the mainstream news media has not done their job, educating the public about the constitutional implications of the approach both administrations have chosen. Instead, they have obscured the constitutional argument because of their political sympathy for the merits of the nuclear deal.

As David Rivkin, a constitutional law expert who worked for former President George H.W. Bush, said: “Any international agreement requiring major undertakings on the part of the United States, such as the proposed Iran deal, must be sent to the Senate for advice and consent. …The Constitution is quite clear.”

In 2015, the administration outplayed the Senate leadership in not demanding a treaty vote, turning the “legislation treaty ratification process under the Constitution upside-down. Instead of 67 Senate votes to ratify a treaty, the bill would require 67 votes to block Obama from carrying out any agreement.”

That’s impressive on a political level, but at the very least, constitutionally challenged. Presidents of both parties over the years have on occasion been autocratic on foreign affairs, asking Congress to give a rubber stamp to the executive branch. However, when something as important and controversial as a nuclear agreement with a leading state sponsor of terror comes to the fore, the correct choice then and the correct choice now is submitting it to the Senate as a treaty, even if the chance to convince Biden is remote.

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.”

Do America’s Iran experts understand today’s Iran and its goals?

Ken Pollack, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute said, “For many years, I have assured people that it is easy to be an expert on Iran because there are really only two answers to any question… ‘I don’t know’ and ‘It depends’… Someday we may learn Iran’s true rationale and it may have nothing to do with anything that the United States or the West believes.”

This lesson in humility is in short supply today, especially among those advocating for President-elect Joe Biden to immediately rejoin the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal).

According to Politico, “A bipartisan coalition of former defense secretaries and diplomats is calling on Biden to swiftly rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.”

In the House of Representatives, the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Greg Meeks, spearheaded a letter urging Biden to “rejoin the agreement,” which would in effect end sanctions, with “subsequent follow-on negotiations” to address any flaws in the original agreement.

Voluntarily giving up all of the leverage of the punishing sanctions, saying you expect reciprocity and fair play in return, would be equivalent to diplomatic malpractice.

BEFORE WE go headfirst back into an agreement with such profound national security implications for both America and Israel, wouldn’t it be wise for all of the experts, diplomats and politicians to take a deep breath and ask themselves, how much do my political views influence my recommendations? Responsibility dictates that all who weigh in, take the time and ask themselves challenging questions before “swiftly” rejoining what even supporters of the JCPOA call an imperfect deal.

1. Do you believe that rejoining the JCPOA will decrease Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, improve its human rights record, curtail its missile development or decrease its clandestine nuclear work?

2. Do you believe offering carrots such as ending sanctions will be reciprocated, knowing their malevolent behavior accelerated immediately after the JCPOA went into effect in 2015?

3. Do you believe pausing some of their nuclear activity in exchange for an unregulated Iranian nuclear weapons program in the future is a fair trade?

4. Will you call on Biden to impose crippling sanctions for their non-nuclear activities?

5. Do you believe the US will have any leverage for further negotiations if it relieves sanctions before renegotiating?

TO ANSWER any of these questions, you need to ask one more question: Is Iran of 2021 fundamentally different from the vision of Ayatollah Khomeini and the ideals which motivated the 1979 Iranian Revolution?  

Transparency is often in short supply in Iran, so it is anyone’s guess what is happening or what they think. One fatal flaw experts should disabuse themselves of is to believe that anyone other than the supreme leader can make significant decisions independently.

Once Ayatollah Khamenei passes, the extremist Revolutionary Guards’ influence will grow and the next supreme leader will be even more reliant on and under the influence of the Guards’ leadership.

Front-runners for supreme leader include Ebrahim Raisi, whose resume consists of the “mass executions of political prisoners” and the current ayatollah’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, who was in charge of the crackdown of the Green Revolution in 2009 when millions took to the streets against the regime and were abandoned by President Obama in his hope for rapprochement with the regime.


Although the Iranian leadership’s priority is its survival, its core is revolutionary, which is often discounted by the experts. It views its Arab neighbors with condescension and believes that they should be subservient. The supreme leader’s decisions are based on religiosity and Shi’ite supremacy. Protracted negotiations are simply a tool used to mislead a gullible West and buy time, as they know the West is inpatient, while they strategize with a timeline in decades and centuries.

As Ken Pollack said, Iran’s goal is to dominate the region, promulgating a “philosophy of theocratic governance that he [Khamenei] believe[s] should be adopted by all Muslim nations, if not the entire world… to help them spark ‘Islamic’ revolutions of their own.”

According to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of the supreme leader, a “second phase of the Islamic Revolution” will transform all of humanity into “a new Islamic civilization.”

EVEN THOUGH Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria are now under Tehran’s sway, experts still underappreciate Iran’s expansionist vision. For a religious nation, its ethics are suspect. It claims that it is against Islam having a nuclear weapon but for decades it has clandestinely been building its infrastructure while supporting terrorists of all stripes, including Sunnis, in its quest for dominance in the region.

Add to this a good dose of paranoia, some justified, and one questions how experts on Iran are comfortable granting them a glide path to a nuclear weapon in exchange for a temporary pause in accumulating nuclear material, without an American inspector ever allowed to visit a military nuclear site.

Some recommendations for our experts who are advising Biden:

Veteran Washington Post journalist David Ignatius says, “Sometimes in life, the best thing to do about a problem is nothing, at least initially. As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, that may be the best advice about the Middle East. Don’t hurry to restart nuclear negotiations with Iran. Setting that table will take a while, and our diplomacy should seek to stabilize the whole region – from Lebanon to Yemen – and not just revisit the Iranian nuclear file.”

WITH IRANIAN elections scheduled for 2021, the experts need to end the false distinction between Iranian good guys and bad guys, moderates vs. hardliners. President Hassan Rouhani was declared a moderate by the Obama administration and media, but in reality, he is the most moderate extremist in the Iranian leadership, as he is a true believer in the revolution’s goals.

He is an anti-American hardliner with a more moderate demeanor, who skillfully employs a foreign minister who hoodwinked an American secretary of state and his minions during the 2015 Iran negotiations.

Patience is the byword for the Biden Iran experts who are chomping at the bit to resurrect President Obama’s foreign policy legacy, blinded to the reality of Iranian leadership that will not fundamentally change and will continue to take advantage of Westerners who only see what they want to.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate and House of Representatives and their foreign policy advisers. He is senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward and Israel Hayom among others.

Kerry’s gift to Pompeo: The end of the Iran arms embargo this fall

In January 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had complied with all of its obligations under the JCPOA (nuclear deal). The Obama administration responded by saying, “That will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful.” At that time, the White House assured Congress and the American people that the deal would apply only to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, not to any of its other nefarious activities.

To reassure the majority of the American public who were against cutting a deal with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, the White House said, “Sanctions on conventional weapons, WILL REMAIN IN PLACE UNDER THE IRAN DEAL,” according to the official White House website whitehouse.gov. “UNDER THE IRAN DEAL, THE US WILL ONLY LIFT NUCLEAR-RELATION SANCTIONS,” again in bold letters for emphasis.

Yet last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was forced to start a process to extend the arms embargo on Iran that is scheduled to end this October. Didn’t president Obama promise that the nuclear agreement was only about nuclear issues?

In one of the great sleight of hands for any executive branch, especially for an administration that claimed it was the most transparent in history, the White House purposely obscured the fact that the JCPOA and the accompanying United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231 – which were supposed to enshrine the JCPOA in international law – were not the same document, allowing both the US and Iran to maintain a fiction on what the Iran deal really meant and what would be respected.

So it comes as a shock to the American people that any future administration would need to deal with Iranian conventional weapons purchases that Obama seemingly promised would not be part of the nuclear deal.

None of this should be a surprise.

Back in 2015, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi made it clear that they viewed the two documents as completely different.

A MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) translation of Araghchi’s comments said, “We told them [the Americans] explicitly [if you insist on including these articles on the arms and missile embargoes in the JCPOA], there is no agreement, and we will not accept an agreement in which embargoes on weapons and missiles continue.”

MEMRI commented at the time, “The Iranian perspective regarding UNSCR 2231 hinges entirely on its non-binding nature. Iran deems only the JCPOA to be binding… Iran insisted on relegating disputed issues [arms embargo, ballistic missiles] to UNSCR 2231.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said after the agreement, “There is nothing in the JCPOA about missiles, defense and weapons. Those that exist are in [UN Security Council] Resolution 2231…. In this new resolution, restrictions have been proposed instead of sanctions. The export and import of weapons have been converted from a permanent ban to a five-year restriction.”

Yet former secretary of state John Kerry and chief negotiator Wendy Sherman somehow spun losing out on a long-term ban and accepting a five-year restriction on conventional arms sales as a success. They said if they didn’t accept ending the ban in five years, the whole nuclear agreement would have fallen apart.

So they blinked and we are now dealing with a terrorist state being able to purchase sophisticated weapons systems in less than six months. They capitulated by moving anything objectionable to the Iranians to an obscure Annex B in UNSCR 2231.

That is how the Obama administration could technically say the JCPOA only dealt with nuclear-related activities, while transferring contested issues that were not respected by the ayatollah and the Revolutionary Guards to UNSCR 2231.

FAST FORWARD to May 2020, and we are only months away from Iran being able to buy any conventional weapons with full international approval. They will also be able buy ballistic missiles in just two more years.

So now Secretary Pompeo, for US security interests, is trying to extend the conventional arms embargo by a surprising tactic, claiming the US still remains part of the UNSCR 2231, even though it withdrew from the JCPOA. That is a fine line to walk.

The Obama administration created the fiction that the JCPOA and UNSC 2231 were the same, while using their differences when convenient. So you cannot cry foul when Pompeo is doing the same thing. This was the deck handed to him by Kerry.

According to David Sanger, writing in The New York Times, the Trump administration is developing a “strategy to pressure the UNSC to extend an arms embargo on Tehran, or see far more stringent sanctions reimposed.”

The strategy asserts that the US is still a participant of UNSCR 2231 but “only for the purpose of invoking a snapback of preexisting [sanctions].”

This will be an uphill battle, as Russia, China, Germany and France will claim that since Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, he also withdrew from UNSCR 2231. They would all like to sell arms to Iran (especially Russia, for a much-needed cash infusion in the post-COVID-19 era), while sticking a thumb in the eye of Donald Trump.

They ignore that the arms will strengthen Iranian hegemonic expansionism that has been crucial in supporting the Syrian genocide, or the reality that today the Iranian controlled militias have turned Iraq into an Iranian puppet. The proponents of the Iran nuclear deal can’t blame Trump for Iran’s ability to buy arms this fall; that is their work, and it would have happened on the watch of any president.

Germany, France and the UK were part of the Obama chorus that not only sold the JCPOA as a way to stop the Iranian nuclear program, but as a way to incentivize Iran to return to the family of nations. They all reassured skeptics that this would moderate Iranian behavior.

Considering that just 10 days after the JCPOA agreement Iran sent terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani to Russia to create a plan to carve up Syria, you would think that these democracies would be hesitant to sell weapons to Iran. The only thing that will stop Germany and France would be Trump sanctioning those countries’ industries for doing business with Iran. If they think they can get away with arms sales to Iran without financial penalty, they will. The UK under Boris Johnson may resist.

Pompeo’s strategy is to claim the US is still part of UNSCR 2231 and to use that leverage to either extend the arms embargo with a new UNSCR, or force the Security Council to institute snapback sanctions against Iran. No matter what one thinks about the Iran deal, the question remains: How can democracies, in good conscience, support selling arms to the Islamic Republic this fall?

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network) who regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report, and his work has appeared in The Hill, JNS, JTA, and Defense News.

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.