Biden on Iran: Reset of the Iran deal, Three-Pronged U.S. Strategy or let Israel do the job?
While Biden offended China, Russia and North Korea, it is interesting that he is so silent on Iran. Trump focused on China and Iran, Biden on China, Russia and North Korea, but not yet on Iran. Biden confronts North Korea because it launched some harmless short range missiles in the Japanese Sea, not harming anyone, just a show to gain some attention as the USA under Biden didn´t listen to KIm as Trump did. Trump silently accepted that North Korea was a nuclear power which would never denuclearize again after the experiences of Saddam Hussein and Ghaddafi-Lybia. Trump agreed on the term denuclearization of the Korean peninsula which would mean that North Korea and the US would abolish their nuclear weapons. As both sides won´t do ( as the US nuclear missiles not only target Northkorea, but also China and are integrated in the US strategic plans against China) ) , it was a silent agreement that North Korea could have its nuclear bomb, maybe reduce some facilities, but not to the point of total denuclearization and that it stops missile and nuclear tests and expecially medium range missiles or ICBMs that could target Japan or the USA. And a short range missile shot in the Asian Sea to gain some attention was tolerated by Trump, but not needed by North Korea. This was the silent „gentlemen´s agreement“ Trump and Kim decided. There was no written document or just a document nobody cared about, it was the silent compromise between two leaders who believe in the force of private agreements and trust i each other than in diplomatic defined and written long documents nobody understands. The „gentlemen agreemnt between Trump and Kim was, if you want to call them gentlemen, that the USA as not the enemy of North Korea, accepts its nuclear bomb, hopes that it will not ally with China against the USA, stops its nuclear and medium and intercontinantal misslie tests and will be no troublemake for the US anymore.
While mainstream media and diplomats focused on the written documents of the meetings, they didn´t understand the spirit between the two leaders and both sides. And you have to see where this gentlemen´s agreement started-at a situation when you thought it will come to a new Korean war as Trump declared that he will act with „fury and fire“ against North Korea and that it would not exist anymore after a confrontation with the US and that the „little fat rocket man is on a suicide mission“. However, the language and situation was understood ny Kim and they met besides all mutual blaming and made a compromise. Trump revolutionized the diplomatic affairs. Not diplomatic phrases, but clear talk and meeting directly with the enemy to come to a compromise while establishment Democrats and Republicans would have avoided any meeting with KIm, but hyporcriticaly met with lower ranks like Madeleine Albright during the engagement period. Trump didn´t want all this formular, diplomatic, selfrestricting forms and phrases, but to talk directly to his former enemy to convince him that they could have common interests, even in a neagtive sense and that they would not be enemies anymore.
Now Biden restarted the military drills against Northkorea in Asia and South Korea and demands full denuclearization of North Korea. The confrontational Axis of Evil policy as the softer engagement policy didn´t work in Northkorea as it independently from the US policy always had the target to have a nuclear deterence which it now has and won´t abolish anymore. And China won´t start a war or sanctions against North Korea to denuclearize it or let the US invade North Korea or do the job for the them. China´s main aim is stability and peace on the Korean peninsula and not a confrontation with North Korea or a regime change in North Korea which could lead to a pro-Western united Korea with US military bases against it and waves of refugees. Therefore China doesn´t like the Kim regime, has also good realtions with South Korea, tries to bring North Korea from its more Maostyled economy and society to the Chinese 4 modernizations under Deng or consumer driven new neototalitarian one-man dictatorship with a socal credit system as under Xi Jinping, a combination between Aldous Huxley´s consumerist Brave New World and George Orwell´s 1984, but tolerates it as China knows that the North Korean nuclear bomb never ever will be a threat to China. Many times all these scenarios and policy have been enacted or discussed and Trump just wanted to keep Kim Yongun in the box as Madeleine Albright wanted to keep Saddam Hussein in the box before George W. Bush opened the Pandora´s box.
Biden can still be credited with the fact that he has not been in office that long and has a lot to do with the corona crisis and internal problems, was also unable to write a new National Security Stratgey and has now commissioned a review of the North Korea Policy . But after his undiplomatic „killer „statements against Putin, the provocations against North Korea, the suspicion arises that he is trying to counter Trump’s accusation of Sleepy Joe by means of actionism, harsh rhetoric, careless maximum demands, young dynamic storming into press conferences and on airplane stairs. Sometimes he stumbles into youth madness, and not just once. It is noticeable, however, that he is silent on Iran and seems to ignore the problem, while he trumps in all other areas.
Biden now focuses on North Korea as he could get the spirit back into Pandora´s box and the bottle and prevent nuclear proliferation in the case of North Korea while not addressing Iran which still has no nuclear weapons but is on the best way to get them. While Iran is accelerating its uranium enrichment to build a nuclear bomb,signing a 25 year´s economic pact with China,is negotating with Russia, Turkey and China about a new order in the Greater Middle East in connection with China´s New Silkroad and the SCO, is further expanding in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, equips Hizbollah and Hamas with thousands modern medium range rockets in a „ring of fire“in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria for a potential attack on Israel, the Houthis are going in the offensive in Yemen and even attack Saudiarabia with drones and are rejecting Saudi offers for a peace dea in the hope to draw Saudiarabia in a quagmire, Biden has still yet not commented on that or send a strong message against Iran. He seems more preoccupoied with his criticism on the Kashoggi murderby MBS and against Netanjahu than against Iran.The question is also if he wants just to reset the old nuclear deal with its sunsets and loopholes or has another idea or has no idea at all how to manage the Iran problem. However, Republicans and neocons fear that Biden might just appease Iran with a new nuclear deal. Danielle Pletkka, senior fellow of the neocon think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) questions the sincerity of the Biden administration to make a new Iran policy, but fears a reset of the old wrong approach:
“Team Biden still backs failed Iran deal policy
March 17, 2021
When former President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal forged by his predecessor, ex-Obama administration officials were brutal in their condemnation, few more so than Colin Kahl, a former national security adviser to then-Vice President Joe Biden. Kahl tweeted, “War drums already sounding.” For Kahl and others who negotiated the pact, there could be no better deal with Iran, concerns expressed were a pretext for military conflict , and a key Biden foreign policy goal should be to return to it as soon as possible. As to those who nursed concerns that Iran would use the deal to advance its nuclear program, support terrorism, and menace Israel, he might use a characteristic retort: Imbeciles and idiots.
As Biden executes on his promise to return to the Obama-Biden Iran nuclear deal, it’s worth rehearsing what was wrong with it in the first place. As critics (and even som Obama vets) have noted, one of the biggest problems with it is the so-called “sunsets” – the fact that most of the constraints on Iran’s malign behavior disappear within years. Indeed, an international arms embargo already has. Restrictions on missiles are due to evaporate in 2023, on advanced centrifuges in 2024, and many remaining restrictions in 2025.
Another complaint is that while Team Obama addressed the Iranian nuclear file, it ignored Iran’s support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthis, glossed over Iran’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East, and looked away from one of the region’s worst human rights abusers. And finally, there is the troubling fact that Iran used its cash windfall of hundreds of billions to continue to support terrorism and war.
Because of these problems with the original Iran deal, senior Biden officials have suggested they will seek an “Iran deal plus,” implying the United States won’t simply be game to go back to the status quo ante. The question is whether those officials, including Kahl – nominated to be Undersecretary of Defense for Policy – can be believed as they change their tune in order to secure confirmation by the Senate.
In his hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, a low-key Kahl allowed that perhaps he had been wrong to suggest all the US funds transferred by the Obama administration to the Tehran regime would go “to butter” versus guns; he also insisted sanctions must remain in place until Iran returns to full compliance with the agreement. But there remains doubt in senators’ minds that a man who argiued that hoping for a better Iran deal “is a dangerous delusion” actually has any interest in negotiating a better one. Doubts that the person who once insisted there is no hope to “force Iran to accept a better deal—one that eliminates the JCPOA’s sunset clauses, dismantles a significant portion of Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal, ends Iranian support for terrorism and regional militancy, and addresses the regime’s systematic violation of human rights at home” is really going to try to do just that.
Therein lies the Biden administration’s problem: Senior officials like Secretary of State Antony Blinken have sought to convince a skeptical Congress that the US is “a long way” from a return to the Iran nuclear deal. But Biden’s choices tell another story. Kahl has enjoyed the most scrutiny, but former lead Iran negotiator Wendy Sherman – nominated to be deputy secretary of state – only underscores that what Team Biden says and what they intend to do are two different things. In her hearing, she told Senate Foreign Relations Committee members that the “facts on the ground have changed, the geopolitics of the region have changed, and the way forward must similarly change.” Four years ago, she said the exact opposite, noting that “there are many here in the United States who still believe that the deal should be ended. It’s never been clear to me what they think the alternative is.”
It’s only natural that a new president brings new policies. The real question is whether those policies will be—as advertised–truly new, or just the same failed ideas repackaged for a new day.
A similar discussion as regarding China between confrontation, regime change, congagement, coopetition or containment and the Longer Telegramm starts now also in the USA about Iran.Trying to make a synthesis between the failed confrontation policy and also the failed engagement policy Karim Sadjadpour from the Carnegie Foundation is advocating in The Atlantic for a containment policy which is combined by engagement to “build a tunnel for democracy” in Iran in the long term. Therefore he proposes a strange Three-Pronged U.S. Strategy in tradition of George Kennan and his containmentt, but modifies it:
“How to Win the Cold War With Iran
The Islamic Republic needs America as an enemy. America needs a strategy.
March 25, 2021
Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Before he became president, Joe Biden spent decades seeking reconciliation in the Middle East. By his second term as vice president, his frustration with feuding nations and factions was palpable. “Notwithstanding all of the hundreds of hours I and others spent with each of their leaders, they didn’t resolve a core problem of how the hell they’re gonna live together,” he told The New Yorker in 2014. “We can’t want unity and coherence … more than they want it.”
Today Biden’s presidential mandate is rebuilding unity and coherence in America, but Middle East crises will invariably beckon him. Foremost among these potential entanglements is an Iranian regime—eager for sanctions relief, but committed to maintaining its cold war with the United States—that has played an outsize role in every presidential administration since Jimmy Carter’s.
“At times during my administration we gamed out the scenarios for what a conflict with Iran would look like,” Barack Obama writes in his memoir A Promised Land. “I left those conversations weighed down by the knowledge that if war became necessary, nearly everything else I was trying to achieve would likely be upended.” Obama’s strategy was to negotiate a 2015 multinational agreement that successfully curtailed Iran’s nuclear program. Obama believed, his CIA director John Brennan wrote in his 2020 memoir, Undaunted, that the nuclear deal was “essential not only for regional stability but also to strengthen the influence of Iranian moderates, especially Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.”
Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. tried the opposite tack, exiting the nuclear deal and instead trying to coerce Tehran into capitulation or collapse. “Iran will be forced to make a choice,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in 2018. “Either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.” Yet Iran’s domestic brutality and regional ambitions continued, and its nuclear program expanded.
Today Biden must contend with an Iran that is advancing toward nuclear-weapons capability, is directly implicated in the world’s worst humanitarian crises, and gains leverage against other nations by threatening global economic and political stability. Tehran’s Syrian client, the dictator Bashar al-Assad, has fueled the greatest global refugee crisis since World War II, which in turn has fanned right-wing populism across Europe. The ongoing proxy war in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and another of Iran’s clients, the Houthi movement, has created a horrifying humanitarian crisis and the return of once-eradicated diseases. Iran’s proven ability to launch precision missile and dronestrikes against Saudi oil installations is a looming threat to world energy supplies and a harbinger of Middle East wars to come. Iran’s increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks have successfully targeted U.S. elections and commerce, as well as the critical infrastructure of U.S. allies.
While Trump’s experience with Iran proved that pressure alone does not work, Obama’s experience illustrated the challenges of engaging a regime whose primary interest, apart from staying in power, is opposing American influence. Given the perils of both action and inaction, Biden’s Iran strategy requires both the flexibility of a gymnast and the precision of a surgeon to cooperate with Iran when possible, confront Iran when necessary, and contain Iran with the help of partner nations.
Consider just one of the challenges: America’s eagerness to coax Tehran back into nuclear compliance, and our fear of jeopardizing the nuclear deal’s revival, might inhibit—whether consciously or unconsciously—our commitment to deter Iran’s regional provocations and domestic brutality, signaling to Iran and its proxies that it can continue to act with impunity. At the same time, our efforts to discourage Iranian provocations risk pulling us into regional proxy wars that we have no interest in fighting and that Iran can easily escalate.
Despite the urgent security challenges that Iran presents, a U.S. strategy that focuses only on the nuclear and regional ambitions of the Iranian government while overlooking the democratic ambitions of the Iranian people ignores the lessons of how the Cold War ended. Can the United States use pressure and diplomacy to effectively constrain not only Iran’s nuclear program and regional influence, but also its domestic authoritarianism? This is Biden’s challenge. He needs a strategic framework that sees Iran for what it is.
The Nature of the Islamic Republic
After the 1979 revolution transformed Iran from a pro-American monarchy into an anti-American theocracy, seven U.S. presidents tried and failed to change the U.S.-Iran relationship, Iran’s behavior, or the Iranian regime altogether. Throughout this period the Islamic Republic has proved adept at surviving but, like many revolutionary regimes, incapable of reforming. American expertise about Iran has suffered from four decades of diplomatic estrangement—the State Department has more Albanian speakers than Persian speakers—but the continuity of Iran’s revolutionary ideology reveals the character of the Iranian regime.
Iran’s physical size (75 times larger than Israel, four times larger than Germany), geostrategic location, enormous natural resources, ideological zeal, and cultivation of foreign militias have afforded it a major role in a wide range of global-security and humanitarian challenges, including Islamist radicalism, energy security, cyberwarfare, nuclear proliferation, and wars in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Although Henry Kissinger once observed that “there are few nations in the world with which the United States has less reason to quarrel and more compatible interests than Iran,” Tehran’s leaders have continually prioritized opposition to the United States ahead of the welfare and security of its people. This was evident most recently when the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, banned American-made COVID-19 vaccines, despite Iran being among the countries worst hit by the virus.
The 81-year-old Khamenei is among the world’s longest-serving autocrats. Since inheriting power from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, he has not left Iran, and his careful cultivation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—Iran’s most powerful institution—has helped him enfeeble potential rivals, including four Iranian presidents, and crush dissent. Despite appearances of competing power centers, Khamenei also has effective control over the Islamic Republic’s Guardian Council, Assembly of Experts, and Expediency Council—all institutions that nominally provide oversight but actually serve to buttress his authority.
Like Trump’s now-suspended Twitter feed, Khamenei’s public statements have proved a reliably accurate window into the leader’s soul. Khamenei, whose vitriol against the United States has been remarkably consistent for more than four decades, couches his anti-Americanism in revolutionary themes of justice and anti-imperialism. But like many autocrats, he serves his self-interest by maintaining an external adversary. As the American diplomat George Kennan once observed about the U.S.S.R., “The menace confronting Soviet society from the world outside its borders is founded not in the realities of foreign antagonism but in the necessity of explaining away the maintenance of dictatorial authority at home.”
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who favored détente with the United States, told me in 2008 that Khamenei would instist to him that the Islamic Republic “needs enmity with America, the revolution needs enmity with America.” The political scientist Mahmood Sariolghalam, an erstwhile adviser to senior Iranian officials including President Hassan Rouhani,wrote in a 2018 essay that anti-Americanism is the “raison d’être” of the Islamic Republic of Iran. “This has less to do with the nature of the American system,” he wrote, “and more to do with the fact that Iran has turned anti-Americanism into an identity.” Ideological opposition to the United States, Sariolghalam explained, “serves to perpetuate Iran’s revolutionary domestic political order.”
So long as Khamenei remains the supreme leader, the United States can at best expect tactical compromises from his government, not major shifts in the country’s internal and external policies. Khamenei has long believed that reforming the ideological principles of the Islamic Republic would accelerate, not prevent, its collapse, just as perestroika hastened the Soviet Union’s demise. His instincts are corroborated by some of history’s most astute political philosophers, including Machiavelli and Tocqueville, who argued that “the most perilous moment for a bad government is one when it seeks to mend its ways.” Even Khamenei’s death might not alter Iran’s near-term disposition, as the next supreme leader is likely to be an Iranian Raul Castro—a successor handpicked for his commitment to the status quo.
Even as the Islamic Republic continues to confound outside observers, decades of elections that produce no lasting change have shown Iranian citizens how power is really exercised in Tehran. Two parallel regimes are working in concert. A deep state of security and intelligence forces, reporting to Khamenei, will continue to build nuclear facilities, cultivate regional militias,seize foreign ships,crush popular dissent, take Western hostages , and conduct assassinations. A weak state—consisting of apparatchiks and civil servants authorized to speak to Western officials—will continue to vehementlydeny and subsequently defend those activities, of which they usually have no advanced knowledge. Rather than a genuine battle between “hard-line” and “reformist” factions, Iran’s deep state will continue to have power without accountability, while Iran’s weak state will continue to lack power and deflect accountability.
A Three-Pronged U.S. Strategy
Although Iran will continue to trigger the most polarizing foreign-policy debates in Washington, the broad contours of a bipartisan Iran strategy are apparent. Republican members of Congress passionately oppose both the Iranian regime and Obama’s nuclear deal, but they also recognize that their constituents oppose another U.S. conflict in the Middle East. While American Democrats are generally supportive of engaging Iran and returning to the nuclear deal,70 percent of them have an “unfavorable” view of Iran, and even prominent progressives have concluded that, “like the Soviet Union 30 years ago, the Iranian regime sooner or later will crumble under the weight of its own failures.”
Indeed, while the scale of today’s Iranian threat—at least to the United States—pales in comparison to the danger the Soviet Union posed after World War II, the strategy used to contain, counter, and communicate with the U.S.S.R. remains the soundest template for Iran. It is a strategy that supports diplomacy and seeks to avoid war, while mindful that the Iranian regime’s hostility toward the United States is driven by its own self-interest. Like the Soviet Union, the Islamic Republic of Iran is willing to subject its population to enduring repression and economic hardship rather than compromise its ideological principles.
In his classic work Strategies of Containment, the Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis noted that America’s successful containment of the Soviet Union—conceived by the famed Cold Warrior George Kennan—had three critical parts: fortifying American allies and partners (including Iran, in 1946); fragmenting the international Communist movement; and employing both pressure and inducements to attempt to “modify Soviet behavior.” These objectives were not in tension with one another, but rather cohered into a mutually reinforcing strategy. Kennan implored the United States to be firm, patient, and confident that American democracy would eventually prevail over Soviet dictatorship.
A variation of this three-pronged approach should be the basis of Biden’s policy toward Iran. It would be unrealistic to expect nuclear nonproliferation, regional security, and Iranian civil rights to be discussed in one negotiation, But these three areas should be viewed as complementary, rather than conflicting, pieces of a unified strategy. Such an approach will help ensure that, if Biden manages to revive the nuclear deal, the terms will outlive his presidency.
Deferring Iran’s Nuclear Challenge
Because virtually 100 percent of Iranian trade is with countries other than the United States, American attempts to contain Iran will fail if Tehran believes that it has reliable economic and strategic partners in Asia, Europe, and Russia. History has shown, however, that building a global consensus that Iran is in the wrong first requires a clear-eyed U.S. effort to engage the Islamic Republic.
In A Promised Land, Obama recounts how, weeks after taking office in 2009, he sent a secret letter to Khamenei, suggesting a U.S.-Iran dialogue on a range of issues, including Iran’s nuclear program. Khamenei’s hostile response, Obama writes, was tantamount to a “middle finger.” The Obama administration’s numerous unrequited overtures to Iran—coupled with U.S. intelligence outing an Iranian clandestine nuclear site—would play a critical role in persuading Europe, China, and Russia that the chief obstacle to compromise was Tehran, not Washington. This set the table for the global pressure campaign that, together with rigorous diplomacy, spawned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
The Trump administration had four years to prove the alternative thesis—that an increase in American pressure and an absence of American diplomacy could break the Iranian regime. Although Trump subjected Iran to enormous economic deprivation and humiliation—including the January 2020 assassination of its top military commander, Qassem Soleimani—its regime closed ranks, its nuclear program grew twelvefold, and its regional influence remained intact despite diminished expenditures. In short, the lone policy that has exerted any influence over Iranian behavior has been a combination of significant international pressure and tough U.S. diplomacy.
The Biden administration’s foremost challenge at the moment is how to revive the nuclear deal.
In theory, this should not be difficult; Washington wants to undo Iran’s nuclear progress, and Iran cannot reverse its economic decline without a full or partial restoration of an agreement. Although the domestic politics of both Washington and Tehran, enormous mutual mistrust, and tactical disagreements have so far impeded the deal’s revival, these obstacles should eventually prove surmountable.
What will prove far more challenging is the Biden administration’s stated intention to “lengthen and strengthen” the nuclear deal—that is, to extend sunset clauses that expire as early as 2023 and to expand the scope of the deal to include nonnuclear concerns, such as Iran’s dissemination of precision missiles to its regional proxies. Critics of Biden’s approach believe that his administration should attempt to strengthen the deal before rejoining it—using the Trump administration’s sanctions as leverage—rather than afterward. Regardless of the sequencing, any U.S. attempts to fortify the agreement will invariably be met with fierce opposition from Iran; the same pressure the Biden administration must cede in order to revive the JCPOA might once again need to be wielded in order to improve the agreement.
For advisers who favor a swift return to the JCPOA, the calculation is simple: Should Biden begin his presidency with a potential escalatory crisis with Iran in the middle of a pandemic, or should he defer that possibility? Biden’s (mostly Republican) critics, in turn, cite Henry Kissinger’s dictum that “competing pressures tempt one to believe that an issue deferred is a problem avoided; more often it is a crisis invited.”
The task of potentially reassembling a global coalition to strengthen the nuclear deal will prove challenging, but the European Union, Russia, and China all support the underlying goal of preventing an Iranian bomb. Marshaling a global response to Iran’s regional ambitions will be harder, because China prefers neutrality, Russia is allied with Iran in supporting Assad in Syria, and Europeans fear provoking Tehran. Nevertheless, Iran remains among the world’s most strategically isolated nations. Russia has ignored Israel’s repeate dattacks on Iranian outposts in Syria, Chinese trade with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates exceeds its trade with Iran, and European popular views on Iran—which is holding several European nationals hostage—are just assjaundiced as American popular opinion. Russia and China are particularly sensitive about respecting national sovereignty, often the gravest concern of Iran’s regional rivals.
How Iran Fills Regional Power Vacuums
No other region in the world threatens global stability like the Middle East, and no country in the Middle East has benefited more from regional instability than Iran. Tehran’s sizable influence in four embattled Arab countries—Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen—is attributable to the power vacuums created by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the 2011 Arab uprisings, and decades of failed governance. Arab disorder facilitates Iranian ambitions, and Iranian ambitions exacerbate Arab disorder.
Iran’s regional policy has three pillars: opposing the United States, opposing Israel, and opposing Saudi Arabia. Tehran has pursued these ends by cultivating a network of foreign militias—modeled on the Lebanese organization Hezbollah—whose total size is estimated at between 50,000 and 200,000 men. As the Middle East’s lone theocracy, Iran has managed to harness Islamist radicalism—both Shia and, at times, Sunni—more effectively than any of its peers. Indeed, although the Iran-Saudi rivalry is commonly viewed as a sectarian war between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s huge asymmetric advantage over Riyadh is that virtually all Shia radicals are willing to fight for Iran, whereas virtually all Sunni radicals, including the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, want to overthrow the Saudi government.
While Iran-Saudi détente might be possible, Tehran has made clear that it will never recognize Israel. Iran’s leaders routinely call Israel a “cancerous tumor” that must be “annihilated,” engage in Holocaust revisionism, and write “Death to Israel” on their weaponry. In addition to talking the talk, Tehran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas; has amassed, via Hezbollah, more than 100,000 rocket and missiles in Lebanon that are pointed at Israel; and is actively building military bases in Syria to open an additional front against the Jewish state. Israel has retaliated by allegedly conducting half a dozen assasination of nuclear scientists inside Iran, more than 200bombings of Iranian outposts in Syria, and devastating cyberattacks that have sabotaged Iranian infrastructure and nuclear facilities. “In war and fighting,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif once told me, citing a Persian proverb, “they don’t distribute sweets.”
Although Iranian influence in the Middle East cannot be eliminated, it can be more effectively exposed, countered, and contained. The JCPOA proved that a combination of global pressure and sustained American diplomacy in pursuit of a viable end game—restraining rather than eradicating Iran’s nuclear program—was achievable. A similar formula should be used to meaningfully restrain, rather than wholly eradicate, Iran’s regional influence. This would not require Arab nations or citizens to outwardly accept Iranian violations of their sovereignty. But Arab governments would have to seek enforceable limits on specified forms of misconduct by Tehran, rather than simply demanding, as Saudi Arabia’s then foreign minister flatly did in 2018, that Iran “get out” of the Arab world.
The JCPOA was a highly detailed 159-page document that carefully described how Iran’s nuclear program would be restrained and subjected to greater transparency. America’s regional allies must provide similarly concrete prescriptions for how to limit Iranian support for regional proxies and violations of their sovereignty. Just as the JCPOA offered Tehran positive inducements for compromise, Gulf Arab nations should be prepared to talk not only about their concerns and demands, but also about avenues for mutual cooperation. Climate change—which could soon render parts of both Iran and the Arab world too hot for human habitability—is an obvious start.
Mutual fears about Iran and a U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East helped the Trump administration midwife the normalization of relations between Israel and several Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Yet the most potent defense against Iranian regional encroachment will be the building of cohesive Arab states and national identities, just as the nationalism of Soviet subjects played a critical role in countering Communist ideology.
Although Lebanese Hezbollah and elements of Iraq’sPopular Mobilization Forces effectively operate as wings of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Tehran can no longer take for granted its continued popular support among Arab Shia. In November 2019, Iraqi protesters attacked and set fire to Iranian consulates in Najaf and Karbala—two Shiite shrine cities that are longtime Iranian strongholds—and Lebanese Shiites protested Hezbollah in the southern city of Nabatieh. Opinion polls show that more than half of Arab Shia now hold an “unfavorable” view of Iran. Despite their grievances at home, few Arab Shia view Iran’s theocracy as a model to emulate.
Arms Controllers Didn’t End the Cold War
After Trump’s first year in power, Americans generally understood that his character was unlikely to change. After 42 years in power, many Iranians understand even more clearly that the character of the Islamic Republic is unlikely to change. Virtually all of the conduct the regime has exhibited since its inception—hostage taking; the cultivation of regional militias; the persecution of women, religious minorities, LGBTQ people, and free thinkers—have proceeded with the same intensity. Tehran’s official slogan of “Death to America” has also continued uninterrupted throughout both Republican and Democratic U.S. administrations. In the words of former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael Mc Faul, “Arms controllers didn’t end the Cold War with the Soviet Union; democrats inside Russia and other Soviet republics did.” Similarly, the U.S.-Iran cold war will likely be concluded not by American diplomats but by Iranian democrats.
Until now, Washington’s attempts to elicit political change in Tehran have failed. Efforts to empower reformists within the Iranian regime against hard-line rivals have shown little signs of success; reformists lack the will, and hard-liners have all the guns. U.S. attempts to incite uprisings among unarmed, unorganized, and leaderless Iranian civilians against a heavily armed and organized repressive apparatus have also achieved little. The Islamic Republic has repeatedly shown willingness to throttle the internet and murder thousands of its citizens in the dark, as it did most recently in Novemeber 2019. In authoritarian countries, change requires not only popular pressure but also divisions within the elite. When the entirety of a regime and its security apparatus believe that they must either kill or be killed—such as in Syria—they unreservedly embrace option A.
Although the United States lacks the ability to reform or remove the Islamic Republic, it does have the capacity to meaningfully champion Iranian civil rights. Just as the Reagan administration negotiated arms-control agreements with Soviet leaders while also expressing solidarity with freedom-seeking Soviet subjects, renewed nuclear talks between the United States and Iran should not deter the Biden administration from countering Iranian authoritarianism, such as Tehran’s aspirations to control the information and communications of its citizens by building a walled-off national internet akin to China’s. The Biden administration should also work with European and Asian allies to ensure that their eventual resumption of business ties with Iran does not simply enrich Revolutionary Guard companies and cronies at the expense of Iranian civil society.
Opponents of the Islamic Republic, both inside Iran and in the region, fear that a revival of the nuclear deal will strengthen the regime. Yet history has proved that political dissent is not usually triggered by crushing poverty, but—according to what’s known as the J-cuvre theory—when a society’s improving economic circumstances lead to elevated expectations that go unfulfilled. For this reason, the near-term economic improvements that might result from a removal of U.S. sanctions are likelier in the medium and long term to destabilize the Islamic Republic rather than entrench it. The more that Iranians understand that what stands between them and a better future is their own leadership, not Washington’s, the more the country’s most potent ideology—Iranian nationalism—will be harnessed against the regime rather than in service of it.
For this reason, the Biden presidency presents both an opportunity and a challenge to Tehran’s leadership. A revival of the nuclear deal might help reverse Iran’s economic decline, but it would also make it more difficult for the Islamic Republic to continue blaming the United States for its myriad failures. As Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian academic recently released from captivity in Iran, told me, “So many people in prison were breathing a sigh of relief that Trump lost the election. The Revolutionary Guards, however, were undoubtedly disappointed.”
While the Guards’ use of fear and coercion might be able to indefinitely sustain the Islamic Republic’s internal contradictions, this should not be mistaken for popular legitimacy. In an impassioned speech during a 1986 congressional hearing on South African apartheid, then Senator Joe Biden told Secretary of State George Schultz that America’s “loyalty is not to South Africa, it’s to South Africans!” Similarly, the Biden administration’s commitment to reviving the Iran nuclear deal should not obscure the fact that America’s loyalty and interests lie not with Iran’s regime, but with its people.
Building the Tunnel
No matter which route the Biden administration chooses, America’s Iran strategy will continue to trigger fierce global disagreement, given the high stakes. It directly impacts the security and well-being of not only tens of millions of Iranians but also tens of millions of Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Yemenis, Israelis, and Gulf Arabs—people who view Iran as either an indispensable ally or an existential threat. For opponents of the Iranian regime, no amount of U.S. pressure will be sufficient; for allies and supporters of the Iranian regime, no amount of U.S. pressure is justified.
In a 2019 essay in The Atlantic, Jake Sullivan—now Biden’s national security adviser—wrote that “the U.S. needs to adopt the foreign-policy version of the serenity prayer: Grant us the wisdom to know the difference between those things we can change and those we cannot.” Throughout America’s 42-year absence from Iran, successive U.S. administrations have at times failed to understand this distinction. Americans can constrain Iran’s nuclear and missile programs; we cannot eliminate them. We should stand for civil and human rights in Iran; we cannot engineer regime change. We can limit and expose destructive Iranian policies in the Middle East; we cannot expunge Iranian influence from the region. We can attempt to manage our differences with Iran; we cannot force a rapprochement with a regime that needs us as an adversary.
As in all dictatorships that lack democratic mechanisms for renewal and use greater repression as their primary tool for managing dissent, history is not on the side of the Islamic Republic. While most modern economies try to better understand how to promote technological innovation, combat climate change, and foster diversity, Iran’s elderly clerical rulers sell fossil fuels to sustain and export an intolerant revolutionary ideology. Iranian officials themselves admit that the resulting brain drain costs the country $150 billion annually, far more than the country’s oil revenuie. This economic, political, and social malaise will eventually force a reckoning that U.S. policy should be designed to facilitate, not impede.
The tragic history of modern Iran, and U.S.-Iran relations, evokes the late Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres’s observation about the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. “The good news is there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Peres said. “The bad news is there is no tunnel.”
After four decades of the Islamic Republic, the light in Iran is a young, dynamic, educated society that aspires to live like South Koreans, not North Koreans—prosperously and at peace with the world. Although the tunnel from Iranian theocracy to Iranian democracy might take years to build, its completion is the single most important key to transforming the Middle East.
Karim Sadjadpour is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he focuses on Iran and U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East. He is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.
However, commentators in Israel don´t trust the Biden adminstration and the USA anymore, think they won´t really deter Iran, retreat from the Middle East—therefore Israel had to fill the vacuum and the USA should arm Israel with the proper weapons, especially with B-52 and MOP, let Israel deter or even attack Iran.Some Israelis think the USA after their desasters in the Greater Middle East cannot fulfil their role in the Middle East, will lead no war against Iran anymore due to its shift to the Asian pivot and China and at the moment North Korea:. Therefore let Israel do the job to deter or attack Iran.
“Israel needs the B-52 and MOP in order to deter Iran – opinion
Knowing Israel can destroy their nuclear sites will deter Iran from trying to produce a nuclear weapon.
By EHUD EILAM
MARCH 21, 2021 08:15
US President Joe Biden´s administration seeks to negotiate with Iran. If it does not work, the US will have to deter Iran from producing nuclear weapons. Another scenario is that the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, might survive and even be improved following future negotiations.
It would include strict monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, but this will not be sufficient. Deterrence will also be required. Negotiations will deficiently be needed when the JCPOA expires – or even before that if Iran assumes it has the opportunity to produce the bomb. This could happen if the US is deeply busy with a major crisis somewhere, such as with China. Either way deterrence, based on boosting Israel’s military capabilities, should be part of the effort to make sure Iran does not try to produce a nuclear weapon
Israel can help, especially since the US wants to reduce its commitments in the Middle East. In a way, Israel could replace the US in deterring Iran. It will make it easier for the US and actually for Israel too. Although Israel needs its American patron relying on Israel’s strength works for Israel. It has been its traditional approach: to depend on itself as much as possible, particularly in military affairs. It requires having a big stick i.e. holding the arsenal needed to deter Iran.
In late 2020 there was a bipartisan bill in the US congress aimed at providing Israel with a giant bunker-buster bomb capable of destroying Iran’s heavily protected nuclear sites. Israel also needs the B-52 to carry that huge bomb. Knowing Israel can destroy their nuclear sites will deter Iran from trying to produce a nuclear weapon.
If Iran tries to produce a nuclear weapon, Israel will rush to attack with its available arsenal out of desperation. It might not be enough to destroy heavily protected Iranian sites. The US does not want to urge Israel to attack Iran let alone if this raid escalates into a war, one that might drag the US into it. If Israel is better armed it might not be necessarily bring a strike against Iran. Instead, Israel can deter Iran from producing a nuclear weapon to begin with.
Iran’s best fighters – such as the MIG-29 and F-14 – are almost obsolete. They would not be much of a match to Israel’s superior aircraft. The Israel Air Force has also advanced air-to-air missiles and worldwide reputation in air to air combat. The IAF can reach Iran and overcome Iran’s air defenses and air force. Israel’s main problem will be to penetrate Iran’s highly protected nuclear sites, such as the one in Fordow. The IAF has bunker buster bombs, the GBU-28, but they can’t crack the fortification of targets like Fordow. For that mission the IAF requires the MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator), a US made bomb that weighs 30,000 pounds.
Israel needs its American patron to provide the IAF not only with the MOP, but also with a heavy bomber to carry that huge bomb. The IAF does not have heavy bombers, only fighter-bombers: the F-15, F-16 and F-35. Israel should not ask for the B-2, but for the B-52. The veteran B-52 is quite old, which will make it easier for the US to give a few B-52s to Israel.
Israel should at least get the MOP. Getting the B-52 faces difficulties of arms control.
Even without the B-52, the IAF might manage to drop the MOP from its C-130, a transport plane. Iran’s air defense, mostly its advanced systems, the S-300, will jeopardize the B-52 or C-130, but the IAF might be able to suppress antiaircraft fire. It will be a dangerous and complicated mission, but the IAF took high risks in the past. It is worth it, considering the importance of the task.
The IAF should receive the MOP – let alone the B-52 – as soon as possible since it will take time, maybe even a few years, to assimilate the B-52. The IAF is capable and skilled enough to quickly adjust, but it will be a toll order to be ready to use the B-52 in a short time. The idea is to prepare if the talks with Iran fail or if the JCPOA, in its current version or an improved one, expires and Iran rushes to have nuclear weapons. When the IDF is ready, Israel can deter Iran from producing nuclear weapons. It can prevent an Israeli attack on Iran and even a war. This will serve a basic interest of both Israel and the US.
The writer has been dealing and studying Israel’s national security for more than 25 years. He served in the IDF and later worked for the Defense Ministry as a researcher. He has a PhD and has published six books in the US and UK.