March 14, 2022 | Israel Hayom

A chance for a ‘longer and stronger’ deal, rather than a contract of capitulation

The halt to the Vienna nuclear talks due to Russia's demand that sanctions on it exclude trade with Iran, have led to a watershed moment to expose the dangers of the deal.
March 14, 2022 | Israel Hayom

A chance for a ‘longer and stronger’ deal, rather than a contract of capitulation

The halt to the Vienna nuclear talks due to Russia's demand that sanctions on it exclude trade with Iran, have led to a watershed moment to expose the dangers of the deal.

Unexpectedly, the world powers have decided on an unspecified halt to the negotiations for a new nuclear deal with Iran.

Russian envoy to the talks Mikhail Ulyanov – who was interviewed a few days ago and expressed pride (justifiable, his opinion) that under his leadership and with help from the Chinese, the Iranians were about to receive a much better deal than they could have hoped for in their wildest dreams – fell into line with orders from Moscow and led to a freeze in the talks. But he wasn’t acting alone.

The round of talks last week was surprising from the opening gambit. Although the leading EU representative declared that they were no longer negotiations but rather political decisions, each side arrived with demands, both new and old.

The Iranians laid out at least three new demands: that the list of entities to be removed from the sanctions list be reopened and include the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its terrorist arms; precisely-worded guarantees and compensatory mechanisms should the US withdraw from the agreement again; and a promise about the final result of the IAEA’s open investigations, due in June.

The Americans made a new demand that the Iranians commit to stopping their aggression in the Persian Gulf, including the launch of a direct communications channel between Iran and the US. Even the Chinese appear to have made demands having to do with restrictions placed on them in the past that have nothing to do with the Iran nuclear negotiations.

Still, it appears that the demand that broke the camel’s back was when Russia asked that the sanctions applied to them in response to the Ukraine invasion exempt trade with the Iranian market, which was due to reopen after the deal was signed.

The disadvantages of the deal

At the moment, the negotiations have been frozen, but because all sides want a deal, it is likely that we will soon see them start again. Because most of the demands, other than that of Russia, are issues that can be resolved, it is important at this time to lay out the disadvantages and dangers of the deal and point out steps that Israel will have to take (apparently on its own) if it is signed, or with the US and other partners if it is not.

The nascent agreement, spearheaded by Russia and China, has the full support of the American team, led by Robert Malley, minus those senior team members who have resigned because of his ineffectual conduct. This deal is both bad and dangerous, and it allows Iran to secure a nuclear bomb in the next few years, which will lead to a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East.

The deal, which is partly based on the 2015 agreement, hasn’t solved a single one of the fundamental problems, and adds new ones. A “proper” agreement would ensure that Iran will not become a nuclear threshold state and certainly not a nuclear one, but the many mistakes made in the negotiations did not allow anything close to a deal of that kind.

The deal does not have the tools or leverage to force the Iranians into another round of negotiations for a “longer and stronger” agreement, as Biden promised. According to the timeline of the original deal, the limitations on Iran’s nuclear program are due to expire soon, and will certainly expire now that a future deal will not be signed within the next few months.

The deal that has been reached is based only on good will and will give the Iranians everything they want, and more – without demanding nearly anything in return, other than a stop to some of their more blatant violations of the deal, especially since Biden was elected president.

Dangers and harm

The world powers will almost immediately (in 2025) lose any practical ability to reestablish  the snapback mechanism, which allowed sanctions to be reapplied, leaving them without any way of pressuring the Iranians, who – very soon after the deal is signed – will see assets worth hundreds of billions of dollars released.

The future of the IAEA’s open investigations met with an embarrassing defeat after IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi’s visit to Vienna. The sides presented the agreements as an achievement because unlike the decision to close the handling of PMD under the 2015 deal, this time, the signing won’t end the investigations.

The IAEA closed the investigation into illegal use of metal uranium, and left three cases open, in which Iran must respond by the time the IAEA Board of Governors meets in June. Can anyone doubt that after the deal is signed, no one will dare demand real answers from the Iranians or threaten the deal? Even without a deal, it doesn’t look like anything will happen in June. The stature of the IAEA, which is supposed to oversee the deal, has been irreparably damaged, but if the deal fell apart it might be possible to repair the harm.

The deal also does not address oversight of activity to develop its weapons systems (Section T). It appears that a secret 2015 agreement between the Russians, the Iranians, and the Americans, about a lack of intention to enforce that section, is still in effect. We can assume that the new draft agreement also includes secret documents and side deals.

In addition, the deal includes an almost immediate lifting of most of the sanctions – including ones applied to organizations, institutions, and individuals – regardless of the nuclear program. And this comes at a time when the Iran-backed Houthis are attacking oil facilities in Riyadh and threatening an escalation, and the Iranians are firing precision ballistic missiles at American targets in Iraq. There can be no bigger prize for Shiite terrorism.

The goal: To weaken Iran

Whether or not the deal is signed, it is important to now expose all the problematic details and create a wave of opposition to it in the US Congress going into the midterm elections.

This is a watershed opportunity to make opposition to the deal a bilateral issue and bring some Democrats on board so a message can be sent that business as usual with the Iranians is very dangerous. This is why the Iranians asked for an addendum outlining understandings stipulating that they are the ones who will decide if the US (and Britain) will leave the deal, and ensure that if so, Iran is compensated by receiving legitimacy to enrich uranium to 60%, as well as permission to set up thousands of advanced centrifuges.

In the mid- and long-term, Israel has to prepare for a campaign to weaken Iran in every way possible – economically, diplomatically, militarily, politically, through cyber, kinetic means, soft and legal tools, and more – and invest the appropriate resources in every aspect of this, like it has already begun to do.

Iran’s leader must realize that the era is over in which the head of the hydra stays invulnerable while it reaches out (through satellites in the Middle East and the Gulf) to attack and destabilize. This change first appeared in the defense outlook Netanyahu published in 2018, and to which Prime Minister Bennett recently returned.

Responsibility for the campaign to weaken Iran should be assigned to the Mossad, the IDF, and the Shin Bet security agency, in conjunction with the Foreign Ministry and the political leadership, through the National Security Council. It is crucial to build a mechanism that can carry messages to the international audience, especially in the US, that underscore the direct and expected nuclear threat to every US city after Iran finishes testing its intercontinental ballistic missiles. If the deal isn’t signed, this could be done in partnership with the American administration.

Rather than exerting maximum financial pressure combined with a credible military threat, the US was ready to sign a dangerous, disgraceful “contract of capitulation” in Vienna. The halt to the talks has created an unplanned opportunity for the US and Israel to build a joint plan that will force Iran to move quickly toward a “longer, stronger deal,” one that would truly block its path to a nuclear weapon.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Professor Jacob Nagel is a former national security adviser to the prime minister and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Meir Ben-Shabbat, a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, served as Israel’s national security adviser and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021.

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