The Iranian nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), struck in mid-July by the P5+1, led by US President Barack Obama, poses a grave danger to peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond on two different levels. It not only fails to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons capability, it also actually strengthens Teheran in its efforts to destablise neighbouring states, its support for terrorism and its determination to achieve regional hegemony.
The deal licenses Iran as a nuclear threshold state and provides two paths for Iran to turn that status into an arsenal of nuclear weapons – firstly, through cheating on the agreement’s inadequate inspection and enforcement provisions, and secondly through adhering to the deal until, in 10 to 12 years, Iran is permitted to expand its nuclear infrastructure without limits. As Obama himself conceded in April, breakout time will then drop to effectively zero, meaning Iran can build a nuclear arsenal before anyone can stop it.
However, Iran could seek a path to nuclear weapons even earlier through subterfuge.
Nuclear inspectors will not be given unfettered access to suspected nuclear sites but instead must give Iran at least 24 days notice before any inspections take place – and experts are now pointing to numerous ways in which Iran could stretch this out to months. This will provide plenty of time to move incriminating materials and scrub out nuclear residues.
Furthermore, the agreement effectively prevents imposition of penalties for minor to moderate Iranian violations. The only recourse available is to reimpose sanctions through the UN Security Council – a move the agreement acknowledges will immediately end all Iran’s obligations under the pact altogether. Security Council members won’t do this except in the face of the most blatant and unequivocal cheating by Iran. Iranian leaders are smart enough to cheat deniably and incrementally so this will not happen.
Yet almost as bad as the nuclear concessions is the way in which what was supposed to be a diplomatic solution to prevent a dangerous rogue state from building a nuclear bomb has evolved grotesquely into what is, in practice, a Western-assisted effort to tilt the balance of power in the Middle East in Iran’s favour.
Obama says Iran’s rogue state behaviour – “its support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilise parts of the Middle East” – is totally separate from the nuclear deal.
Yet it is not separate – whatever its effect on Iran’s nuclear program, this agreement is unequivocally likely to make Iran’s destablising rogue behaviour and support for terrorism worse. Moreover, while the US Administration insists that it will continue its efforts to counter that behaviour, the deal will actually make it harder to do so.
The agreement gives Iran around US$150 billion worth of immediate sanctions relief and will also provide tens of billions annually of continued economic benefits in subsequent years without any obligation upon Iran to moderate its outlaw behaviour.
Even senior US officials admit that they expect Iran will use some of the windfall to increase its sponsorship of global terror though Hezbollah and arming its allies and proxies such as the Assad regime in Syria and Hamas in Gaza.
Furthermore, the agreement ends the arms embargo on Iran in five years and ballistic missile embargo in eight, but even the restrictions currently in place haven’t prevented Iran from buying a potentially game-changing cutting edge S-300 air defence system from Russia.
This means that, even if the nuclear controls were completely effective, Iran will be greatly strengthened through conventional weapons bought from sanctions relief money, able to throw its weight around regionally, and also increasingly able to deter any future military strike on its nuclear facilities when it decides to stage a nuclear breakout.
In addition, the JCPOA effectively bars any new sanctions against Iran or the bodies it uses to foment regional mischief. Moreover, as Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz recently noted, the re-entry of Iran’s banks into the international SWIFT system for transferring money will allow Iran to “more easily move funds to terrorists’ coffers, foment conflict around the region, and possibly even procure equipment for a clandestine weapons program.”
This means that for all the US Administration’s talk about continuing US and international efforts against Iran’s rogue behaviour, not only will Iran’s ability to carry out such efforts be strengthened, but a series of key tools for countering or containing that behaviour have been relinquished.
Yet we are told this is all necessary – that opening the floodgates of money and arms to Iran in exchange for a temporary pause in Iran’s nuclear research and development program is the best deal that could have been achieved, and the only other option was war.
This is nonsense. The alternative to this bad, dangerous Iranian nuclear deal was not war, but a better deal. David Horovitz, in this edition, explains what that might look like and how it was achievable.
In the coming weeks in the US Congress, bipartisan opponents of this deal face long odds in an effort to rally a veto-proof majority against removing sanctions on Iran.
Meanwhile, the agreement itself is built upon gradual stages of implementation – each offering windows of opportunity for renegotiation and modifications. The next US President may be able to take advantage of this reality to put in place the urgently needed parameters of a better deal.
This deal as it stands is a highly dangerous gamble risking a series of future nightmare scenarios. Australia, which had prudently welcomed the deal “cautiously”, together with the rest of the international community, has an important responsibility to raise its concerns, and maintain the pressure to abort Iran’s path to nuclear weapons capability and end its rogue behaviour to prevent those nightmares becoming a reality.