Australia/Israel Review


“Less for Less”

Jun 26, 2023 | Israel Kasnett

(Image: Shutterstock, Stuart Miles)
(Image: Shutterstock, Stuart Miles)

Implications of a new Iran-US deal

 

Washington and Teheran are engaged in indirect negotiations to close a deal with regard to Iran’s illicit nuclear program that will effectively bring the rogue country in from the cold.

While the precise details of the emerging deal are not yet known, it will reportedly limit Iran’s uranium enrichment to its current production level of 60%.

According to the New York Times, it will also reportedly require Iran to halt attacks against US contractors in Syria and Iraq, increase cooperation with international nuclear inspectors and cease ballistic missile sales to Russia.

In exchange, Washington would agree not to increase economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic, stop confiscating Iranian oil as occurred in April, and to not seek punitive resolutions against Iran at the United Nations or at the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to the report.

However, the real question is what happens the day after the deal is signed. According to various experts who spoke with JNS, the answer isn’t good.

Such an agreement will bolster Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, increase the regime’s support for its terror proxies, deepen its growing defence ties with Russia and bring closer a conflict with Israel, they said.

According to veteran Israeli-Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator, Yoni Ben Menachem, the secret negotiations between the United States and Iran “are based on the principle of ‘less for less’.”

He said the parties are aiming to reach a temporary agreement only on specific issues they can agree upon, which means the focus is on Iran halting uranium enrichment in exchange for releasing its sanctioned assets abroad, “which amount to several hundred billion dollars,” he said.

(In its report on June 14, the Times reported that while Iran wants the United States to unfreeze billions in Iranian assets in exchange for the release of three Iranian American prisoners, Washington has not confirmed that this is part of the emerging deal.)

With such an influx of funds, Teheran is expected to boost its support for its terror proxies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

The US State Department has declared Iran “the leading state sponsor of terrorism.” According to the department’s most recent Country Reports on Terrorism, Iran “continued its support for terrorist-related activity, including support for Hezbollah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various terrorist and militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, and elsewhere throughout the Middle East.”

The State Department currently lists four countries as state sponsors of terrorism – Iran, Syria, North Korea and Cuba – “for having consistently provided support for acts of international terrorism.” 

And according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), “Iran has been building and training forces to target and kill US personnel and expel US forces from Syria.”

Ben Menachem said he is perplexed by the US rushing to an agreement, given that Iran has continued to threaten the world, even during the negotiations. For example, it recently revealed a hypersonic ballistic missile that could potentially threaten numerous countries in the West.

Furthermore, in recent weeks, the Biden Administration itself has released intelligence showing the deepening defence relationship between Russia and Iran, as Iran manufactures drones and ships them to Russia. Iran is also helping to build a drone factory in Russia. As repayment for its support of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Iran is seeking to acquire large numbers of Russian attack helicopters, warplanes and air-defence systems, according to US officials.

“This is a full-scale defence partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbours and to the international community,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference in mid-June.

 

But despite Iran’s severely troubling behaviour, the Obama and Biden Administrations have long believed that diplomacy with Iran will ultimately work, and that the Iranian leadership will be willing to stop uranium enrichment and overall terrorism-related activities in the region and beyond.

And yet, Iran has dragged out negotiations while fooling the American and European negotiators.

In May, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, “We have always believed, we continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to reach that solution, but we have seen no progress in terms of actions from the Iranian Government in the region.”

Now, Iran has shown willingness to make progress, or is at least pretending, and the United States appears intent on cementing an agreement at all costs, even as Iran supports Russia while it attacks Ukraine, which is backed by the Biden Administration.

David M. Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy, a new think tank in Jerusalem headed by former Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, believes a US-Iran agreement is problematic for the entire region.

“We know from experience that US capitulation to Iran on nuclear matters emboldens, not restrains, the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs,” he said. “Teheran’s regional swagger certainly will be bolstered by sanctions relief and the release of embargoed Iranian assets in Iraq and Europe.”

Regarding Israel, Weinberg said a “weak US deal with Iran moves a frontal Iran-Israel clash closer than ever.”

A deal which provides Iran with billions of dollars “is even more illogical given Teheran’s supply of weapons to Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s war in Ukraine,” he added. “One would think this might bother President Biden, who just asked Congress for billions of dollars more in support of Kyiv.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei commented on June 11 on the talks, saying, “There is nothing wrong with the agreement [with the West], but the infrastructure of our nuclear industry should not be touched,” according to state media.

US State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel declined to specifically comment on Khamenei’s remarks, reiterating the Biden Administration stance that the United States “is committed to never allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Patel also admitted that “Iran continues to expand its nuclear activities in a way that [has] no credible civilian purpose,” and that “cooperation from the Iranian regime remains significantly lacking.”

Even so, Patel reiterated that the Administration wants an agreement and continues to believe that “diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal on a verifiable and durable basis.”

According to Ben Menachem, a new interim agreement poses several dangers, including the expectation that an influx of hundreds of billions of dollars would immediately flow from Iran’s coffers to its terrorist proxies in the Middle East, causing major problems for Israel, the region, and beyond. 

He also noted that in May, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closed one of its three open investigations into the remains of highly enriched uranium discovered at unrecognised nuclear sites in Iran. The IAEA was investigating the origin of uranium particles enriched to up to 83.7% at its Fordow enrichment plant. Iran claimed it was due to “unintended fluctuations” in enrichment levels.

According to Andrea Stricker, deputy director of the Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, “Iran’s explanation that it unintentionally produced near atomic-weapons grade uranium is not credible – Teheran was likely experimenting with higher enrichment and was caught red-handed.”

Israel accused the IAEA of having surrendered to the Iranian regime in what is now understood to likely be a preparatory step towards a new nuclear agreement with Iran. This comes even as the IAEA estimates that Iran currently possesses 114 kg of uranium enriched to 60% purity, a level that is only a short step away from nuclear weapons-grade purity.

“Khamenei is trying to throw sand in the eyes of the West,” Ben Menachem said. “Israel has provided the intelligence agencies in the US and Europe with decisive intelligence evidence that Iran has a secret military track to produce a nuclear bomb and that this is the ultimate goal of its nuclear program.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on June 13 during a closed-door, three-hour meeting with members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that Washington and Teheran are nearing a “mini-agreement, and not a nuclear agreement,” and it is something Israel “will know how to deal with.”

He reiterated that whatever the terms of the agreement, “Our position is clear: No agreement with Iran will be binding on Israel, which will continue to do everything to defend itself.”

Israel Kasnett is deputy Jerusalem bureau chief at the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS). © JNS (www.jns.org), reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.

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