The Iranian nuclear deal has “fatal flaws” and Australia should join other Western countries aligning with ongoing US efforts to fix them and strengthen the agreement ahead of a May 12 deadline.
This was the central message delivered in briefings by visiting Middle East scholar Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research at the Washington-based policy institute Foundation for Defence of Democracies, to lawmakers, diplomats, journalists and community leaders in a multi-city tour of Australia in mid-February.
“The Trump Administration is now trying to get the international community to respond, to address the fatal flaws of the nuclear program because they are literally a ticking time bomb,” Schanzer told AIJAC in a briefing on February 16.
“We have a deadline coming up in the United States on May 12. This is the date that Congress has to reassess and reissue the terms under which we are willing to work with the nuclear deal,” he said.
“I believe we are also going to see our international partners being called upon to agree to some of these things as well.”
Schanzer said that the ideas being floated in Washington to maintain pressure on Iran would focus on increasing non-nuclear sanctions unrelated to nuclear infrastructure instead of restoring sanctions removed under the deal.
“My sense is that we are likely to keep all of the entities that we delisted from the nuclear program… free of sanctions. But we are going to start to heap on non-nuclear sanctions,” he said.
“That means terrorism, human rights, cyber violations – all the things that Iran has been doing as a rogue state, that fall outside of the nuclear realm, we are going to be calling upon Australia and the British and the Canadians and everyone who will work with us, to begin to throw new sanctions on Iran to try to hinder its economic advancement.”
Schanzer’s visit came at an auspicious time, within days of the first direct confrontation between Israeli and Iranian militaries, following an Iranian drone incursion from Syria into Israel on Feb. 10.
As such, the skirmish between Israel and Iran, which cost Israel an F-16, Syria an estimated half of its air defences and Iran unknown levels of damage to four of its bases on Syrian soil, was the first item of discussion in most of Schanzer’s meetings and interviews.
Schanzer underlined that the confrontation was neither accidental nor isolated. Rather, it was a predictable consequence of Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria with the objective of creating a Shi’ite crescent of control from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and developing capabilities to strike Israel simultaneously from Syria and Lebanon in a future war.
“The Iranians have been exploiting the fog of war in Syria and putting their own assets on the border with Israel in preparation for what appears to be a serious conflict,” Schanzer told ABC Radio National’s Patricia Karvelas on February 19.
“So, the longer the Israelis wait to pre-empt or to take out those assets, the higher the likelihood we have of a surprise attack or a rather nasty confrontation on the Syria-Israel borders,” he added.
Moreover, Schanzer pointed to the drone incursion and its aftermath as an example of how Iran had been emboldened by the 2015 nuclear deal, instead of being moderated, as many of the deal’s proponents had hoped.
Schanzer said the muted response in the Arab world to the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital showed to what extent Iran has shaped regional priorities.
As Schanzer told Karvelas: “We are seeing… perhaps even a recognition on the part of the Arab states that the Palestinian issue is not their core national interest and that they have other things that they are more worried about, including the Iran threat… Because it’s not just the Israelis that are worried. It’s really the rest of the region as concerned as they look on at the way Iran is expanding its aggression across the region.”
Schanzer said that Israeli interests and those of some of its neighbours have come into alignment in many ways, which is leading relationships into uncharted territory.
“We’re seeing some interesting shifts [in the relationship between] the Israelis and some of the Gulf Arab states notably the Saudis, the Iraqis, [and] the Bahrainis,” he told the ABC’s Stan Grant on Feb. 12.
“They are now beginning to look at the region in somewhat of the same way. [I don’t] want to say here that they’ve become allies but they certainly are less enemies than they used to be,” Schanzer added.
Dangerous milestones and sunset clauses
Schanzer warned that the damaging effects of the nuclear deal were only going to increase in coming years as Iran is granted an increasing number of staged concessions provided for in the agreement.
“There are milestones which are coming due in the JCPOA, the Iran deal, which are highly problematic,” Schanzer told AIJAC.
“In year four, which is 2019, it will be the end of the arms embargo, which means Iran is going to be able to buy and sell weapons on the open market. They are going to be able to give those weapons to [Iranian proxy] Hezbollah, to Hamas, to the Assad regime, to the Houthis in Yemen, and there is going to be very little that we are going to be able to do about it, other than try to interdict.
“In year eight, we are going to see the end of ballistic missile restrictions. What’s amazing about the Iran deal is that it even allowed Iran to have this ballistic missile provision because of course, what is the ideal delivery system for a nuclear weapon? It’s an ICBM.
“Then by years 10 through 12, we are going to have what is known as the sunset provisions. All of the major provisions of the nuclear deal will go away, which means that Iran will have a paved pathway to a nuclear weapon. It means that they will either be Japan, where they will be a turnkey away, or they will be Pakistan, or, even worse, they will be North Korea.”
On Israel and the Palestinians
Moving beyond Israel’s current escalation with Iran, Karvelas quizzed Schanzer on Israeli-Palestinian peace moves, asking how the US Trump Administration’s Jerusalem recognition announcement could possibly help peace.
Schanzer replied that previous peace process strategies had encouraged the Palestinian side to harden its positions, making peacemaking more difficult. The Jerusalem announcement, he suggested, might have the opposite effect.
“[When] one looks at the bilateral negotiations that have gone on for the last several decades involving the Palestinians, the Palestinians have typically called the shots. They have determined the contours of the debate, despite the fact that they are really the weakest actor,” he told Karvelas.
“With the US recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, I think there was a message sent to the Palestinians that they cannot dictate the terms and the Trump Administration appears to now be looking at this issue as well as the refugee issue, which has been inflated significantly by the Palestinians. I think, at least in some measure, [this may] try and soften some of the Palestinian positions in order to get back to the negotiating table.”