The West fears nuclear war while Tehran has its eye on the same deterrence.
By Mitchell Bard, JNS.org
The response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows what a unified West can do when it recognizes a threat to democracy and to the security of its allies.
Bowing to the reality of risking a direct military confrontation that could lead to escalation to a nuclear war, President Joe Biden has led our allies in imposing what are purported to be crushing sanctions on Russia. Critics of sanctions as a tool against aggressors have suddenly become cheerleaders. The ineffectual is suddenly viewed as crippling.
Meanwhile, even as the onslaught continues in Ukraine, the U.S. is depending on Russia to help secure a new nuclear arrangement with Iran. While sanctions are supposed to influence the behavior of the third most powerful person in the world, representatives of the West are preparing to remove all sanction to appease Iran. To say the approach is hypocritical is an understatement.
There has been a lot of talk of the “Big Lie” in the last couple of years; well, Biden told a whopper of his own when he promised a “longer and stronger” nuclear agreement if reports of the negotiations are accurate.
The draft agreement does not require Iran to destroy its centrifuges, one of the biggest mistakes of the original deal that allowed Iran to enrich uranium to a level approaching the purity needed for a bomb. Iran would remain on the threshold of building a bomb – with a breakout time of perhaps as little as six months. (President Barack Obama thought he’d won the lottery by asserting his deal made it a whole year).
Verification and Sanctions
The negotiators are depending once again on both Iranian compliance and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification, both of which proved to be a joke. We now know how Iran exploited the agreement’s loopholes and continued clandestine and, in the last year, overt efforts to acquire a nuclear capability. The IAEA, as expected by critics of the deal, did nothing to enforce the terms of the deal and was in some cases willfully blind and, in others, just oblivious to Iran’s activities.
The U.S. is offering to ease sanctions if Iran returns to the flawed deal. There is no indication the agreement will be extended, which means that Iran will be free to do what it likes in 2026, which seemed to proponents like a great victory but now is just four years away.
Even President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign was not as severe as the sanctions being applied to Russia and, worse, our allies tried to undermine them. Even before achieving any agreement, Biden agreed to a sanctions waiver allowing Iran to engage in nuclear projects, which benefits China and – wait for it – Russia.
Reports indicate the U.S. is also prepared to unfreeze $7 billion in Iranian funds held by South Korean banks. This money will allow Iran to fund more terror, further develop its ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads, and continue to destabilize the region and threaten its neighbors.
Russia has been a major obstacle to imposing tougher terms on Iran and now it has more important things to worry about, so it is an ideal time for strengthening our position in the Vienna talks rather than capitulating to Iranian demands such as the outrageous insistence that the U.S. remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its terrorist list.
Love or hate him, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is correct in outlining four essential elements of a new agreement: The dismantling of all enrichment capabilities; the dismantling of all intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities; an end to all research on nuclear weaponization; and an end to terrorism and aggression throughout the Middle East and beyond. Sadly, Biden, like Obama, appears ready to abandon all those requirements for the sake of getting a deal.
Imposing Russia-like sanctions might yet work in bringing an end to the mullahs’ reign of terror and its development of a bomb. I remain skeptical and still believe that without a revolt by the Iranian people, there is nothing that will deter them from developing a bomb.
Tehran’s View of Ukraine
The lesson Iran’s autocrats are taking from the Ukraine war, which they already understood, is that the way to ensure their survival while pursuing their agenda of spreading radical Islam throughout the world, and destroying Israel is to have a nuclear capability. They see that fear of a nuclear exchange is the principal restraint on military action against Russia.
And Iran’s leaders believe they will enjoy the same protection once their mission is accomplished.
Given the IAEA’s inability to verify Iran’s compliance with any deal and the certainty that Iran’s leaders will not give up their nuclear program, it is necessary to strike Iran before we are forced to sit on the sideline and watch our Middle East allies be slaughtered. Even without the bomb, the U.S. and the rest of its Western allies have allowed Iran to attack our troops and allies in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen (whose Iran-supported Houthi terrorists were inexplicably removed from the terror list by the administration).
Russia is the immediate priority, and China the bigger long-term security threat to the U.S., but Biden can walk and chew gum at the same time. Since he took military action against the Russians off the table immediately, we have resources and options available to eliminate the Iranian threat if they do not agree to a longer and stronger deal.
There is no reason to appease a not-yet-nuclear Iran when the U.S. is demonstrating what leading a unified Western alliance can do against an aggressor who sees no barriers to his grandiose ambitions.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books.