Operating on the absurd policy that everything former President Donald Trump has done should be undone, the Biden administration has resumed indirect talks with Iran to return to the dire framework of the 2015 nuclear deal.
By sending the worst possible negotiator, Bob Malley, to Vienna, President Biden promised the American people that the United States would “go back” to the original deal and force Iran to end its ballistic missile program and end its support for terrorist operations in the Middle East. This effort apparently failed, even though the United States was prepared to give in to almost any demand from Iran.
Here, Iran has embarked on an extortion effort as a price for starting new negotiations, demanding the US release of $ 10 billion in frozen Iranian funds to “prove the seriousness of its intentions.” In addition to the $ 3.5 billion already released as a “goodwill gesture”, Biden had already extended the waiver of sanctions on Iranian oil.
Iran also demanded a guarantee that the United States would not withdraw from any future agreement, which is absurd. Even Iran understands that Mr. Biden cannot commit to such a demand, because a new nuclear deal is a political deal and not a legally binding treaty approved by the Senate. No one on either side thinks such an agreement could ever gain Senate approval. If another Republican takes office after Mr. Biden, Iran knows the United States will likely step down again.
The new ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi took a hard line in the negotiations and was unwilling to compromise on anything. If Mr Raisi gets anything less than his maximum demands, it will come across as a surrender, not a compromise, and will hurt his chances of becoming the Supreme Leader, his highest priority.
Iran acknowledges that Biden is desperate for a deal at almost any cost, which he can describe as a “victory.” Fortunately, critics of Mr. Biden and even some mainstream media see him as well and are unwilling to let him give in entirely on every issue. Reflecting this reality, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was threatening when he spoke of the negotiations saying, “It’s not going well” and that “We don’t have a way back into the JCPOA yet. “
Some Democrats have acknowledged that diplomacy is retreating, as Iran’s representatives in Vienna made new demands while retracting previous concessions. Secretary of State Antony Blinken even noted that the United States would not accept an approach where Iran stagnates in talks and pushes its nuclear program forward. The Vienna negotiations have just become a cover for Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapons capacity threshold.
Unfortunately, the “solution” suggested by these Democrats is a fanciful illusion. They believe that a diplomatic effort to resolve this crisis can be achieved by restoring Iran’s fear that its current nuclear path will trigger the use of force by the United States.
Their recommendation that the US military engage in exercises that instill fear in Iranian leaders is unrealistic. The Iranians and a few in the United States believe that Mr. Biden will someday use force against Iran or anywhere else. Here, too, Mr. Biden’s rhetoric that “all options are on the table” rings hollow.
The clatter of the saber was not confined to the United States. Israel has been very public about reviving its war planning efforts with Iran and potential airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. There is no realistic scenario for Israel to undertake such a strike or for it to succeed.
Israeli Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi sees the military option against Iran as an unworkable scenario. Previously, the Israelis believed that the United States under Mr. Trump would do the job for them with crippling pressures and sanctions that would lead to the collapse of the regime. Obviously, this did not happen.
Israel has focused on developing defensive plans to warn, detect and intercept Iranian drones. It could become a key player and an asset for the regional states threatened by these drones. In the future, these detection capabilities could also be deployed in Gulf states, providing early warning of drone attacks – a possible solution to the long-term threat from Iranian ballistic missiles.
Currently, Israel continues to engage in covert operations in Iran, targeting scientists and nuclear facilities with limited success to delay the program. Recent cyber attacks on Iranian gas stations have been less successful. Some have suggested that these covert operations be increased, but do not understand that these activities are not expanding. The resources and personnel to develop them considerably do not exist and will not stop the Iranian program.
Iran uses its agents and proxies to attack the United States and its allies, primarily in Syria and Iraq. More recently, two attacks have been attributed to Iran and its Shiite militias: the drone attack on the US base of al-Tanf in eastern Syria and on the home of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al- Kadhimi. The United States retaliated by hitting Iranian arms depots in Syria and Iranian drones, but did not engage Iranian forces directly.
For now, there is a tacit acceptance that there will be no new nuclear deal. Iran could approach or cross the threshold to become a nuclear power, and this Plan B could well consist of effective defensive technologies. To this will be added a new and realistic reflection on how deterrence can be applied to this critical scenario. Without realistic thinking, the Middle East could face a prospect that no one wants.
• Abraham Wagner held several national security posts, including NSC staff under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He is the author of the recent book “Henry Kissinger: Pragmatic Statesman in Hostile Times”.