Amid ongoing negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany) to limit Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, a relevant question continues to be asked. It’s about whether a “bad deal” with loopholes is better or worse than a “no deal” scenario that could lead to war as Iran’s adversaries, including Israel, seek to destroy its nuclear facilities.
For now, an agreement to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the original nuclear deal signed between the same parties in 2015 before the United States pulled out of it three years later – is more likely to happen than unlikely. This is because at this point, none of the participants in the talks want war. Even inside Iran and Israel, which is not a signatory to the JCPOA, there would be those who would prefer to wage proxy wars against each other, with countries like Lebanon serving as theaters, rather than having a direct confrontation that could result in loss of life in their own country.
Despite growing public opposition to a possible “bad deal” in Israel, its leaders are aware that if the talks fail, they will not be able to stop Iran’s nuclear program through unilateral military strikes. A military solution to the nuclear threat from Tehran will require US involvement.
But the United States is not waging war, because that would probably mean involving its own personnel and resources, which it does not want to do right now. There is also the Western logic that by lifting sanctions on Tehran – a condition for the Iranians to sign a deal – European governments can then use its energy as an alternative to Russian oil and gas.
Domestic politics are also fueling the Biden administration’s push for a deal. By returning to the JCPOA or getting a better deal, Democrats can revive a signature aspect of former President Barack Obama’s legacy, and at the same time reverse Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of it.
Israel has hinted that it will not commit to a deal it does not approve of. By saying so, he hopes to push for a deal that imposes constraints on Tehran’s nuclear program. It will also retain, in doing so, its freedom to carry out military operations if it deems them necessary. But those who insist that a direct war between Israel and Iran would solve the problems or help reduce Iran’s influence in Lebanon and Syria are mistaken.
Israel’s interests, after all, are limited to keeping its borders with Lebanon and Syria calm, which is only plausible if Iran agrees to rein in Hezbollah, its proxy in Lebanon. Tehran will have to provide a guarantee to Israel that Hezbollah weapons will not be used across the border, thereby neutralizing the group’s rocket arsenal. By doing so, Iran will be forced to suspend its so-called resistance against Israel, with Hezbollah doing little more than continuing its rhetorical resistance aimed at dominating Lebanese politics.
There are two views on a possible Israeli-Iranian deal. According to some, this would serve the interests of Lebanon, because it would avoid a war that could destroy the country and devastate its people. The other view is that such a deal would benefit Israel and Iran but harm Lebanon, as it would effectively place the country under the tutelage of Hezbollah – and by extension, Iran.
Diehard optimists would like to see a broader rapprochement that creates a new positive climate for further cooperation; that it would contribute to delimiting a Lebanese-Israeli maritime border; that this would force the Iranian regime to rein in its hardliners as it prioritizes economic recovery; and that he would eventually reintegrate Iran into the global economy.
However, left to its own devices, the Iranian regime will not change its skin and will not give up its expansionist appetite. The P5+1, which will largely support an Israeli-Iranian deal, must put Tehran under serious pressure, using a carrot and stick approach, forcing it to loosen its regional dominance.
There is no doubt that the non-nuclear dimension of Iran’s threat to regional security is very strong. This explains the behind-the-scenes negotiations, parallel to the nuclear talks, that have been going on for about a year, not only between Israel and Iran, but also between the Gulf states and Iran.
Coming back to the nuclear talks, it is clear that international monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities remains an obstacle to a deal, unless his regime drops its insistence on limited monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tehran continues to oppose strict scrutiny and control mechanisms, as it is already at the stage of enriching weapons-grade uranium. The Biden administration, on the other hand, knows it cannot compromise on this aspect, not only because of Israeli opposition but also opposition within US domestic politics, particularly in the US Congress. .
Assuming this issue is settled and an agreement reached, the United States must always know that if sanctions were to be lifted against Iran, it should not end up funding the regime’s secret nuclear program. Injecting billions into its coffers could accelerate its shadow program which will obviously not be subject to control mechanisms.
Washington, meanwhile, will be aware that in the course of any strategic short-sightedness on its part, a powerful Iran could become more attached to China and Russia, its strategic partners. Russia, in particular, could benefit from importing more Iranian drones for its war in Ukraine, preparing advanced arms deals with Iran, and possibly working with Tehran to circumvent Western sanctions on its oil and gas.
It’s a complicated job. And how all that for the region and the rest of the world, we will know sooner than later, as countries race to strike a nuclear deal, as well as separate deals with Iran.
Posted: Aug 28, 2022, 2:00 PM