Confronting Iran after the U.S. Withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal

June 14 2018

Identifying four different paths Tehran could take in response to Washington’s decision to jettison the 2015 nuclear agreement, Amos Yadlin and Ari Heistein recommend possible Israeli and American courses of action for each. In the two bleaker scenarios, the Islamic Republic would resume the production of highly enriched uranium that had ceased when negotiations with the Obama administration began or, worse, simply try to make a bomb. Yadlin and Heistein write:

In [the former case], the United States and Israel, in order to avoid an unintended war while still preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, would need to demarcate a clear red line that Iran’s nuclear program would not be allowed to cross. . . . [T]he red line should not focus only on enrichment levels but also on the enrichment of large quantities of uranium to a low level or spinning a large number of centrifuges, two alternative routes that could bring Iran within a short breakout period to the bomb.

And then, there’s the worst-case scenario. Iran may adopt an extreme response to the change in U.S. policy by leaving the nuclear deal and the Nonproliferation Treaty, [which Iran signed in 1968 and has not renounced], and then breaking out to a bomb. That would raise the chances of military confrontation.

Military action to prevent the ayatollahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon would have much broader diplomatic support than in the previous scenario—in the U.S. as well as Europe. However, Israel would be well-advised to note that President Trump’s explicit promise to reduce U.S. involvement in the Middle East makes him less likely to order U.S. forces to strike. In this case, Israel would probably find itself acting alone, albeit with a “green light” and support from Washington. Israel would have to consider exercising the Begin doctrine, which calls for preventing any regime that seeks to wipe it off the map from acquiring nuclear weapons. . . .

The key for Israel, in such a scenario, would be finding ways to avoid further escalation. . . . But a surgical strike could actually provide a middle ground between inaction and escalation to full-scale war. And if Israel can obtain full-fledged and public support from Washington and endorsements in private from the Sunni Arab leadership, it may be able to deter Iran from retaliating and escalating the conflict.

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More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Menachem Begin, U.S. Foreign policy

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy