The U.S. Must Maintain Its Leverage over Russia in Syria. Israel Can Help

April 12 2018

Donald Trump—who recently announced an imminent American withdrawal from Syria—is now considering the possibility of punishing Bashar al-Assad for his recent use of chemical weapons. Michael Doran has some advice for the president:

A precipitous [U.S.] departure [from Syria] will cede leverage to Iran at the very moment when the United States-Iranian conflict is set to escalate. On May 12, President Trump may well decide to reimpose nuclear sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Restructuring the nuclear deal to American specifications requires convincing Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, that America is resolute in its determination to pare down the Iranian nuclear program. Retreating from Syria will foster the opposite impression. Trump should instead be thinking of exploiting Iranian weaknesses.

Here the Israelis are the key. Their [presumed] attack on Monday on an Iranian base in the Syrian desert is striking not just for the military and intelligence capabilities it demonstrated but also for its defiance of Vladimir Putin. Boldness and ability of this magnitude in an ally is a four-star asset that Trump’s Mideast policy has so far failed to exploit.

Imagine if Washington and Jerusalem were to develop a joint military plan designed to contain and degrade Iranian forces in Syria. Even a limited American military commitment to a coordinated United States-Israeli strategy would immediately change the balance of power on the ground. It would most likely engender more diplomatic cooperation from Putin while sending a powerful message to Tehran about the necessity of respecting American demands regarding its nuclear program.

Going forward, Trump should . . . keep mum about his plans. Meantime, he should reconsider his intention to withdraw. As it is, the United States has a small footprint in Syria—an estimated 2,000 troops. The right strategy could reduce those numbers further while gaining even more of that precious commodity over Iran and Russia: leverage.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Donald Trump, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

In Prospective Negotiations with Iran, the U.S. Has the Upper Hand. President-Elect Biden Is Determined Not to Use It

In a recent interview with a writer for the New York Times, Joe Biden expressed his willingness to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran (formally known as the JCPOA) without new preconditions. Noah Rothman comments:

[S]ome observers believe Biden has provided himself with an escape hatch. Biden reiterated his insistence that there could only be a new deal so long as “Iran returns to strict compliance.” [But if] Iranian compliance were a real sticking point, Biden might have dwelled on—or even mentioned in passing—the kind of inspections regime that would verify such a thing. But he did not.

[Under the terms of the deal], Iran provided inspectors access to declared nuclear sites but not military sites where illicit activities were likeliest to occur. A subsequent agreement allowed inspectors to access suspected sites but only with at least 24-days-notice—enough to dispose of the evidence of small-scale work on components related to a bomb. But functionally, that 24-day timeline could be reset by Iran, which could stretch the delays out for weeks—ample time to deceive inspectors.

The JCPOA was never designed to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear-nation status. It was only aimed at dragging that process out while reshuffling the region’s geopolitical deck in Iran’s favor and ultimately providing a patina of legitimacy to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Any talk about exhuming and reanimating this agreement that glosses over its weak verification regime suggests that the Biden administration, like the Obama administration, will settle for any deal—even a bad one.

Such an approach seems particularly shortsighted when the Islamic Republic has been pushed onto the defensive, reeling from economic woes, the devastating effects of the coronavirus, and a series of assassinations. Rather than press America’s advantage, when “Iran is on the ropes,” writes Rothman, Biden “is committed to negotiating from a position of weakness.”

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy