The U.S. Is Quietly Leaving the Door Open to a New Iran Deal

Feb. 14 2023

On Friday, the White House announced that it will continue to waive sanctions on Russian and Chinese businesses assisting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. The renewal of this six-month waiver, reports that the U.S. envoy for Iran has thrice met with the Iranian UN ambassador in the past few weeks, and other off-the-radar policy decisions all suggest that Washington has not given up its hopes of restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement. This despite Tehran’s support for the Russian war in Ukraine, its coziness with China, and its ruthless suppression of mass demonstrations. Richard Goldberg comments. (Free registration required.)

The fundamental failing of the 2015 agreement was its legitimization of Iran’s illicitly built nuclear infrastructure and capabilities without first requiring a complete and verifiable accounting of the regime’s past work on nuclear weapons. Thus Iran was able to keep its Natanz and Fordow uranium-enrichment facilities and continue low-level enrichment on Iranian soil without even admitting it had violated its international obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These concessions allowed Iran to keep its pathways to nuclear weapons intact, advance its technical knowhow through research and development, and preserve its option to restart higher-level enrichment at any time.

Take, for example, the Fordow facility near the Iranian city of Qom, which Iran had kept secret until exposed by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France in 2009. A peaceful civil nuclear-energy program does not require secret domestic enrichment since nuclear fuel for reactors can be imported with proper nonproliferation safeguards in place. All the more so, an enrichment facility buried underneath a mountain can have only one objective in mind. . . . But rather than require the facility’s irreversible dismantling, the deal allowed Iran to keep more than 1,000 centrifuges at the site, and invited Russia to partner on radioisotope production.

The United States, the United Kingdom, France, or Germany could kill off the [2015 deal] for good at any moment by simply sending a letter to the Security Council requesting a snapback of UN sanctions on Iran. Yet they quite intentionally choose not to do so. They also choose not formally to declare Iran in noncompliance with the NPT at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) despite Iran’s refusal to cooperate with a four-year-long investigation into undeclared nuclear sites and materials.

Read more at Dispatch

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

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad