What if Iran doesn’t actually plan to use a nuclear weapon?
What if Iran wants, as various of its officials have said over the years, to prevent being toppled the way Saddam Hussein was, or Moammar Gaddafi or Hosni Mubarak? To prevent a 20-year U.S.-led invasion like that of Afghanistan? Nuclear-armed North Korea, not to mention Russia and China, have received far more forbearance from the U.S. than the leaders of Iraq, Libya, and Egypt, or the Afghan people. Yes, all things considered, its better to be a nuclear-capable Iran than not.
Iran might be willing to accept delays in the program in exchange for time, space, and money to pursue its other long-term goals. We can’t know that for certain, which makes pressure and a tight negotiating posture essential for the U.S. and its allies, and makes the ongoing, effective sabotage at nuclear-related facilities a well executed blessing.
The time to parse Iran’s non–nuclear weapons goals is now, before making concessions to Tehran.
Biden and Obama administration officials and their media supporters appear to regard a return to the JCPOA (the “Iran deal”), or even an extended and more restrictive JCPOA, as the solution to the problem of Iran. But it is not. Regardless of the outcome of the Vienna talks, the problems that make Tehran a threat to peaceful order at home and abroad will remain and likely be exacerbated.
This calls into question the proposition that Iran needs protection — nuclear or not — from the U.S. and Israel. You don’t need nuclear protection if you plan to be a civilized country. On the other hand, if you are planning to do something aggressive, hegemonic, deadly, and illegal, nuclear protection from the consequences seems wise.
Tehran’s goals include hegemony in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea; proxy forces controlling Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon (the “Shiite Crescent”); Shiite supremacism across the Muslim world; diminution of U.S. power and prestige in the region; and ultimately, the destruction of Israel, which stands in the way of the other goals.
Iran is fairly far along. The “Crescent” not only provides close access to Israel, but also spreads across the northern borders of two key Sunni adversaries — Saudi Arabia, guardian of Mecca and Medina, which the mullahs covet, and Jordan. It splits historic foe Sunni Turkey from the other Sunni Middle East states. Only Israel keeps Iran from digging in deeper, and Israel was helped by the reduction in available cash for Iran by President Trump’s “maximum pressure” regime.
A southern arc encircles Saudi Arabia from the Persian Gulf through the Gulf of Aden with a base in Yemen and a Houthi proxy at the bottom of the Red Sea, threatening the Bab el Mandeb Straits and the exit of Israel and others into the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean — and threatening the American base in Djibouti. The Biden administration makes Iran’s life easier by refusing to support the Saudis in the Houthi war Iran is waging from Yemen.
Iran has incubated Sunni jihadists in the poor, corrupt, and vulnerable states of the second tier of Africa — Sudan, Chad, Niger, and Mali — resulting in waves of migrants headed for Europe. A unified North African tier was part of the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue that helped control safety and security in the sea until the Obama administration toppled Gaddafi in 2011. Libya has become a hole in the dam through which hundreds of thousands of African migrants pass.
Throw in the mullahs’ total disregard for the health, welfare, and political life of its own people — mired in poverty and disease while the regime executes political prisoners with no consequences from the Biden administration.
To the extent that Iran is successful, Israel and every Sunni or pro-American country in the region faces what could grow to an existential — even if not nuclear — threat.
Finally, we are likely to find ourselves in the “beyond the JCPOA era” fairly soon. The Biden administration is throwing away leverage to curry favor with Tehran in hopes of getting a quick deal.
Iran is planning for the day it has more money and more freedom of action with fewer constraints by Washington — not to mention increased cooperation with China and new Russian weapons. There are multiple reports of “progress” being made to bring the U.S. and Iran closer — reports made by the Chinese envoy to the talks (who appears to be the official spokesman for the P5+1, which is a bit disconcerting) — and at least one report says the U.S. has agreed to provide compensation to Iran for “maximum sanctions.”
Tehran should be in a good mood right now and might actually find something to agree to that would enhance its prestige, make it appear reasonable, restore it to the community of “civilized countries,” and boost its bank accounts.
That may be the way Iran wants it — focus on the JCPOA. Be agreeable. Find a temporary deal while building a weapon to protect the Islamist government from future American or Israeli intervention.
In no case should the Biden administration believe that a restored JCPOA is Iran’s goal. And Israel’s determination that Iran not be permitted to acquire or build nuclear weapons should be supported and applauded.