The new Iran nuclear deal the Biden administration reportedly is close to finishing will change the Middle East, but not for the better, says Ellie Cohanim, former deputy special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism in the Trump State Department. Probably the most significant consequence will be “the perception of the United States’ historic allies in the region that the United States is about to betray them,” she told a Jewish Policy Center webinar March 31.
That perception reinforces another consequence. “Israel’s [Persian] Gulf neighbors are depending on her to defend them” from Iran, not on the United States any longer. Cohanim, a contributor to National Review, Newsweek and other publications, interviewee on Fox TV and former executive at Yeshiva University, said the Biden administration’s push to reach an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program contributes to “the continuing strengthening of the Sunni-Israeli alliance” exemplified by the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.
And, since “nothing happens in the Gulf without Saudi Arabia’s blessing,” the kingdom supports the alliance informally.
Cohanim, who as a child fled Iran in 1979 with her family in the face of rising antisemitism during the Islamic revolution, noted that the Biden administration had promised a “longer and stronger” agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear weapons development. Instead, it reportedly was about to deliver something “shorter and weaker.”
That Washington acquiesced to not negotiating directly with Tehran but rather to using Russia and China as intermediaries was “ludicrous,” she said. With Iran down to $4 billion in accessible foreign exchange reserves, “we had all the leverage,” Cohanim stated.
But given the White House’s determination to replace the Obama administration’s 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran – from which the Trump administration withdrew – “Russia and China, our adversaries … negotiated on our behalf with a third adversary, Iran.” The result left Russia’s envoy to the talks “crowing about how they’d negotiated on behalf of Iran.” Not to mention that Moscow, under stiff international sanctions for its war in Ukraine, “will be building nuclear facilities in Iran and getting $10 billion” for doing so.
Cohanim expects the new deal to release to Iran frozen assets worth between $90 billion and $150 billion and allow it to receive tens of billions more in annual oil review. “Flush with funds,” the ayatollahs’ regime will finance its terrorist proxies, including Iran’s own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its biggest overseas arm, Hezbollah, she said.
The new agreement, reportedly putting Iran on a nine-year path to legal nuclear weapons, will “set off a nuclear weapons race” in the Middle East, Cohanim said. She recalled that Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” program as much.
Along with the often-invoked American “pivot to Asia” to focus on increased threats from an expansionist China, the pending Iran nuclear deal ironically may result in leading Israel and Sunni Arab countries to seek closer relations with Beijing, she said. Israel already contracted with China to build a new Haifa port and operate it for 25 years. Now, downplaying the region, “the Biden administration essentially is pushing the United States’ traditional Middle East allies into the warm embrace of the Chinese Community Party.”
Israel, “having stated over and over that Iran is an existential threat and it doesn’t see itself bound by the [pending] deal,” might find itself cornered into having to strike Iranian nuclear facilities directly, she said. Though suspected Israeli sabotage may well have delayed Iran’s efforts, that might not be enough. Cohanim recommended JPC webinar participants contact members of Congress and urge them to review any new agreement under the Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review act.