Given the shooting in the Middle East not only in Israel, but between Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, reviving the nuclear deal is getting far more difficult than it was before. Compounding these difficulties is that the Iranian election June 18th is likely to produce more radical, militant rule. This suggests the talks may go nowhere.
But, as NPEC’s Wohlstetter Fellow John Spacapan and I wrote today in Al Jazeera, this is not the only possibility. As Israel, the Gulf states, and Iran continue to shoot at one another, it’s pretty clear that dialing in their concerns will be essential. As we note in our piece, they now have “more say in whether the bomb spreads throughout the Middle East than Germany, Britain or Russia.”
Operationally, what does this mean? Two things. First, if any truly sustainable deal with Iran is to be struck, it will only be credible if it addresses Israeli and Gulf Arab fears that Iran might get the bomb even after signing a deal, and Iranian concerns that Israel might continue to attack Iran even if Tehran agrees not to stockpile any more enriched uranium.
Second, the Biden Administration will have to drop its “less-for-less” approach of merely giving some sanctions relief for some Iranian nuclear restraint and instead offer more for more. What that “more” might be is unclear but it would likely have to include Iran dropping enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of spent reactor fuel and Israel and Saudi Arabia agreeing to additional nuclear restraints as well.
These, to be sure, are big asks. But shooting for anything less is unlikely to produce any lasting limits on the nuclear planning now in play in the region.
May 14, 2021
AUTHOR: Henry Sokolski and John Spacapan
By Henry Sokolski and John Spacapan
The recent escalation in the “shadow war” between Israel and Iran suggests that, like it or not, the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are not sustainable without support from Israel and its Gulf allies, namely Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
If Israel continues attacking Iran after Biden revives the old deal – as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently suggested Israel will do – Iran might decide to abandon the deal, declare war on Israel, or even go ahead and develop nuclear weapons in response. Also, securing follow-on agreements to limit Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal or its proxy war activities would become all but impossible. None of these outcomes is desirable. To avoid them, Biden must go big by striking a deal that eases Israeli and Saudi fears that Iran might get the bomb even after signing a deal, and Iranian concerns that Israel might continue to attack Iran even if Tehran agrees not to stockpile any more enriched uranium.
As part of a new offensive aiming to hinder Iran’s nuclear efforts that began last summer, Israel staged attacks against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, assassinated Iranian scientists and crippled sections of Iran’s electricity grid. These attacks also resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians within Iran. Netanyahu suggested that this campaign will continue even if Washington and Tehran renew the 2015 nuclear deal, declaring “with an agreement or without an agreement, we will do whatever is necessary so you (Iran) do not arm yourselves with nuclear weapons.”
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