Return to Iran nuke deal means Mideast arms race, possibly war, former Israeli ambassador warns

Former top Israeli diplomat Michael Oren says, “Joe Biden should not squander the leverage he has inherited.”

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

A former top Israeli diplomat has advised President Joe Biden to reconsider any thoughts of bringing the United States quickly back into the Iran nuclear deal.

In an op-ed published in The Atlantic, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi detailed the failings of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was negotiated by the Obama administration and signed in 2015.

The JCPOA was central to the foreign policy of the Obama administration and was supposed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iranian political and military leaders have repeatedly stated for decades that their goal is the “total annihilation” of Israel, and the nuclear deal was supposed to block that.

However, because of its many shortcomings Israel and Arab states threatened by Iran objected to the JCPOA and former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018, citing its weaknesses and continued Iranian aggression.

Now, Iran has violated the deal and is enriching uranium to 20% purity. It’s demanding that Biden return to the old nuclear deal with no changes.

Oren and Halevi noted that Biden himself in September acknowledged that Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear weapon is only a few months and that would spark a Middle East arms race with Saudi Arabia.

But with Democrats pressuring Biden for an immediate return to the deal, Oren pointed out that those with the biggest stake in the issue were united in their opposition to any such move.

“Why, then, aren’t Israelis and Arabs — those with the most to lose from Iranian nuclearization — also demanding a return to the JCPOA? Why aren’t they panicking over its dissolution? The answer is simple: The JCPOA didn’t diminish the Iranian nuclear threat; it magnified it,” he wrote.

Don’t squander American leverage

“Although every new administration seeks to distinguish itself from its predecessor… President Joe Biden should not squander the leverage he has inherited” from the Trump administration’s pressure on Iran, Oren said.

The advocates of a quick return to the Iran nuclear agreement say Iran is closer today to producing a bomb than it was in 2015, when the deal was concluded, but Owen and Halevi noted that President Obama himself admitted at the time the weakness of the deal that expires after 15 years and leaves Iran free to produce nuclear weapons.

“If in year 13, 14, 15 [after making the deal], they have advanced centrifuges that can enrich uranium fairly rapidly, the breakout time would have shrunk almost down to zero,” Obama said in an April 2015 interview.

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Oren, who after serving as ambassador was elected to the Knesset and sat on the powerful Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee that tried to influence the nuclear deal, pointed out that the JCPOA allowed Iran to retain its massive nuclear infrastructure that has no civilian use, but is essential for a military nuclear program.

“The agreement did not shut down a single nuclear facility or destroy a single centrifuge. The ease and speed with which Iran has resumed producing large amounts of more highly enriched uranium — doing so at a time of its own choosing — illustrates the danger of leaving the regime with these capabilities. In fact, the JCPOA blocks nothing,” he wrote.

In a wide-ranging review of the details of the JCPOA, Oren and Halevi pointed out the “recklessness” of the omissions and failings that failed to remove Iran’s capability to produce nuclear weapons and instead catered to the mistaken ideal that Iran would somehow change its ideology because of the nuclear deal.

However, no such thing happened and even before Trump’s move Iran had simply continued on the same path of aggression in the region, including threatening Israel and the Sunni Gulf states with destruction.

Biden must resist pressure

“The Biden administration must resist pressure from members of Congress and others who are urging an unconditional return to the JCPOA. Even the deal’s fervent supporters need to recognize that its fundamental assumptions — that Iran had abandoned its quest for a military nuclear option and would moderate its behavior — have been thoroughly disproved,” said Oren.

America must consult its Middle East allies — Israel and the Arab states, who are united on the Iran issue — before entering a new deal, which would have to “verifiably and permanently remove Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.”

Oren and Halevi noted that such “close and candid cooperation” wasn’t possible before 2015, but that has changed after Israel signed peace deals with several Arab nations and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met directly with Saudi leaders in Saudi Arabia.

The previous deal agreed to Iran’s demand to block “surprise inspections” by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and any new deal would have to give inspectors “unlimited and immediate access to any suspect enrichment or weaponization site,” Oren and Halevi say.

Oren noted that the JCPOA is incompatible with “Biden’s long-standing commitment to Israel’s security.”

“Reviving the JCPOA will endanger that vision, ensuring the emergence of a nuclear Iran or a desperate war to stop it. Biden is a proven friend who has shared Israel’s hopes and fears. He must prevent that nightmare,” Oren and Halevi concluded.