Two Years Later, Iran’s Nuclear Deal Has Not Worked
Two years after the US-led group of six world powers reached a nuclear agreement with Iran, President Trump confirmed that Iran has met the conditions for recertification.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly condemned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as dangerous appeasement — but, six months into his presidency, he has not attempted to dismantle it.
In 2015, President Obama said in a speech that the nuclear agreement would make the world safer. Yet as we mark the second anniversary of the JCPOA, the undeniable reality is that the deal is not delivering the outcomes that were promised.
Preventing a nuclear-armed Iran is one of the greatest geopolitical challenges facing the world today, and our decision-makers owe it to the American people to scrutinize the deal with close attention.
The central goal of negotiations with Iran was, in President Obama’s own words, “to get Iran to recognize it needs to give up its nuclear program.” Unfortunately, the fatal flaws of the deal that was eventually reached mean that the opposite is true. The JCPOA does not permanently prohibit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. To the contrary, it provides Iran with a patient pathway to achieve exactly that.
By following the terms of the JCPOA, in less than a decade, Tehran will emerge as a nuclear threshold state with an industrial-size enrichment program and the ability to produce nuclear weapons with close to zero-breakout time.
The regime in Tehran will also be able to conduct advanced centrifuge research at Fordow — the IRGC’s underground bunker, a complex likely impenetrable to US military strikes, which will accelerate the regime’s ability to rapidly enrich fuel.
Here is why.
Under the nuclear agreement, Iran’s central nuclear infrastructure remains intact. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities have been closed. The Islamic Republic is permitted to keep more centrifuges under the nuclear deal than it possessed when the Obama administration entered office.
Unsurprisingly, Iran has also violated the nuclear deal multiple times. While the country has not been caught with enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon, it has already exceeded the 130-ton limit on its heavy water stock twice. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency also warned in its annual report that Iran continues to seek illicit missile technology, which experts fear can be used for the delivery of nuclear weapons.
This is not helped by the fact that the deal’s verification procedures to ensure Iran’s compliance are not nearly as airtight as the Obama administration claimed they would be. A close examination of the JCPOA reveals that the terms of the agreement permit Iran to hold international inspectors at arm’s length for at least 24 days — and likely even for a period of three months or longer — before undeclared nuclear sites and activities conducted on the premises can be inspected.
Iran is further allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate the Parchin military complex, where it is suspected of conducting nuclear weapons work. This arrangement is part of a secret agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which essentially makes Iranian compliance a matter of trust. And trust is the last commodity we should extend to the Iranians.
When Iran entered into dialogue about its nuclear program, it suffered from a significant trust deficit based on its long history of aggressive behavior towards the United States and numerous other countries around the world. And since the deal was signed, Tehran has shamelessly expanded its malevolent activities. The Islamic Republic has test-fired multiple ballistic missiles in defiance of UN prohibitions, including UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Moreover, the Trump administration is currently trying to free two Iranian-Americans being held in the notorious Evin prison, including an 81-year-old man in poor health.
Obama’s own State Department listed Iran as a leading state sponsor of terror; at the same time, the nuclear deal negotiated by his administration provided the Islamic Republic with hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief and new trade deals. Unsurprisingly, this policy badly backfired. Iran’s terror proxies, most notably Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, are among the main beneficiaries of the deal. The intelligence chief of the IDF warned during the IDC Herzliya Conference in 2017 that Iran now contributes $50 million to Hamas’ annual budget, while bankrolling Hezbollah with $75 million, and funding Palestinian Islamic Jihad with an additional $70 million.
The threat of an emboldened Iran that would pursue hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East was one of the likely outcomes anticipated by numerous critics of the deal. Their assessment rings true today. Iran has gobbled up four Arab capitals through its influence: Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and most recently Sana’a. Iran has also tightened its grip on Iraq through affiliated Shiite militia groups based in the country, and has used the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a vehicle to consolidate power on the Arabian Peninsula.
Iran is also directly complicit — and an active participant — in the industrial-scale killing in Syria, where it supports Assad’s murderous regime and the terrorist group Hezbollah. Administration officials confirmed that a proposed sale of civilian airliners from Boeing to Iran’s largest airline was still under review by the Treasury Department because Iran uses its civilian air fleet to send personnel and weapons to the Syrian battlefield.
There is more bad news. Hope that the nuclear agreement would empower Iran’s moderates and reign in the country’s human rights abuses seems tragically misplaced. Instead, the deal has strengthened hardline elements, most notably the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which is tasked with preserving the ideals of the 1979 revolution. The IRGC reaches into nearly every sector of the Iranian economy, making it a major beneficiary of the nuclear agreement — and the billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
Hassan Rouhani’s rise to power has changed nothing in this regard. Anti-Americanism and the intention to wipe Israel off the map are not mere rhetoric, but remain part of the regime’s core DNA. Persecution, violence and outright murder have also gotten worse under Rouhani’s tenure. At least 966 people were put to death in the country in 2015 — the highest number since 1989. This figure is twice as many as in 2010, and 10 times as many as in 2005. This brutality is the true face of Iran’s ostensibly ‘moderate’ regime.
Two years after the nuclear agreement was signed, Iran — immune to future economic sanctions and on its way to becoming a nuclear threshold state in just a decade from now — pursues its hegemonic ambitions, arm-in-arm with terrorist organizations and rogue regimes that threaten the security of the United States and its allies.
The only people that Tehran is fooling at this point are people who want to be fooled. Iran is using the agreement as a domestic tool of oppression and as an instrument of terror abroad. It is only a matter of time for it to collapse under its own weight. No deal would have been preferable to a bad deal. The JCPOA is a bad deal and it makes us less safe– and if President Trump truly meant what he said during the campaign, he must stop supporting it immediately.
Joshua S. Block is CEO and president of The Israel Project.