Can Iran Be Stopped?
Over the last eight years, two tactics have been employed to minimize or eliminate the Iranian threat — the Obama maximum appeasement approach and Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. Both share the same result — total failure. From his campaign statements, Joe Biden appears interested in some middle ground leaning toward Obama’s policy. That will also be unsuccessful if, like his predecessors, he refuses to employ military options.
American objectives are clear: Prevent Iran from building or advancing toward a nuclear weapon, stop its ballistic missile development, curb its sponsorship of terror, and thwart its actions that destabilize the region. Obama offered Iran economic carrots and a loophole-filled nuclear deal that did not even address three of these goals, while naively believing Iran would change its hostile attitude toward the United States. He had so little confidence in the agreement, he refused to submit it to the Senate as a treaty — because it would have been rejected. Trump thought he could do better with an economic stick, but also did not accomplish any of the objectives.
The best that can be said of US strategy is that Iran has not yet built a nuclear weapon.
Obama claimed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) “cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to the bomb,” but contradicted himself by admitting that as early as year 13 of the deal — 2028 — “the breakout times [for building a bomb] would have shrunk almost down to zero.”
Trump’s strategy has led Iran to go from covert to overt violations of the JCPOA. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported that Iran is installing more sophisticated centrifuges at Natanz and feeding uranium gas into them. The Iranian stockpile of low-enriched uranium is now nearly 12 times the amount permitted under the JCPOA and enriched to 4.5% purity, exceeding the deal’s limit of 3.67%. Iran now is believed to have sufficient enriched uranium to produce two nuclear weapons if it can be enriched to 90%.
Following the assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Tehran announced it was raising its level of uranium enrichment to 20 percent, and Iran’s parliament passed a law on December 2, 2020, giving the United States until early February to lift sanctions imposed by President Trump or it will ban entry to international nuclear inspectors and increase uranium enrichment to a level closer to weapons-ready.
Obama’s former advisers, some angling for posts in the Biden administration, continue to insist the deal was a great success. They like to cite the IAEA’s reports of Iranian compliance with the deal. Those reports, however, simply ignored acts of noncompliance. The Iranians never, for example, came clean about their nuclear program. They never allowed the anywhere, anytime inspections Obama promised, banning inspectors from military sites where violations were most likely to occur. We also learned, thanks to the Israelis, not the IAEA, that Iran maintained plans for building a bomb and conducted experiments to develop them at a secret site that was sanitized before the IAEA sent in inspectors. Likewise, Iran destroyed evidence at the Parchin nuclear test site and never explained its activities there as required by the agreement.
The IAEA’s failures came as no surprise given that it was unaware of the Iranian nuclear program in the first place, and has no idea what secret facilities or activities may be going on today. Meanwhile, we know from German intelligence that Iran has been actively seeking materials for weapons of mass destruction.
The JCPOA also proved worthless because of the Europeans’ unwillingness to enforce it. They ignored the Iranian noncompliance in the hopes of expanding their commercial interests with Iran, and have tried to work around US sanctions. Now that Iran is openly violating the agreement, the Europeans have refused to activate the snap-back sanctions that were a key element in Obama’s case for the deal. If Iran failed to comply, he assured us, sanctions would be reimposed.
The only real hope for accomplishing US objectives would be regime change. Obama, however, explicitly ruled it out and provided Iran $150 billion, which strengthened the regime. Trump pretended regime change was not his goal while apparently believing it would result from the collapse of the Iranian economy.
Biden also has no interest in regime change. He wants “to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program.” He also endorsed Obama’s promise, now proven meaningless by the Europeans, that sanctions would be reimposed if necessary.
Iran is hopeful, however, that Biden’s determination to resume negotiations and re-enter the nuclear deal will result in the easing of sanctions and the opportunity to continue to pursue their objectives with impunity. The Iranians have made clear they have no intention of agreeing to a tougher deal and expect the US to compensate them for the economic losses they’ve incurred during Trump’s term.
It is a fantasy to believe that Iran will agree to any deal that would prevent it from acquiring a bomb, let alone stop their missile development, sponsorship of terror, or threats to Israel and Sunni regimes. The New York Times just released satellite photos showing that Iran is building a new underground nuclear fuel enrichment facility in Natanz to protect its centrifuge production. Supporters of the JCPOA and Iran apologists should be asked if that is the behavior of a country interested in giving up its nuclear ambitions to a new sweet- talking president.
Still, we are told it is better, as Churchill said, to jaw-jaw than to war-war, ignoring the fact that he was neither willing to negotiate nor eschew military action when Britain was threatened. The only way to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is by military means. This does not mean, as scaremongers contend, an all-out invasion like Desert Storm. The US has a variety of tools at its disposal, and willing allies to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and threatening the region and beyond with its ambition for radical Islamic hegemony.
The mullahs, like Kim Jong-un in North Korea, understand their best chance for survival is a nuclear capability. We waited until it was too late to stop Kim and now must worry about him arming ballistic missiles that can reach the United States. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with Iran. Biden’s focus must be on eliminating the threat of a nuclear Iran rather than dreaming of talking them into disarming.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and authority on US-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books including: The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.