How to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program: A Bigger Carrot and Bigger Stick
The failure of the international community to stop Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, should cause those involved in negotiations with the Islamic Republic to stop and rethink their strategy. The warning signs are blinking red in both Jerusalem and Washington, and to increase their leverage in the nuclear talks, the US and its negotiating partners need a bigger carrot and a bigger stick.
In an eye-opening speech on May 17 at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Iran “stands just a few weeks away from accumulating fissile material that will be sufficient for a first bomb.”
This assessment was made by David Albright, one of America’s leading experts on nuclear weapons, and the head of the Institute for Science and International Security. On April 11, Albright wrote this chilling warning: “As soon as mid-to-late April, Iran is expected to reach a new dangerous, destabilizing threshold, having enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) to fashion a nuclear explosive, about 40-42 kilograms (kg) of 60 percent enriched uranium (uranium mass).”
It is obvious that the current negotiating strategy of the P5+1 — the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom — has failed. It seems even the Biden administration has realized this, as it has refused to give into Iranian demands, and even issued new sanctions on the regime.
In order to deter Iran from reaching a nuclear breakout, the US and its negotiating partners must adopt a new strategy that significantly changes the cost-benefit analysis of Iran’s leaders.
We have seen signs of the beginning of a change in strategy, with Israel’s large-scale military exercise currently under way named “Chariots of Fire,” which replicates the challenges Israel would face in a war on multiple fronts.
According to a report in The Times of Israel, as part of the exercise, Israel’s air force will hold “a simulated attack on Iranian nuclear targets” over the Mediterranean Sea. Israel media reported that for the first time, US Air Force refueling tankers will take part in the drill.
If the report is correct, it would certainly send a message to Iran’s leaders that the United States will not leave Israel alone to deal with the threat of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. However, a much more robust American policy is necessary to deter Iran.
Although the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is considered one of the best in the world, it lacks important capabilities for dealing a decisive blow to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Specifically, according to another report, the IAF lacks long-range air refueling capabilities necessary to support multiple strikes on targets in Iran. Nor does it posses warplanes large enough to carry the bunker-busting bombs that can penetrate Iran’s nuclear facilities buried deep underground, like the one at Natanz.
That is why the United States should take a clear stance on its own military option for preventing a nuclear armed-Iran. In other words, America needs, “a bigger stick.”
In an article published in Foreign Policy in October 2021, former US ambassador Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute wrote, “If Washington wants to make the use of force against the Iranian nuclear program less likely, it is essential to restore deterrence. For that, Iran’s leaders must believe either the United States or Israel will act militarily to destroy their massive investment in the nuclear program if they stay on the current path and reject a negotiated outcome.”
However, to make it effective, the American military option should become official US policy. Simply repeating the mantra that “all options are on the table” is not enough. As Ross wrote in the article, “The loss of Iranian fear about what they can get away with on their nuclear ambitions is dangerous.”
At the same time, the US could also prove the sincerity of its intentions for a negotiated agreement by providing a “bigger carrot.”
Over the past several years, Iran has been experiencing a severe water crisis that has led to widespread protests, especially in Khuzestan province. According to a report in The New York Times, last summer protesters were shouting, “I am thirsty.” The protests have also spread to major cities like Isfahan, where farmers protested the water shortages. The Iranian government brutally repressed the demonstrations that turned into violent rioting.
The water shortage is caused by a combination of drought, extreme temperatures, and decades of neglect. Kaveh Madani, an environmental scientist and former deputy head of Iran’s Department of Environment wrote, “Iran’s water problems are the results of decades of bad management, poor environmental governance, and lack of foresight.”
And Iran’s water shortage is not going away any time soon.
As Middle East expert Massaab Al-Aloosy wrote in a recent report for the Washington Institute, “Iran is already experiencing social disturbances that will only increase in intensity because of water shortages. It is estimated that 97% “of the country is experiencing drought to some degree, according to the Islamic Republic of Iran Meteorological Organization.”
The severity of the water crisis could now bring Iran’s leaders to a new cost-benefit analysis regarding their pursuit of nuclear weapons. An American offer of aid for Iran’s water crisis, combined with a clear statement on the American use of military force to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, could be crucial to changing the mindset of Iran’s leadership. Specifically, Iran needs to be warned about their continued development of highly enriched uranium.
As Iran approaches the point of nuclear breakout, now is the time for President Biden and the US negotiating team to show more creativity, clarity, and resolve in its negotiating strategy with the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is time to force the leadership of Iran to make a choice between the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the welfare of the people of Iran.
Bob Feferman is Outreach Coordinator for the non-partisan advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI)