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September 6, 2022 10:55 am
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Deal or No Deal, Israel Must Restore a Credible Military Threat 

avatar by Jacob Nagel

Opinion

Russian President Vladimir Putin arriving in the Iranian capital Tehran. Photo: Reuters/Konstantin Zavrazhin

The Iranian regime and the US are exchanging drafts of what is being described again as a “take it or leave it, last chance [nuclear] deal.” Both sides will not admit publicly to having compromised, amidst a flurry of activity. For now, it is unclear whether a new agreement is imminent or not.

For the Iranian regime, there are three major unresolved issues, among other minor ones.

First, what happens if a future US president pulls out of the deal? Regime negotiators, under the direction of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khameinei, demand legal assurances in the event that a future president exits the deal. They also demand a predetermined end to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigations into Iran’s suspicious activities, well before the appropriate information has been provided. Finally, the regime demands the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), or at least all of its associated businesses, from Washington’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).

There are other issues that linger, but it all boils down to two key questions: Does Khameinei really want a deal? And how many more concessions will the US envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, make?

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Leading political, military, and intelligence figures in Israel are unanimously concerned about the deal currently being negotiated. It is widely viewed as worse than the deal from 2015, which was extremely dangerous. The current deal on the table would yield huge amounts of cash to the regime, with nuclear restrictions that would fully “sunset” in a few short years. Israel has not yet given up on the idea of trying to convince the White House that this deal is a mistake. Some believe that the current government should make more noise, like former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu did in 2015.

The current deal, if signed, would provide massive sanctions relief that would allow the regime to rebuild its economy, as well as upgrade its nuclear and conventional capabilities, and bolster its support for terrorism. As constructed, the deal does not account for Iran’s recent illegal nuclear advances (most of which occurred after President Biden was elected). Nor does it address the regime’s foiled plots against former Trump administration officials Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and others.

Israel is now preparing for two scenarios: deal or no deal. There is also a recognition in Jerusalem that Iranian foot-dragging could result in a decision on the deal only after the November midterm elections. But no matter what happens, Iran will remain dangerously close to a nuclear threshold country or even one that acquires nuclear weapons.

Israel believes that it’s time to restore a credible military threat to the Iranian regime. Episodes from the past clearly demonstrate that Iran’s behavior can be shaped by such a threat.

In 2003, after the US invasion of neighboring Iraq, the regime believed it faced a possible military threat, so it came to the negotiating table, willing to make concessions. We saw this again in 2011-2012, when President Obama warned that “all options were on the table.” Unfortunately, the US didn’t wield its leverage in either scenario

In January 2020, a year and a half after President Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, the US military eliminated IRGC leader Qasem Soleimani in a drone attack. This action restored the credible military threat for a short period. The Iranian regime significantly curtailed its new nuclear violations, likely out of fear of another strike.

This was the status quo for an entire year, until President Biden refused to wield a military threat. One year later, there is still no credible military threat, and Iran has engaged in one nuclear violation after another.

Deal or no deal, Israel must seriously consider a new paradigm, like the one President Reagan introduced in 1983. That was the year Reagan abandoned “containment” and adopted a plan to roll back Soviet Union expansionism. And it worked.

This doctrine is described in a book called “Victory,” and it has been highlighted elsewhere by Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The Reagan policy was outlined in National Security Decision Directive 75, which called for the use of all instruments of American power, overt and covert, to counter the Soviet Union. It included a significant defense buildup, an economic warfare strategy, supporting anti-Soviet proxy forces and dissidents, and a full-throated delegitimization of the Soviet Union’s ideology. The result was the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Is the Iranian regime as ossified and vulnerable? Perhaps. Despite the massive sanctions relief in any upcoming deal, Iran’s economy will remain fragile. This suggests opportunities for Israel, even after a deal is signed.

Unfortunately, Israel will likely need to act alone. Israel is already waging economic and psychological warfare against Iran. There are kinetic strikes, too. Indeed, Israel, according to the foreign press, is already hammering assets of the regime across the Middle East and in Iran, in an asymmetric campaign called the “War Between Wars.” The Iranian regime has been unable to stop them.

Building on this momentum, Israel must endeavor to find other willing partners in the region. Regime change need not be the immediate goal. Indeed, it would suffice if stakeholders in the Middle East weakened the Iranian regime enough to prevent it from taking provocative actions under a nuclear umbrella yielded too easily through the deeply-flawed deal that currently hangs in the balance.

Brigadier General (res.) Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), and a visiting professor at the Technion aerospace faculty. He previously served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council (acting). 

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