Sign Me Up!
Sign up for a monthly newsletter and occasional alerts from Broader View! If you provide your location, we'll let you know if Nevet is planning a visit to your area.
* = required field
Please support our work!

Iran: Lessons Learned

January 11, 2021

It’s not 2015 anymore.

Ideologues and fanatics are driven by beliefs, immune to facts and oblivious to reality; in contrast, reasonable people—those led by reason—are always open to new evidence. Experience can help us re-evaluate positions and formulate strategies. Since 2015, we have learned important lessons about Iran, about the Middle East, about nuclear deals and international negotiations. Rather than try to turn back the clock and pretend that the last six years never happened, we should use these lessons to inform our decisions and future actions.

We learned that Iran is not interested in moderation or integration into the international community. It is interested in regional hegemony and exporting the revolution throughout the region and beyond. Since 2015, Iran has become even more belligerent, from firing missiles at a Saudi oil facility and American military bases to seizing a South Korean oil tanker. It continues to spread violence throughout the region, fund and arm rogue non-state actors like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, and foment terrorism around the world. Domestically, Iran is just as repressive as it has been for decades—murdering activists, jailing journalists, and kidnapping dissidents, among its many human rights abuses.

We learned that unilateral sanctions do, in fact, work. U.S. sanctions have brought the Iranian economy near collapse, with 40% annual inflation and a deep recession, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and falling oil prices. International companies, concerned about investment risks and access to the vast American market, have followed U.S. sanctions rather than their own governments’ encouragement to do business with Iran. On the other hand, we also learned that economic sanctions, however biting, have not—or at least not yet—changed Iran’s behavior.

On the international front, we learned that our partners in the deal are too timid and too eager to appease the mullahs. The much-touted sanctions “snapback” mechanism of the nuclear agreement turned out to be toothless, with the Europeans unwilling to invoke it despite Iranian violations and even explicit Iranian statements that it will no longer honor the agreement.

Speaking of partners, we learned that the countries involved in the 2015 negotiations are not the only ones to consider. Existential security concerns of allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states are more important than the commercial interests of the UK, France, and Germany, and certainly more important than the imperialist interests of Russia and China.

We learned that the “most comprehensive” and “most robust and intrusive” inspections are worthless if they don’t translate into action after repeated and systemic violations—from uranium enrichment far above the agreed-upon levels and quantities to the installation of prohibited advanced centrifuges.

We learned that Israel is serious about enforcing its red lines, using both overt and covert force. If the U.S. and international community cannot—or will not—stop Iran using diplomatic and economic measures, Israel can and will, potentially with more harmful consequences. Israel’s determination and ability to stop Iran’s nuclear program have only increased in the last six years. And the realignment of Israeli-Arab relations through the Abraham Accords means that Israel will not be alone in this quest: Pragmatic Arab regimes that previously supported Israel tacitly now do so publicly and proudly, strengthening the international consensus against Iranian nuclearization.

From Israel’s daring 2018 capture of Iran’s nuclear archive, we learned that Tehran had pursued for decades an extensive clandestine military nuclear-weapons program, contrary to its repeated denials. And we learned that while the mullahs mothballed the program, they maintained the ability to restart it at any time.

We learned that even supporters of the deal didn’t expect it to permanently block Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb, only to kick the can down the road. And now that the first of the “sunset” provisions—the expiration of the international weapons embargo on Iran—has passed, advocates of the deal are struggling with the question of how to extend its timetable. We also learned that once Iran received what it wanted on the nuclear front and sanctions relief, it had no reason to negotiate on other areas of concern, including ballistic missiles and regional aggression.

Iran is now demanding a full lifting of all U.S. sanctions—and compensation!—before it meets its obligations under the 2015 agreement. This should be an obvious non-starter for the U.S.; it makes no sense to give up negotiating leverage and then hope to address the shortcomings and extend the timetable of the previous deal. Even if it were feasible, such a rollback would require complete denial and willful blindness to the developments of the last six years. The Middle East is not the same place it was in 2015, and we know a lot more about Iran, about sanctions, and about our international allies than we did then. Rather than attempting time travel, the incoming administration should consider the 2021 realities and lessons learned in formulating its Iran strategy.

* * *

As always, your feedback is very welcome and actively solicited. Please contact me with your reactions, additions, and rebuttals.

Comments are closed.