Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Security Studies (JISS), spoke to a June 24th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the implications of a potential nuclear deal between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Inbar said the U.S. has made a "strategic decision" to "pivot away from the Middle East" to concentrate on China and its goal to "undermine" the U.S. This makes the Biden administration "desperate" to close a nuclear deal with Iran to open the regime's oil to the world market and relieve America's energy crisis and the resulting inflation and economic pressure.
The administration is eager to reach a deal because of international and domestic forces. Western support for Ukraine against invading Russian forces have significantly increased economic pressure on the U.S. and Europe. Europe has long wanted the U.S. to lift sanctions on Iran to open European markets to Iranian oil. On the other hand, Israel's rise as an energy exporter is not a viable option for Europe because the Jewish state lacks both a direct pipeline to Europe and the ability to "ship liquefied gas abroad."
Progressive groups, Democratic politicians, and the State Department favor a deal under the mistaken belief that the Iranian regime will behave differently than it did during the failed 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached by the Obama administration. The Biden administration's desire to ink a deal also stems from their erroneous belief that Iranian missiles cannot reach the U.S. and so are not a "real threat for America." Yet, Iran poses an existential threat to America's Mideast allies.
Although negotiations are at an impasse over Iranian demands to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from the U.S. list of designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), Inbar believes there will eventually be an agreement. "The Iranians will continue with their subversive terrorist activities, no matter if the [IRGC] are removed from the list.... They are now on the list, and they continue" with their hostile acts. He said the Iranians have earned a reputation as "hard bargainers," from a "bazaar mentality" in which they bide their time to gain the best advantage before agreeing to any deal. The regime has been negotiating with this mindset and is using the administration's eagerness to close a deal as a point of leverage. In the meantime, Inbar said, Iran escalates its malign behavior.
Vienna's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tasked with monitoring nuclear compliance, censured Iran following the Mossad's capture of the regime's nuclear archives, which exposed Iran's stealth military program of uranium enrichment. Rather than restraining Iran, however, Iran received permission from the IAEA to continue its centrifuge research. As a result, Iran now produces centrifuges that are ten faster than those permitted under the 2015 JCPOA and that yield fissionable material for a nuclear bomb at an accelerated rate. Iran further thumbed its nose at the IAEA by withholding the agency's surveillance footage from cameras that were installed as part of the watchdog's monitoring capabilities. Despite Iran's violations, the Biden administration is continuing the negotiations.
Inbar believes the central question is whether Iran will remain "resolute" in its intransigence or make concessions, because the regime is just as eager for a deal to "legitimize" its nuclear program as it is to obtain a financial windfall of billions of dollars if sanctions are lifted. Israel is against any agreement because the consequences of a nuclear deal will "minimize the legitimacy" of any Israeli military action against Iran's nuclear reactor. Even without an agreement, Inbar does not see sanctions as a "central issue" restraining Iran. Citing past sanctions on Cuba and current sanctions on Venezuela, Inbar said in both cases they had little effect on the regimes' behavior.
Emphasizing the need for the world to recognize "there is a war going on between Iran and Israel," Inbar anticipates an escalation between the two countries, regardless of whether or not an agreement is reached with the U.S. The recent elimination of Iran's nuclear scientists and strategists who plan terror attacks against the Jewish state, as well as the destruction of one hundred of the regime's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by an "unnamed source," are among Israel's "intensified efforts" to blunt Iran's capabilities. In addition, Israel attacked runways at the Damascus International Airport to prevent delivery of equipment that would increase the precision and deadliness of its proxy in Lebanon Hezbollah's stockpile of over 100,000 missiles currently aimed at the Jewish state.
Inbar expects Iran to expand its retaliatory attacks against Israel to include "Jewish targets abroad," as was the case in the regime's foiled attempt to attack Israeli tourists in Turkey. The regime is also using Hezbollah to threaten Israel's exploration of "gas in the exclusive economic zone in the North of Israel." Hamas has in the past attacked Israeli gas rigs, and Inbar anticipates these attacks to continue in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The Houthis, Iran's proxy in Yemen, control "strategic sites along the Red Sea" and claim Iran has equipped them with long-range missiles capable of reaching Israel's southern port of Eilat. Iran has also launched missile and UAV attacks against sites in northern Iraq's Kurdish Region (KRG) bordering Iran, where Israel has a presence.
Inbar said that Israel "at this time probably is not ready for an attack" on Iran's nuclear infrastructure, although Israel conducts training missions over the Mediterranean to increase military readiness. Inbar's JISS proposed to the government that Israel launch "preemptive strikes against Iranian proxies" for two reasons. First, Hamas and Hezbollah are being temporarily restrained by Iran as they await the moment the regime unleashes its full force against Israel following a possible Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. To "reduce the price" Israel would pay under crisis conditions, JISS urged Israel to destroy "the missile capabilities of Hezbollah and Hamas." Second, Inbar believes "if we don't do any muscular action against Iran, the Abraham Accords may disappear." The Gulf states may conclude that "as America exits the region, it is only Israel that can effectively put an end" to Iranian threats. Absent an Israeli attack on Iranian proxies, the Gulf states may question the "utility" of maintaining the Abraham Accords.
Although Inbar said the "American defense establishment" supports the Biden administration's policy, he sees a "greater consensus than ever before in the Israeli defense establishment about the need to confront Iran militarily, because there is no other way to prevent them from becoming nuclear." Israel's political crisis may make for "messy" conditions politically, with yet another round of elections, but Inbar does not believe this would preclude any Israeli politician from prioritizing Israel's security.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.