What did the EU reaction to the Iran nuclear standoff mean when it declared that Iran’s two violations of the 2015 nuclear deal were not significant enough to start the process toward invoking the deal’s punitive snapback sanctions for violations? At first glance, the EU position might appear defensible and reasonable.However, a more careful examination of the provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the history of Iran negotiations shows that the EU position likely exposes the biggest hole in the deal that critics have always highlighted: what will happen when the nuclear restrictions expire? In a vacuum, one can understand the EU point of view. In this perspective, the key point is that the Islamic republic never violated the deal’s specific provisions until the Trump administration pulled out of the deal. According to this view, the Trump administration’s ill-conceived withdrawal from the deal and imposing its own sanctions, with a similar impact to what the JCPOA’s snapback sanctions would have had, are what caused the crisis. Thus, the EU can say, ‘Look, the US misbehaved and Iran reacted by misbehaving. We just want everything to go back to how it was when the deal was working,’ while trying not to penalize Iran in the meantime. In addition, Tehran’s two nuclear violations to date – surpassing the 300 kg. enriched uranium limit, and breaking the 3.67% level of enrichment limit – do not yet significantly shorten its timeline to obtaining a nuclear bomb. This would be the EU’s basis for saying it knows Iran has violated the deal, but has not significantly violated the deal enough to penalize Iran. But this not only ignores the JCPOA provisions, it also ignores context. The JCPOA does not demand snapback sanctions immediately when there is a potential violation by Iran. Rather, it starts a drawn-out 24-day process for consultations, at the end of which France, England, Germany, Russia, China (and the US when it was in the deal) decide what to do or not do, or delay deciding. Why can’t the EU start that process? Even if it delayed officially snapping back sanctions, it would send Iran a message that the violations will not be ignored and moves the process along. The EU view and response also ignores history and context. A primary premise of the JCPOA deal was that it would gradually get Iran to moderate its sponsorship of terrorism in the region, and might get it to roll back its ballistic missile program. There was even hope of it becoming more democratic. But the opposite occurred. Iran became much more aggressive in sponsoring terrorism in the region, and carried out an increased number of ballistic missile tests. True democratic reformers in Iran in high-ranking positions are on the run more today than before, even if protests do spring up from time to time. In addition, while the JCPOA’s preamble has provisions about preventing Iran from ever moving toward a nuclear weapon, its provisions with teeth to actually stop Iran from activities that could help it move toward a bomb expire mostly in four, six and nine years. This was the biggest hole in the deal, known as the “sunset clause.” The Trump administration is not known for many successes in diplomatic negotiations. But it did make an attempt to negotiate an improved deal, with the EU pressing Iran to make some concessions prior to the US pulling out of the agreement in May 2018. Iran would not hear of extending the nuclear restrictions. If, in an alternate reality, the Islamic republic were acting more responsibly, the US, Israel and the Sunni Arab states might feel less threatened by removing the restrictions. But as long as Tehran continues to sponsor terrorism and move ahead with its ballistic missile program in ways that defy the West’s premise for the deal, it should not be surprised that there is a desire to extend the nuclear restrictions. It did not help Iran’s case when the Mossad revealed the depth of its deception in previously seeking to develop at least five nuclear bombs. This is why the EU’s response on Monday is so important. Some US and Israeli defense experts had said to push off brinkmanship with Iran until a few years from now, when it would be standing a year or two away from when the deal was due to expire. The EU’s current feckless response, after clear Iranian violations and threats of escalating violations, seems to show that this plan might never have worked because the EU powers simply may not have it in themselves to stare down Tehran. One can debate whether Trump’s leaving the deal in 2018 was the right timing, and whether it blocked diplomacy from working. But if the EU would never have been ready to face down the Islamic republic, then there may be some utility in having exposed that truth earlier on. Ironically, the EU’s fear of conflict with Iran may be paralyzing it to such a degree that it makes Israel more likely to act militarily down the road, if the EU and others do not help the US force Tehran to the table with full snapback sanctions.