The time for negotiating with Iran is over, Israeli analysts warn

Regional experts recommend harsher measures after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Tehran is not prepared to comply with 2015 nuclear deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he steps off his plane upon arrival at Cairo International Airport, in Cairo, Egypt May 26, 2021. (photo credit: ALEX BRANDON/POOL VIA REUTERS)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he steps off his plane upon arrival at Cairo International Airport, in Cairo, Egypt May 26, 2021.
As Iran continues to press ahead with its nuclear program and the United Sates pushes for a return to compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal, some are warning that the time for negotiations is over.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said that it “remains unclear” whether Tehran is ready to comply with the nuclear agreement signed with the world powers.
Speaking at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken also said that the breakout time for Iran to assemble a nuclear weapon could go down to just a few weeks if it continues to violate the terms of the pact.
The US and Iran began indirect talks in Vienna in April in order to reach an agreement and resume compliance with the nuclear accord  that was reached in 2015, and which the Trump administration left in 2018.
On the heels of Blinken’s comments, regional analysts say that a different approach is now necessary.
Dr. Soli Shahvar, founding director of the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa, told The Media Line that the Western policy of “appeasement” has proved fruitless.
“I don’t see any reason to continue trying to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or in conducting negotiations,” Shahvar said, using the official name for the nuclear agreement. “The logical thing to do would be to continue the sanctions and take even more aggressive steps against Iran. … If I were an advisor, I would recommend hardening the policy.”
Shahvar, an Iranian-born scholar who currently resides in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa, said that stricter measures do not have to be limited to the economic arena, but could also include supporting human rights groups in Iran and adding more individuals connected to the regime to a terrorist watchlist.
There is no possibility of successfully negotiating with Tehran because of its religious extremism and ongoing human rights abuses, Shahvar says. From the Middle Eastern point of view, insisting on talks is viewed as a form of weakness and only serves to encourage the Islamic Republic’s leaders to continue down the path they have taken.
“It’s a crazy regime that creates only terror, violence and death, so how can you come to terms with it? How come [Western powers] don’t help their natural allies, the people of Iran?” Shahvar asked.
“We know that Iran is in a very dangerous situation economically,” he said. “You have to create the circumstances so that the people themselves can arise against their own regime, which they despise.”
China and Russia’s growing influence in the region complicates matters even further.
China recently signed a $400 billion, 25-year trade deal with the Islamic Republic, which will see China invest in Iranian infrastructure. For its part, Russia has repeatedly supported Iran on several key issues and views Tehran as a regional ally.
Avi Melamed, president and founder of Inside the Middle East: Intelligence Perspectives, told The Media Line that Iran has presented the international community with a multi-pronged challenge.
The nuclear program is one of several issues, he said, along with Iran’s missile program and its use of militias or proxy groups throughout the Middle East.
The JCPOA, Melamed noted, has done little to curb those aggressions.
“Some within the international community still insist on turning a blind eye to the severe and complex challenge that the Iranian regime presents,” Melamed said. “We are facing a growing, severe Iranian threat in the region. The alarm bells should have gone off a long time ago in Western capitals. Unfortunately, Western leaders either failed to or did not want to deal with that challenge and it will just get worse.”
Aside from Israel, other major players in the Middle East also view Tehran’s nuclear aspirations as a major threat, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Like Shahvar, Melamed believes that the US and western Europe need to adopt a much more uncompromising approach to the issue.
“It seems that there is a disturbing gap between the rhetoric and the statements, and what is happening on the ground,” he said.
Israel’s new government could also shift elements of the equation on Iran’s nuclear program in new and unexpected ways. Led by Yamina’s Naftali Bennett, the coalition – which spans Israel’s political spectrum from left to right and even includes an Islamist party – appears poised to be sworn in to the Knesset on Sunday.
While Melamed does not expect Bennett’s approach to Iran to be different from that of his predecessor, Binyamin Netanyahu, the change could pave the path to a more productive dialogue with Western allies.
“This is an interesting aspect because it’s very clear that Mr. Netanyahu for different reasons was generating some sort of resentment within western European governments and the Biden administration,” Melamed said. “In that context, we could expect a smoother dialogue between the new government and the Biden administration.”