Realities and wishful thinking

Iran behaves nicely, and at the same time creates havoc in the Middle East.

Iranian cleric Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami delivers a sermon during Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, May 26, 2017. (photo credit: TIMA VIA REUTERS)
Iranian cleric Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami delivers a sermon during Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, May 26, 2017.
(photo credit: TIMA VIA REUTERS)
Strangely enough, almost all the facts cited by US President Donald Trump and by the supporters of the Iran deal (JCPOA) are correct. Moreover, there is little disagreement about the fact that Iran lied about its nuclear weapons ambitions and that it probably never abandoned them.
The big difference is in the unwillingness of the JCPOA supporters to acknowledge that the JCPOA deals only partially with the greater Iran issue, and that it only defers, not eliminates, Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons, almost at will, with rapidly diminishing timescales.
From the beginning it was assessed that there were many loopholes in the deal; that the verification mechanism was insufficient; that the time lines (the “sunset clauses”) would become worrisome in the not-too-distant future and that the issue of the missiles – the delivery systems for nuclear weapons – would remain unresolved and dangerous.
The partners to the deal were not misled into thinking that it was a perfect solution. They only thought, and they have not abandoned this idea, that Iran would behave itself, and work toward really abandoning its nuclear ambitions and given enough time would return to “normal” international relationships.
And that, while Iran was not misbehaving and acting contrary to its deal obligations, all would be well.
Unfortunately the two ambitions can coexist. Iran behaves nicely, and at the same time creates havoc in the Middle East. It obeys the terms of the deal, almost to the letter, while trying to augment its base of technical knowledge to procure materials and equipment in preparation for the day when it would become “legal” to use these to advance its perennial military nuclear ambitions.
The EU supporters of the deal are not really idealists. They need the deal to present achievements, to promote commerce and strengthen their own economies, to procure some semblance of peace in their backyard, since they still need to fight terrorism from other sources – why add another source of trouble to their already existing worries? It is clear thinking on their part.
In any case, with the sunset provisions, someone else will probably have to take care of the future issues.
The JCPOA was really good for Iran, although it did not fulfill all it had hoped for. The Iranian economy is still deep in trouble, and the diversion of sorely needed funds to subversive activities outside the state is not really accepted by the Iranian public. Iranian pride is being sorely tried by Israel, and public unrest, to some degree, is always there. With President Trump’s absconding from the JCPOA, Iran must sit down and really weigh its options.
Were the Iranian regime a completely rational one, with the main aim of doing what is best for its people, it could have changed its attitude towards the US, opened up its nuclear facilities and abandoned its hegemonic ambitions.
However, these actions would probably go against the DNA of the Iranian leadership.
The extreme Shi’ite beliefs would still rule the day for some time yet. The sensation of injured pride would be paramount in the decision-making process of the Iranian regime.
On the other hand, the EU JCPOA supporters cling to the deal, supported by the IAEA, and cite the fact that Iran is observing the deal to the letter. They do it in spite of the fact that at this stage of affairs this has little meaning because of the relatively smaller part the JCPOA plays in the overall Iran issue. They do it realizing that abandoning it could probably cause the onset of a major crisis, not only with Iran but perhaps with Russia and China, which they really do not need. Yet, there are those that prefer an immediate crisis which perhaps could be contained rather than deferring it and risking a nuclear crisis with much worse consequences.
The possibilities for a decline are great.
Iran could go and do the North Korea thing, breaking out, producing and testing a nuclear weapon. Iran could go on as before and eventually produce a missile- capable nuclear warhead, while creating havoc in the Middle East. Or, the really brave choice, the EU and Iran could swallow their pride, work together and come to an agreement, dealing with all relevant issues and convincing President Trump that this would be a win-win situation for all. Can they do it? The author is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).