Iran, Russia and a potentially disastrous new US-brokered nuclear deal

April 1, 2022 by J-Wire News Service
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Dr Jonathan Schanzer, the Senior Vice President for Research at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, and a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury, addressed the latest Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) webinar, where his topic was, “Iran, Russia and a Potentially Disastrous New US Brokered Nuclear Deal”.

He started by discussing Israel’s situation in relation to Russia, noting that Israel faces challenges as it tries to contribute to efforts against Russian leader Vladimir Putin while defending its own interests, likening it to walking a tightrope.

While some including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urge Israel to take a side, Schanzer observed that Israel urgently needs to operate in Syria, and Putin holds the key there and has deployed deadly S400 anti-aircraft systems. Israel needs to stop Iran from smuggling Precision-Guided Missiles (PGMs) through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. PGMs constitute a threat second only to nuclear weapons, he said, being very accurate and able to evade Israel’s missile defence systems, so Israel regularly targets these deliveries, and so needs constant deconfliction with Putin.

Even so, he added, Israeli pilots don’t feel safe over Syria and take all sorts of evasive measures because it’s “an enemy territory controlled by a power they are not entirely at ease with.” Israel joined the UN vote to condemn the Russian invasion and was concerned that may anger Putin.

He noted that Israel has delivered its largest ever aid package, and a field hospital, to Ukraine, is preparing to welcome Ukrainian refugees, and, most importantly, has engaged in direct mediation, with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett uniquely able to speak directly to the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, the US and Germany.

Israel, he said, won’t sanction Russia for fear Putin will block access to Syrian airspace, having said sanctions are tantamount to war. Israel also can’t legally sanction countries not openly belligerent to it without a UN Security Council resolution and has concerns about Russia’s large Jewish community, which is being forced to support the war.

He noted requests for Israel to provide Iron Dome missile defence batteries to Ukraine are impractical, because Israel needs all of its Iron Dome batteries for its own defence, although the US owns one in Guam, and even if Israel did supply one, it would take a significant amount of training before it could be used.

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Remarkably, he said, the US still hasn’t figured out a way to get Israel out of the predicament it unwittingly put Israel in nine years ago when it allowed Russia into Syria. He added that this is “putting a huge amount of stress on the Israelis because they truly do stand with the West, they stand with Ukraine, they just cannot express it in the same way as some of the other countries that are… not held over a barrel the way the Israelis are right now by Vladimir Putin.”

Moving to the Iran nuclear deal being renegotiated in Vienna, he said it has been a “train wreck” for Israel as US envoy Rob Malley has been making “one concession after another.” The initial 2015 deal yielded Iran’s regime around US$150 billion, there was an arms embargo that has already expired, and another on ballistic missiles which ends next year, as well as sunset clauses on nuclear restrictions. Now Iran is demanding the US delist Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, “which really sponsors just about every major terrorist group in the Middle East,” as a terror group –  but an outcry from both Republicans and Democrats means the US may step back from that.

He added that Iran is also calling for the closing of four IAEA investigations into Iran, including one into uranium metal processing – a key component for a nuclear warhead –  and for the removal of sanctions from what is basically a slush fund for the Supreme Leader. Iran will gain US$130-140 billion in sanctions relief and may also receive an inherent guarantee that if the US pulls out of the deal, Iran can enrich uranium to 60% and install advanced centrifuges on a massive scale, taking it within a few weeks of a nuclear breakout.

He explained that it has been effectively a Russian-brokered deal, and Russia will receive Iran’s spent nuclear fuel and service its nuclear facilities, getting paid billions of dollars for doing so, at a time when Russia is “rattling its nuclear sabre.” He added, “so here you have a guy who is recklessly wielding his ability to fire off nuclear weapons in a conflict that he started, in which he is the aggressor… and right now he is being tapped to possibly be the responsible party that would be really the only country standing in between the Iranian regime and their nuclear program.”

He said Israel needs to keep operating in Syria and needs to keep its head down regarding Ukraine. We’re likely to see the war between wars heat up, with Israel attacking Iran in Syria, in Iran itself and in cyberspace, while if a deal is struck, Israel will have some very difficult choices to make. The question is whether the IDF considers itself ready to take drastic military or cyber action against Iran’s program. It will likely continue conducting smaller-scale operations and hope the US leadership changes.

He said it’s not a problem that the US is negotiating, just that it’s caving in, adding “this is a recipe for war.” The US should instead cut back financial support for Iran’s regime, and do more to cultivate its alliances in the region, given how many countries are outraged by its conduct, he urged.

Iran, he said, is teaching Russia how to circumvent the sanctions against it, having had years of experience doing so, including through narco-trafficking and bribing other countries.

If Iran does acquire nuclear weapons capabilities, Schanzer said he expects a cascade of other countries in the region seeking the same, including many with unstable regimes that could be toppled, potentially by Islamists. Iran may not actually use nuclear weapons, but keep them as the ultimate insurance policy, as Putin is doing.

He said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a test for the US, and has now signalled to other revisionist regimes that the US is not upholding the world order as it once did, which explains, among other things, China’s deal for a naval base in the Solomon Islands. One way out is for the US and allies to mount a more significant response. Problems will really start if Putin gets a taste for conquest and China feels its ambitions are attainable. The US needs to form alliances that will resist the aggressors, otherwise “it could be a signal to the world’s bullies that it’s open season.”

He said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s current visit to the Middle East is to calm the nerves of US allies and reassure them the US has the Iran situation under control, and appeal to US allies to release more oil and gas.

He says the Arab world is trying to bring Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in from the cold to try to wean him from Iran but isn’t sure it will work. Although Assad may be tiring of Iran, and the havoc it is wreaking on his country and would like to rebuild Syria and re-establish relations with the Arab countries, he is still a war criminal who killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. Schanzer added that the only way for Syria to advance is with new leadership.

Schanzner expressed scepticism regarding Turkey’s seeming attempts to warm relations with Israel, noting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s past pattern of hostility towards it, and noting his motivation is that he thinks Israel can help him out of isolation now that his conduct has made his country “broke and friendless”.


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