The US president-elect must heed the lessons of history when managing Iran

November 13, 2020 by Danny Danon
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One of the most crucial issues on the table for the Middle East is Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, and then-outgoing Vice President Joe Biden, during the 58th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps Lance corporal Cristian L. Ricardo via Wikimedia Commons

It is very likely that this will be one of the first briefings President-elect Joe Biden receives when he enters the White House.

Biden has previously stated that he plans to rejoin the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the Iran nuclear deal—and “strengthen and extend it.” He says that he is going to continue on the path of a nuclear-free Iran and that he will “make an unshakeable commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

What remains to be seen is which approach he will take on this issue. Will he forge his own new, independent path and stop the Iranian nuclear race? Or will he enable a dangerous situation to continue and worsen?

Danny Danon Credit: Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations.

The Biden team seems to suggest that more moderate, diplomatic efforts, coupled with a revival of the deal, will halt the danger of Iran’s imminent access to nuclear weapons. They present a case that indicates their leadership will not give Iran a free ride. However, the overriding fear is that the moment sanctions are lifted, the Iranians will have all the nuclear access they need.

One cannot ignore that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran was breaking the agreement from its inception—violations that the deal’s signatories pushed under the radar. It seems highly unlikely that Iran will, a second time round, simply agree to U.S. demands. Even if it does, it is questionable, at best, that they will not covertly disregard them, given their blatant disregard for the original agreement and subsequent remorseless breaches.

Nor can one ignore that Iran was actually made better off by the deal. Its nuclear infrastructure was kept intact, and it proceeded to advance nuclear research. Simultaneously, Iran was due to benefit from the “sunset clause,” which stipulated that by 2025, only a bit more than four years away, the restrictions will start to disappear, providing Iran with unfettered access to nuclear weaponry.

This must not be allowed to happen. Appeasement of one of the most dangerous countries in the Middle East—one that routinely calls for the destruction of Israel and America—can only lead to disaster.

The new reality is that the structure of the Middle East now rotates around the region’s approach to halting the progression of a nuclear Iran that was triggered by the JCPOA. It resulted in widespread concern among the region’s states, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudia Arabia. The single advantage that emerged is that it brought together Israel and the Middle East’s moderate Arab countries, and led to the recent U.S. brokering of the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, shortly to be followed by Sudan, all of which envisages a new Middle East and new opportunities.

It is critical to mark these lessons of recent history. We can quickly grasp from Iran’s reactions to the initial JCPOA, breaching it on numerous occasions despite its very advantageous terms, that its extremist government is not moved by “nice” words. Strong and decisive action is what has proven to be effective and necessary.

We have seen that the “maximum pressure” sanctions made it far more challenging for Iran to fund international terrorism and acquire its dream of a nuclear weapon. Tough measures have also gone a very long way to debilitating the terrorist groups operating from Iran due to a severe lack of funds. This, in turn, has weakened the hold that the dictatorial regime has on its own people. If we continue on the current path of harsh restrictions, Iran will have no option but to end its hostile activities.

President-Elect Biden’s intentions are upstanding. He believes that he can correct and contain Iran’s violations through diplomacy. It is paramount for him, however, to take note of the highly unusual unified voice emanating from the region, from Israel and from the Middle East’s moderate Arab nations, all of which are in the line of fire.

Biden’s relationship with Israel extends as far back as 1973 when he met then-Prime Minister Golda Meir. He called it “one of the most consequential meetings I’ve ever had in my life.” Biden witnessed Israel fighting for its survival and understands the challenges it and the wider region face.

He is to be congratulated on his electoral victory in the earnest hope that, as America’s new president, he will demonstrate his innate understanding of Israel and the Middle East, and recognize the beneficial outcomes and far-reaching vision of recent regional developments. There is room for optimism that he will construct his own path of strength and principle.

Ambassador Danny Danon served as Israel’s 17th Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Minister of Science and Technology and Deputy Minister of Defense.

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