US expert assesses Biden approach to Iran threat at an AIJAC webinar

November 27, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The latest Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) webinar featured Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies Chief Executive and Iran expert Mark Dubowitz, who understands better than almost anyone the threat posed by the Iranian regime.

Mark Dubowitz Screenshot

Dubowitz, whose topic was “The Biden Administration and the Challenge of a Rogue Iran”, revealed he has not only been working on the issue for 17 years but faces personal threats from Iran for doing so.

He explained that the “Islamic Republic of Iran… is obviously a strategic threat to the United States, an existential threat to the state of Israel, and a global threat to countries around the world… in 2019 Iran sanctioned me and my organisation, calling us economic terrorists. They also said we are the designing and implementing arm of the US Government on Iran policy… they issued a threat, and they greenlighted that the Iranian security services could do everything possible to deter, punish and counter me and my organisation.”

The JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, is, Dubowitz said, fatally flawed, because instead of cutting off all pathways for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, it has paved the way, thanks to its sunset provisions.

In 2023, the restrictions on Iran developing missiles and using advanced centrifuges end “and in 2025, key restrictions on Iran’s ability to enrich to an industrial size will as well sunset, so essentially leaving Iran with a near-zero [time] nuclear breakout, an advanced centrifuge powered nuclear sneak out, a massive industrial-sized nuclear program, the missiles to carry those weapons, the money to fortify its economy against the peaceful use of economic sanctions in the future, and regional dominance, as Iran uses that money to finance the IRGC, the Quds Force…Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Houthis in Yemen and Lebanese Hezbollah

Furthermore, he added, Iran could achieve all this just by following the nuclear deal, with no cheating.

US President Donald Trump recognised the JCPOA had fatal flaws, so over time withdrew, and reimposed all of the nuclear sanctions removed under the JCPOA, and imposed additional sanctions “predicated on Iran’s support for terrorism, its missile proliferation, its human rights abuses and its destabilising activities in the Middle East.”

Due to these sanctions, Dubowitz said, the Iranian economy has been collapsing, but the regime has prioritised funding its militia and terror proxies over feeding its people. Those proxies have come under pressure too, through a lessening of funds, US military measures such as killings of prominent figures, and Israeli strikes in Syria.

Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei has said he wants to turn Tel Aviv into Seoul, referring to the way North Korea now threatens the South Korean capital with a vast array of weapons including nuclear, to neutralise Israel’s ability to respond to military threats.

Dubowitz would have liked Trump’s maximum pressure campaign to be given another four years to work, saying it had built “a sanctions wall of market and political deterrence, by imposing sanctions on the key elements of the Iranian economy” for Iran’s rogue activities.

Many of these sanctions will be harder to lift than were those predicated on Iran’s nuclear activities, and will create market deterrence against companies investing in Iran as long as that activity continues. Dubowitz said he hopes the Biden administration will take advantage of this pressure as leverage to redraft the JCPOA.

Dutowitz also said, “President-elect Biden has appointed I think some highly competent, very experienced national security professionals, Tony Blinken as Secretary of State nominee, Jake Sullivan as National Security Adviser, and I would expect and hope to see Michelle Flournoy come in as Secretary of Defence, so you’ve got people who’ve been around this issue for many years… who are sober and clear-eyed about the threat from Iran and not naïve in believing that you can seduce the hard men of Iran to become responsible global stakeholders by flooding them with cash and reintegrating them into the global economy,” He hopes they can convince Biden not to help the regime when it is on its knees, with the people on the streets calling for death to the mullahs.

During the transition period, Dubowitz said, Trump needs to continue to “layer on new and more powerful sanctions,” including on Iran’s energy sector, on the financial sector where it has been supporting terrorism and financing missiles, sanctions which would be politically tricky for Biden to lift.

The “original sin” of the JCPOA was allowing Iran to enrich uranium domestically, whereas other countries import uranium already enriched, or have complete transparency in their enrichment programs, Dubowitz argued. If Biden allows Iran to continue this, Dubowitz said, no agreement will prevent Iran from ultimately having nuclear weapons.

Trump will also continue to push along normalisation between Israel and Arab states. Dubowitz’s own conversations with Saudis suggest it’s a matter of when, not if, there is Saudi-Israeli normalisation.

Dubowitz stated that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s courage in standing alone against the JCPOA in 2015 impressed the Gulf states, and set the stage for the Abraham Accords normalisation deals with the UAE and Bahrain, as Gulf leaders saw Israel as potentially the only power prepared to take on Iran. Now, Israel and the Gulf states will stand united against Iran and a return to the JCPOA.

The Abraham Accords, he said, were motivated by UAE and Bahraini fears of Iran and Turkey, but also great economic and scientific opportunities, and there is huge enthusiasm to work with Israel.

Dubowitz also noted that it is hard to predict how Iran will react to US attempts to renegotiate the JCPOA. The regime is claiming the US owes it billions because of the sanctions, and that it won’t renegotiate, but Dubowitz said it would have had no choice but to come to the table had Trump remained in office, due to the pressure.

He added, “I’m also not one of these people who believes there’s any distinction between ‘the moderates’ and ‘the hardliners’.” He explained that the only difference between supposedly moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Revolutionary Guards is that the Guards are impatient and publicly aggressive while Rouhani, as one of the fathers of the Iranian security state, who has supported the Iranian nuclear program for many years, and was a chief nuclear negotiator with the Europeans, always counselled patience, confident the regime could achieve what it wants, including nuclear weapons, through a deal.

Dubowitz believes the French, British and Germans understand the need to deal with Iran’s range of misbehaviour, and Biden can get their support on this, which would help politically isolate Iran. The US also needs Israel and the Gulf states on board here. It can isolate Iran economically without European help.

He likes the idea of offering the Lebanese people normalisation with Israel to get them beyond Hezbollah, as their country is rapidly collapsing, and says France, and Australia, could play a role by designating the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

Dubowtiz added that the US must keep a close eye on China’s activities in the Middle East, where it is cautiously supporting Iran. Israel is following the US lead on trade with China, and now with the Abraham Accords, Emirati money can take the place of Chinese money in Israel.

AIJAC

 

 

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