As diplomats fear Iran’s nuclear talks will collapse, thoughts inevitably turn to what happens the next morning.
In politics, this is tantamount to pessimism. Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, “None of the things we’re looking at now … would happen if the former president hadn’t recklessly exited the nuclear deal without thinking about what might come next.” . ”
In the real world, meanwhile, when regional peace is at stake, there is something more at stake. As the Biden administration’s soft-soft approach plummets toward global humiliation, American negotiators have realized what should have been clear from the start: you can’t build an effective Iran strategy on carrots.
From the very beginning of negotiations, when ultra-moderate Special Envoy Robert Malley threw an entire vegetable farm on the table at once, a low, low voice insisted that nothing could be accomplished without the threat of a serious multilateral truncheon. That was the voice of Jerusalem.
Over time, Iran’s intransigence has slowly caused the Western camp to adjust to this stance. The British were the first to change; Now that the talks are reaching the end of the road, Americans are belatedly thinking again.
Towards the end of the month, Western diplomats are starting to sound a little more Israeli. The Jewish state has long pressed on two points. First, as has been emphasized since Obama’s talks, results are only achieved from a position of power, not by reducing the pressure. (Seems obvious, I know.) Second, Israeli intelligence has shown that the Iranians acted in bad faith by they tried to advance their nuclear program while prolonging the talks. Both points want to prove to be correct. And the Americans, British and others are beginning to see it.
It is almost certainly too late to salvage the negotiations. Robert Malley’s marshmallow strategy made sure of that. But we are where we are. In recent months, Israeli diplomats have insisted that Western powers plan to stem the fallout from the failure of what the Israelis call a “controlled crisis.”
Let’s see what we have. Proper Western pressure on Iran would look like a three-legged chair. The first stage would consist of ultra-tough economic sanctions. The second would represent political power through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN Security Council and other international bodies. The third would involve regional deterrence, achieved by fomenting the sense of threat among Iran’s neighbors, mainly in the Gulf. An example of this was Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s September visit to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, where he shook hands with the Gulf state’s foreign minister and the commander of the US Fifth Fleet.
So far, so good. But the seat of the stool – that which holds the legs together and exerts the right amount of force through each of them – is the credible threat of full-scale military action. This was the weak point of American strategy throughout the negotiations. However, things are slowly starting to change.
Recently, the increasingly robust rhetoric from Washington and London has been accompanied by more concrete signals. American warplanes, including long-range B-52 bombers, have been conducting increasingly frequent missions over the Gulf alongside Israeli and Saudi planes. More importantly, the Department of Defense announced in October that a new 5,000-pound Bunker Buster bomb had been successfully dropped by an Israeli F-15. All of this is bringing Washington closer to Jerusalem’s position and showing that the White House is beginning to take the cane doctrine more seriously.
It’s possible that if – or if – talks fail, there could be an interim agreement. Iran’s nuclear progress could be frozen in exchange for a carrot or two, which has been advocated by voices in the British camp.
If that doesn’t happen, however, a regional crisis would likely ensue. In part, this would be driven by Tehran’s desire to foment hostility towards the West in order to maintain the identity of the Islamic Revolution. Building a sense of national victimhood is a means of garnering support for the regime as it seeks to build an “economy of resistance,” or a closed, self-sufficient system of self-sufficiency. It would also be further cover for the regime’s continued advances toward nuclear armament.
In this crisis scenario, Iran would seek to deflect Western pressure by wreaking havoc across the region, attacking its neighbors on land and sea – largely through proxies – launching cyber attacks and cutting off vital energy supply channels.
The Israelis want the West to find its teeth before it’s too late. Over the past year, a number of Iranian provocations have gone unanswered. Tehran enriched its uranium to 20 percent. No Answer. It was about 60 percent. Nothing at all. It began with advanced work on metallurgy. Nada. It expelled nuclear inspectors and ended the IAEA operation in Iran. No reaction.
The Israeli doctrine of “control of the crisis” would mean reversing this lethargy. Once the negotiations are complete, any aggression by Iran would be punished with one or more legs of the stool, preventing the worst of evil and preserving some degree of regional stability. As a source told me, “There’s still ammo in the box.”
Both tactically and strategically, waking Uncle Sam out of his paralyzed state is crucial. But it is important to realize that this would not mean military action against Iran’s nuclear weapons, leading to all-out war. At best, a “controlled crisis” would force Iranian negotiators back to the table. There they would be faced with a new, tougher American strategy, now that supersoft Robert Malley had been defenestrated.
This could have a chance of leading to a real deal. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.