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Biden buys calm from Iran

New "understandings" between Washington and Tehran could cement Iran's status as a nuclear threshold state.

U.S. President Joe Biden at a NATO summit in Brussels, March 24, 2022. Credit: Gints Ivuskans/Shutterstock.
U.S. President Joe Biden at a NATO summit in Brussels, March 24, 2022. Credit: Gints Ivuskans/Shutterstock.
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security, in Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021. Prior to that, for 25 years he held senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak).

This past May, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant revealed that Iran had accumulated enough uranium enriched to 60% and 20% purity for five nuclear bombs. He further said, “The Iranian nuclear program has reached its most advanced stage ever.”

When policymakers speak about the emerging understandings between Iran and the U.S., they have to take into account those two facts above everything else. These include Israeli officials as well as the Biden administration, Congress and public opinion influencers. 

According to various media reports, U.S. and Iranian officials have recently struck an unofficial deal that has three components: First, a mutual release of prisoners. Second, unfreezing Iranian funds at a sum of some $6 billion from South Korean and Iraqi banks. Iran’s access to those accounts had been blocked by U.S. sanctions. Third, Iran halting its enrichment process. It has apparently committed not to go beyond 60% purity and not to accumulate more uranium of that grade. 

By having these steps framed as “unofficial understandings,” the administration can theoretically avoid having to get congressional approval, which would have been far from certain under current circumstances. Submitting a deal for approval might have made Iran front and center in the public discourse. This alternate path allows the White House to kick the Iranian can down the road to 2025 and buy some calm until Biden’s reelection campaign is over. 

As far as Iran is concerned, it won’t have to take any drastic measures as part of this deal, especially compared to what it would have had to do if it were to return to the original 2015 nuclear deal. Although Iran might not get all it could have gotten, the new arrangement marks the first time it has received de facto permission to reach 60% purity grade. Moreover, true to its conduct in the past, Iran would be able to renege on its enrichment pledges. 

The new understandings could cement Iran’s stature as a nuclear threshold state with an American stamp of approval. Iran will maintain a breakout capacity that would allow it to easily shift gears to a military nuclear program. This reinforces the fear that Biden—despite vowing to stick to a strategy of preemption—is now pursuing a policy of containment. 

Even as Israel continues to bolster its operational capabilities, it should maintain its steadfast rejection of the concessions made to Iran as part of the unofficial deal. It should also insist that the U.S. take concrete steps against Iran. Israel must formulate its position on this matter based on the outcome of discreet talks with the White House. 

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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