Is the US headed towards a bad deal with Iran?

What is needed is a totally different agreement from the JCPOA—one that meaningfully guarantees that Tehran will never have the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Negotiators meet in Vienna to discuss the  Iran nuclear deal, May 2021. Source: Enrique Mora/European External Action Service/Twitter.
Negotiators meet in Vienna to discuss the Iran nuclear deal, May 2021. Source: Enrique Mora/European External Action Service/Twitter.
Amir Avivi and Yossi Kuperwasser

As diplomats convened in Vienna this week for an eighth round of talks designed to revive the Iran nuclear deal, many, including senior U.S. officials, are still debating the merits of America’s 2018 withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

That debate is completely irrelevant to Israel, as the JCPOA has always represented a significant threat to the Jewish state’s security. Jerusalem correctly recognized that the agreement provided the Iranian regime with a safe path to achieving nuclear-weapons capability, using the cover of international diplomacy.

The Iranians, shrewdly, remained faithful to the technical parts of their commitments under the JCPOA, until the U.S. withdrawal, as the deal provided them meaningful financial benefits and a track to the production of a nuclear arsenal without having to worry about the main obstacle that they had to overcome until the deal went into effect: the need to cross a relatively long and very dangerous threshold on the way to their first nuclear bombs.

Yet they breached the spirit and the language of the deal, by keeping at their disposal the plans and knowhow that they accumulated on the weaponization of nuclear material. By concealing from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) critical information regarding the military dimensions of their program, they effectively breached the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that limits nuclear activity and imposes inspection on countries that signed it.

Iran has also still failed to provide a meaningful explanation for the unaccounted-for uranium found by Israeli intelligence in the Turquzabad warehouse and the Abadeh facility. To this day, Tehran hasn’t provided details regarding the location or the amount of anthropogenic uranium it possesses, traces of which were found in these facilities.

It is important to remember that the JCPOA was only to become operative upon the IAEA director’s assertion that the potential military dimensions of the program were sufficiently explored with Iran. We know today, based on the archives, that they were not, and therefore the JCPOA was based on an Iranian lie and should never have been concluded in the first place.

The consistent and clear violations of the NPT through nuclear enrichment in facilities undisclosed to the international community and Iran’s refusal to allow timely access to international inspectors verified that Tehran never intended to comply with meaningful restrictions to its nuclear aspirations.

In addition, the JCPOA’s “sunset clause,” which was set to expire in 2031, would have created a legal path for the Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons. To the extent that they did curb their activities, they only did so in order to qualify for international approval for their nuclear weaponization that the clause provided. The argument that once Iran complied with the JCPOA for a few years, it would adopt the Western expectation for non-proliferation, has always been based on fantasy, not reality.

We have always believed that it was the decision to enter the JCPOA in the first place, not the decision to withdraw from it, which put Israeli security at risk. The American withdrawal was actually the sober and responsible approach that greatly enhanced Israel’s national security, for two reasons.

First, it reintroduced the original threshold, which had set a higher bar than the JCPOA. Second, it triggered Iran to once again try to gain the capability to produce a small number of nuclear weapons while exposed to sanctions, with a credible military threat that would preclude any premature Iranian moves towards producing the bomb.

While Iran did make progress towards this capability, this should not be seen as an excuse to reenter the JCPOA. The agreement had in any case become obsolete, once the Iranians mastered the production and use of advanced centrifuges, achieved 60 percent enrichment, produced uranium metal and more. This knowhow cannot simply be walked back.

What is needed is a totally different agreement—one that actually and meaningfully guarantees that Iran will never have the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the U.S.’s goal is to achieve a deal, not a better, longer and stronger one.

The U.S. should pressure Iran to report about the progress it has achieved with its military nuclear project and provide the information about the undisclosed facilities and the unaccounted-for uranium. Only then, can a deal guaranteeing that Tehran is not able to produce a nuclear weapon be relevant.

Based on Iran’s consistent behavior regarding its clandestine nuclear-enrichment program, continued funding of proxies around the globe employed to destabilize the Middle East and ongoing provocative and threatening tone towards Israel, it is better to work outside of the fatally flawed JCPOA than to attempt diplomacy with a regime that has made its intentions to attack the “Zionist entity” abundantly clear.

As the Iranian government continues to threaten Israel with destruction and fund terrorists around the globe, thereby flagrantly violating the U.N. charter, it is very dangerous to pursue a diplomatic solution with so many red flags. The likelihood of a “less for more” deal that would involve fewer restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for more sanctions relief threatens Israel’s security.

Such an agreement would fuel Iran’s already recovering economy and leave Israel in an unacceptably precarious situation. It would remove necessary pressure from the clerical regime and grant it valuable time to increase its resilience against future American economic pressure, continue skirting international inspections and oversight into its undeclared nuclear activities and provide patient pathways to nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. The goal: a “nuclear umbrella” under which Tehran can dominate the region.

Preventing Iran from obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons, while addressing other key malign activities, is possible and critical. Unfortunately, the JCPOA framework has been proven to enable the Iranian regime, not restrain it.

IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Amir Avivi, former aide-de-camp of the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, is the CEO of Israel’s Defense & Security Forum.

IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former director general of the Israeli Ministry of International Affairs and Strategy, is director of research for Israel’s Defense & Security Forum.

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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