On Tuesday, Axios reported that in January, the Biden administration began negotiations with the Iranian regime about the possibility of reaching a partial agreement related to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It revealed those efforts to Israel, Britain, France and Germany in February.
The report revealed that President Joe Biden and his team have offered Tehran a deal that would see the U.S. remove some economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for the regime temporarily ceasing some of its nuclear activities. The U.S. and the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency assess that Iran is on the brink of becoming a threshold nuclear state. In February, the IAEA said that Iran possessed sufficient quantities of uranium enriched to 60% purity to build a nuclear weapon if that uranium is further processed to 90%, weapons-grade level. Last month, the IAEA reported finding uranium enriched to 84% purity.
Axios didn’t reveal the details of the current U.S. proposal.
But in response to the Axios report, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies recalled that the administration made a proposal for such a deal to Iran last year. Under that proposal, in exchange for an Iranian pledge to temporarily stop enriching uranium to 60% purity, the U.S. would rescind “three executive orders sanctioning Iran’s petrochemical, automotive, construction, iron, steel, aluminum, copper, mining, manufacturing, textiles and financial sectors, including 17 Iranian banks.”
Many of these sectors, FDD noted, “are tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.”
FDD estimated that rescinding these sanctions “could provide Iran with sanctions-free access to at least $30 billion in annual export revenue.”
Given that Iran already possesses enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon, and given that under the 2015 nuclear deal the U.S. concluded with Iran, many if not most of Iran’s nuclear installations were out of bounds for UN inspectors, it is obvious that the partial deal Biden is probably offering the Iranian regime isn’t about stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
At best, appeasement
The Axios report showed yet again that just as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned repeatedly over the past decade, U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Tehran is not part of a counter-proliferation strategy. Deals with Iran are not nuclear nonproliferation agreements. At best, their goal is to contain a nuclear-armed Iran through appeasement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly telegraphed that this is the goal of the Biden administration’s policy, by insisting that the 2015 nuclear agreement put Iran’s nuclear weapons program “in a box,” and that putting Iran’s nuclear weapons program “in a box” remains the goal of the administration’s current efforts.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley sent a similar signal last month when he told Congress that the U.S. “remains committed, as a matter of policy, that Iran will not have a fielded nuclear weapon.” (Emphasis added.)
Milley’s insertion of the modifier “fielded” before “nuclear weapon” demonstrated that the administration’s policy is to accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state with the capacity to build a nuclear arsenal at will.
The Axios report tells us that nuclear diplomacy with Tehran is not a tertiary issue for the Biden administration. On the contrary, reaching an accord with Iran that will make Iran a nuclear power and give Iran the financial and military means to exert hegemonic power in the region is the central goal of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. It is more important, for instance, than pushing Russia out of Ukraine.
If defeating Russia in Ukraine were the key goal of U.S. foreign policy, then the administration would have ceased its nuclear diplomacy with Tehran early last year. Instead, for months after Russia’s invasion, Biden continued to use Russia’s ambassador to Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov as the administration’s mediator in nuclear talks with Iran.
Already in the weeks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, Iran emerged as Russia’s central venue for evading U.S. economic sanctions. With the U.S. not enforcing its own sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas exports, Russia and Iran agreed that Russia would sell its oil to Iran, giving Russia hard currency and enabling Iran to increase its own oil exports. Had Biden valued pushing Russia out of Ukraine more highly than he values appeasing Iran, he would have ordered the enforcement of sanctions on Iran’s energy exports.
The Biden administration continued its pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran after Iran emerged as Russia’s main supplier of drones and artillery and tank munitions. And now we know that it has continued its nuclear appeasement efforts towards Iran even though the administration admits that Iran and Russia have developed a full-blown military alliance.
As far as the administration’s current effort is concerned, FDD’s Richard Goldberg noted Monday, “President Biden risks undermining American support for the war in Ukraine by asking Congress to approve billions of taxpayer dollars to support Kyiv while offering Iran billions of dollars to help resupply Moscow.”
Risk Ukrainian defeat
In short, to achieve its goal of realigning the U.S. towards Iran through appeasement, the U.S. is willing to risk a Ukrainian defeat by Russia.
Then there is Saudi Arabia. Over the past several weeks, Saudi Arabia has accepted Chinese mediation of its dispute with Iran. According to a Saudi source with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, this deal is not, as the Biden administration insists, a mere continuation of efforts that the administration fostered through Oman.
In mediating the deal, China seized the U.S.’s role as Saudi Arabia’s superpower protector against Iran. “We don’t hold Iran accountable,” the source explained. Under the deal, China agreed that if Iran attacks Saudi Arabia, “We call Beijing,” he said.
The Saudis joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last week. On Sunday, the Saudis shocked U.S. financial markets by unexpectedly announcing a cut in oil production. Riyadh is integrating into the Chinese economy while deliberately undermining the dollar’s position as the currency of trade in international energy markets.
Saudi Arabia’s moves are a function not of Chinese outreach so much as of U.S. hostility. Since their first day in office, Joe Biden and his team made clear that they were intent on fulfilling Biden’s campaign pledge to treat Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as “a pariah.”
This brings us to Israel, whose leader Biden effectively declared persona non grata last week when he said he has no intention of inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit him at the White House any time soon.
Throughout their tenure in office, former Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid insisted that through his opposition to President Barack Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Tehran, Benjamin Netanyahu drove a wedge between Jerusalem and Washington.
Lapid and Bennett adopted the opposite policy. They chose to trust Biden to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Even before they entered office, together with then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Bennett and Lapid committed to a policy of “zero surprises” for the Biden administration in relation to Iran. That is they gave the administration veto power over Israel’s operations against Iran’s nuclear installations.
Bennett and Lapid crowed that it was their smart diplomacy that caused Biden to temporarily walk away from the negotiating table with Iran last year. But the Vienna talks failed because Iran refused to reach a deal. And Biden’s envoy Robert Malley continued negotiating with Iran after the talks failed in Vienna. Malley’s unceasing efforts to appease Iran showed that the Biden team’s policy remained unchanged despite Iran’s refusal to accept limits on its nuclear operations.
The previous government’s approach was predicated on the political left’s willful blindness to the rigid ideological nature of the Biden administration’s Iran policy. Bennett, Lapid and Gantz didn’t want to accept that Biden was politically and ideologically committed to realigning the U.S. towards Iran and away from Israel and Saudi Arabia even at the cost of Iran becoming a nuclear power, because that would require them to admit that Netanyahu was right. They had a political interest in believing Netanyahu was the problem and that Biden and his team were trusted allies.
To advance this political agenda, Bennett, Lapid and Gantz based their Iran policy on trusting Biden’s promises over Netanyahu’s facts. The practical effect of their decision was that Israel gave Biden credibility before a less politically driven American public and congressional oversight bodies. More devastatingly, by giving Biden veto power over its operations, Israel stopped most of its operations, and so allowed Iran to expand its nuclear enrichment and other nuclear proliferation activities with little concern that Israel would attack.
The Israeli left as “resistance”
Since Netanyahu returned to office at the end of December, Lapid and Gantz have not acted like the loyal opposition. They have joined the “resistance” to his government. That resistance, led by retired generals and former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, has not only set Israel on fire with protests, violence and hate campaigns that demonize Netanyahu, his coalition partners and voters. They have turned to foreign powers—first and foremost the Biden administration—in an effort to subvert Netanyahu’s ability to conduct foreign policy.
The left’s continued insistence that its political interests in overthrowing the government are aligned with Israel’s strategic interests requires Lapid, Gantz and other leftist leaders to maintain their willful blindness to the fact that Biden’s policy on Iran is inherently hostile to Israel’s central strategic imperative—blocking Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.
The “resistance” has dispatched protesters demonizing Netanyahu to Washington, New York, London, Berlin, Paris and Rome. Lapid has been in constant contact with American Jewish leaders and Biden administration officials to demonize and delegitimize Netanyahu. Last week, Lapid announced he will be traveling to the U.S. this month to continue his efforts to demonize the Netanyahu government and discredit Netanyahu’s efforts.
Olmert, who on March 23 called for the international community to boycott Israel so long as Netanyahu is in power, met last week with U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides.
The one positive outcome of the opposition’s decision to restyle itself as a “resistance” movement is that we see that the public isn’t buying it. This week, outgoing IDF Spokesman Brig. General Ran Kochav said that to date there have been no cases of reservists refusing to serve or regular army forces disobeying orders. Indeed, in the face of open efforts by Barak and his colleagues to spark a widescale rebellion of IDF reservists, most units have reported a rise in the number of reservists who have reported for duty over the past two months, and no operations have been canceled or undermined in any way.
In other words, just as their electoral defeat in November indicated, the Israeli public writ large has no interest in domestic chaos much less civil war. The public puts more faith in Netanyahu—and reality—than in Biden when it comes to preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear finish line. And the Israeli people remains committed to standing up and taking whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and the host of the Caroline Glick Show on JNS. Glick is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist at Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.