column

Juniper Oak, the JCPOA and ‘Zero Surprises’

The Biden administration remains committed to a policy that will empower Iran militarily, economically and diplomatically against Israel and the Sunni Arabs.

U.S. and Israel Air Force craft drill during the "Juniper Oak" military exercise in early 2023. Credit: CENTCOM.
U.S. and Israel Air Force craft drill during the "Juniper Oak" military exercise in early 2023. Credit: CENTCOM.
Caroline B. Glick
Caroline B. Glick is the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for 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.

The Iranian revolutionaries plod into the fifth month of their uprising against the regime with little tangible help from the outside world. To date, more than 500 Iranian revolutionaries have been killed by regime forces directed by the Revolutionary Guard Corps. More than 18,000 have been arrested.

So too, unfettered by restrictions on its nuclear activities enacted under the long-abandoned 2015 nuclear deal, the ayatollahs continue spinning their advanced centrifuges and stockpiling enriched uranium.

After providing Russia with drones that have caused mass death and destruction of property in Ukraine, Iran is waiting in anticipation of advanced Russian fighter craft, which will enable Tehran to modernize its conventional forces for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In all the darkness, for a few days this week, there was a glimmer of hope that something may be changing in the way the Biden administration is looking at the situation.

On Monday, U.S. Central Command and the Israel Defense Forces launched their largest joint exercise ever. Some 6,400 U.S. military personnel and 1,180 IDF troops participated in Juniper Oak 2023. A hundred U.S. aircraft and six ships including a carrier group participated in the exercise along with six Israeli naval craft and 45 aircraft.

According to CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, “Juniper Oak is a Combined Joint All-Domain exercise which improves our interoperability on land, in the air, at sea, in space and in cyberspace with our partners, enhances our ability to respond to contingencies, and underscores our commitment to the Middle East.”

A senior U.S. defense official said that one of the target audiences for the exercise is Iran.

“The scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran may draw certain inferences from that. It’s really meant mostly to kick the tires on our ability to do things at this scale with the Israelis against a whole range of different threats. But, you know, it would not surprise me if Iran sees the scale and the nature of these activities and understands what the two of us are capable of doing.”

On the face of things, the Biden administration’s decision to conduct a joint exercise of this scale with Israel and state all but openly that the militaries are training for a joint attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons sites is a game changer. But when viewed in the context of the administration’s actions in relation to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, it is hard to escape the sense that Juniper Oak was a charade.

Rather than indicating that the administration has abandoned its policy of appeasing Iran in favor of confronting the growing menace of Iranian power, Juniper Oak may well have been a babysitting job. That is, the U.S. may have sent its forces to Israel in a bid to persuade the Netanyahu government—or at least the IDF brass—that America has its back, that Biden finally gets that there is no deal to do with a regime that is murdering its own children.

Days before the exercise began, though, Iran International reported that over the past two months, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley met three times with Iran’s UN Ambassador Saeed Iravani. When asked to comment on the report, the State Department refused to deny it.

Speaking to Fox News Digital, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “President Biden is absolutely committed to never allowing Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. We believe diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal on a sustainable and verifiable basis, and that the alternatives are worse.”

The Iranians say nuclear talks are ongoing. According to the Xinhua news service, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said “the absence of formal negotiation on the revival of the deal does not mean the absence of interactions or message exchanges among the parties to the nuclear talks.”

Kanaani said that E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is the conduit for discussions between the U.S. and Iran.

Borrell angered a number of European lawmakers Monday when he refused to follow up on a decision last week by the European Parliament urging the E.U. to sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Claiming that only a European court can designate the IRGC as a terror group, Borrell led the E.U. to adopt weak sanctions against 37 Iranian nationals and leave the regime’s leaders—and the IRGC—immune.

Earlier this month, Iran executed dual British-Iranian national Alireza Akbari after accusing him of spying for Britain. Before his execution, Akbari told his family that he had been brutally tortured and drugged and forced to sign numerous confessions during his imprisonment.

In response to Akbari’s execution, and in light of the regime’s ongoing slaughter of its own people, the British government raised the possibility of withdrawing from the JCPOA nuclear deal and designating the IRGC a terror group. But so far, London has sufficed with angry words and followed Borrell’s lead on weak sanctions.

The Biden administration was pleased with the E.U. and British decision to give the IRGC a pass and keep their side of the JCPOA. On Monday, Malley wrote on Twitter, “Today’s coordinated sanctions designations by the U.K., E.U. and the U.S. are the latest example of our close coordination with allies and partners to confront the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses.”

The administration’s refusal to disavow the JCPOA, and its continued contacts with Iran, tell us much more about the Biden administration’s goals with respect to Iran and its nuclear weapons program than the Juniper Oak exercise does.

The JCPOA was a straightforward deal. In exchange for Iran’s agreement to accept temporary limits on some of its nuclear activities, the parties to the JCPOA agreed to suspend U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran. In July 2015, the Security Council passed Resolution 2231, which anchored the deal as a matter of international law. U.N. sanctions were suspended. And Iran received a $50 billion windfall.

While Iran got paid up front, its adherence to the restrictions on its nuclear activities would only be measured over time. And over time it became clear that at no time had Iran fully complied with the restrictions. It stockpiled more enriched uranium than allowed by the agreement. It refused to permit U.N. nuclear inspectors access to its nuclear sites.

In light of Iran’s breaches, and following Israel’s seizure of Iran’s nuclear archive that proved the military nature of its program, then-President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in May 2018. Trump reinstated U.S. sanctions on Iran and implemented his so-called “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran, which led to a significant curtailment of Iran’s terror operations.

Iran followed suit and announced it was abandoning the deal. But Tehran only began fully breaching all of the nuclear limitations after Biden entered office in January 2021.

Under Resolution 2231, if a party to the JCPOA finds that Iran is in breach of its commitments, that party may invoke the so-called “snapback” provision of the resolution. Under the “snapback” provision, all U.N. Security Council sanctions that had been suspended with the JCPOA’s implementation are reinstated.

The Trump administration tried to implement the snapback clause but Iran insisted that since the U.S. had abandoned the deal, it was no longer a party to the agreement and wasn’t allowed to do so. The E.U. and Britain refused to implement the snapback resolution. So years after Iran abandoned its commitment to the JCPOA, the U.K. and E.U. continue to adhere to it.

Last August, the U.S. made a supposedly “final” offer to Iran. Iran rejected it. The U.S. didn’t take it off the table though. According to an analysis by the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, if Iran agrees to the U.S. offer, it will receive $275 billion within the first year of the restoration of the JCPOA and a trillion dollars by 2030. The restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities under the U.S. offer will end in 2025 and 2030.

But since Iran is already a nuclear threshold state, the limitations are in any case meaningless and unenforceable.

So even as it sends U.S. forces to train with Israel for a possible strike on Iran, the Biden administration remains to be completely committed to and actively pursuing a policy that will empower Iran militarily, economically and diplomatically against Israel and the Sunni Arabs.

On Wednesday, the Financial Times reported that the U.S., E.U. and U.K. believe that “there are no credible alternatives to the accord.”

The notion that they could provide real support to the Iranian people who are seeking the overthrow of the regime, rather than weakly cheer them on while empowering the regime through nuclear diplomacy, appears to have never occurred to them. They don’t want to turn to sanctions, because that was Trump’s policy. Military action appears to be so far off the table that they don’t even remember it could be an option.

And so we return to the Juniper Oak exercise. As he observed U.S. and Israeli forces training side by side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “This exercise expresses the unshakeable strategic partnership between Israel and the U.S., and constitutes an additional stage in building up Israeli military strength. Israel will always defend itself with its own forces, but – of course – welcomes the deepening cooperation with our greatest ally.”

Given the U.S.’s actual policy towards Iran, “Israel will always defend itself with its own forces” was the most important phrase in Netanyahu’s statement. The great distinction between Netanyahu and his successors Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid is that Netanyahu never subordinated Israel’s actions in Iran to U.S. approval. Bennett and Lapid surrendered Israel’s independence of action on Iran as soon as they entered office, when they committed to a policy of “zero surprises” to the Biden administration.

If he hasn’t already, Netanyahu should use the opportunity of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit next week to inform him that the zero surprises policy is over—or simply surprise him. Israel should reinstate the policy of aggressive actions it employed to great effect during Netanyahu’s last government. It should augment its actions against nuclear installations with support for the revolutionaries.

The U.S. remains Israel’s greatest ally. But in light of Biden’s commitment to appeasing Iran, under his leadership, America is not a credible partner for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.

Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.

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