In 2015, CJP, the Jewish Federation of Greater Boston, which I then headed, became the first U.S. Federation to oppose the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), known more commonly as the “Iran nuclear deal.” Like the deal’s other opponents, we believed that rather than ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it merely delayed them.
For us, though, a more immediate and serious problem was that the deal greatly increased Iran’s resources and international credibility. We believed that this would fuel Iran’s longstanding aggression towards Israel, the United States and our allies through its funding of terror organizations worldwide. Indeed, we believed that the entire negotiating process was a charade, in which Iran was merely playing for time while strengthening its grip on the region by arming proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Tragically, we were right. Additional resources and credibility enabled Iran to decimate political opponents, support Assad’s murderous regime in Syria killing hundreds of thousands and arm Hezbollah with precision-guided missiles aimed at Israel—all before former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in May 2018.
As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman noted last November, “Iran’s clerical leaders are not suicidal. They are, though, homicidal [and their] preferred weapons for homicide are the precision-guided missiles that it used on Saudi Arabia and that it keeps trying to export to its proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.”
Sadly, the Biden administration seems now to be seeking to revive the failed JCPOA deal, even after the election of President Ebrahim Raisi, the most radically anti-Western Iranian leader to date. As Richard Goldberg, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote:
“The president must face this unpleasant truth: Iran has vastly expanded its illicit nuclear activities on his watch. … The same is true of Iran’s terror activities in the Middle East and around the world. Whatever level of military deterrence that the United States restored by killing Qassem Suleimani—the theocracy’s overlord of terrorism and paramilitary activities—in early 2020, has disappeared.”
Iran’s new leadership is far more militant and even more deeply committed to Israel’s destruction. It has categorically rejected any possibility of a “longer and stronger” deal and won’t even discuss its destabilizing military activities through regional proxies, and continues to provide precision guided missiles and drones to its proxies and develop its nuclear program at an alarming rate.
Ironically, the Biden administration’s conciliatory approach to an increasingly militant Iranian leadership ignores our best hope for strengthening the cause of peace in the region. The Abraham Accords, helped create a growing strategic alliance between Israel and moderate Sunni Arab states that fear Iranian hegemony and value Israeli innovation. In addition, the inclusion of Ra’am in the new Israeli government is opening up unprecedented opportunities for reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in Israel and throughout the region.
Indeed, Iran’s encouragement and material support of Hamas aggression in the 11-day conflict with Israel in May was aimed precisely at inflaming tensions between Arabs and Jews, which is key to expanding Iran’s regional hegemony. The restoration of the JCPOA will only increase Iran’s capacity to fund such aggression.
Ultimately, Iran’s growing intransigence may lead the Biden administration to cease its efforts to revive JCPOA and, instead, to work with regional allies to develop a more effective strategy for encouraging the development of a more peaceful Middle East while restraining Iran’s ambitions and its proliferation of precision-guided missiles.
It gives me no pleasure to know that we were right to oppose the deal in 2015. I wish we had been wrong. I wish that America’s ardent pursuit of a deal had led to a kinder, gentler Iranian regime, as many in the Obama administration predicted. But even before President Barack Obama left office, Qassem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, was expanding Iran’s murderous activity in Iraq and Syria, and its presence in Lebanon was posing ever greater threats to Israel and to American regional interests.
As the United States faces new threats from Iran, Russia and China, the Biden administration needs to find the same courage that CJP and others found in 2015 to oppose the Iran deal. I think President Joe Biden understands this, even if the left wing of his own party disagrees.
The American Jewish community has a great deal at stake in this fight. The Abraham Accords and new Israeli government have opened up new opportunities for regional peace—opportunities that unchecked Iranian aggression will destroy. We cannot afford to be MIA in this crucial debate.
Barry Shrage served as president of CJP, Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation, from 1987 to 2017. He is now professor of the practice in the Hornstein Program and the Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.