Upon entering the White House about a year ago, U.S. President Joe Biden made renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran a top priority for his administration. His spokespeople said a deal was necessary in order to remove the Iranian question from the agenda, at least for the time being, so that he and his administration could turn to matters truly important to Washington, namely its rivalry with China in the Far East.
The Iranian regime seems eager as well, albeit far less so than Biden, to reach a new and improved nuclear deal that will provide sanctions relief and allow it to stabilize and strengthen its standing domestically.
Despite these starting points, however, there has been no breakthrough over the past year, and negotiations were repeatedly extended as crisis after crisis kept Washington and Tehran apart. Truth be told, it was the Iranians who created these crises and even suspended talks on occasion, as if they were entirely uninterested in a new deal. Washington, for its part, found itself being dragged along, responding tentatively to Iran’s moves and mainly its provocations.
At a certain point, around a month or two ago, it seemed the Americans had given up on the possibility of reaching a deal. In Washington, officials even remarked that “all options were on the table”—a clumsy and particularly inauthentic insinuation that a military strike was possible.
Miraculously, though, and amid the backdrop of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing and Moscow—the latter of which has massed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border—the talks were renewed, and Iranian and American mouthpieces are now predicting an impending breakthrough that will lead both sides to the yearned-for deal. Even Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a green light to a deal, declaring that “talks, and by extension, a deal with the enemy, do not mean Iran’s surrender.”
The negotiators, it seems, deserve a Nobel Prize—not for peace, but for theatrics. After all, the Iranians need a deal desperately, more so than they are willing to admit. Nevertheless, they’ve projected an air of indifference, as if the entire issue barely pertains to them. The Americans, on the other hand, are projecting indecisiveness and weakness, and eagerness to get a deal done at all costs.
The Iranians are masters of negotiation and are operating on the principle that all deals should be signed at the very last moment and not a moment sooner—which indeed appears to be where things are headed.
There’s no need to take any of the sides’ threats, or the calamitous atmosphere they occasionally seek to project, too seriously. To be sure, all parameters of a deal were determined the day Biden stepped foot in the Oval Office. Ever since, the Iranians have merely improved them in relation to their nuclear project—which is far more advanced than it was a year ago.
The deal, in all likelihood, cannot be stopped or improved upon; hence Iran will remain within touching distance of a nuclear weapon under its auspices. What can be done, however, is to intensify the fight against Iran across the Middle East, in Syria, Iraq and now in Yemen as well. This fight is proving effective, particularly in Syria, it is supported regionally and internationally, and it can be won.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.