The Iran-Israeli War

There is an article in this morning’s Washington Post by Ishaan Tharoor entitled, “Is regime change in Iran part of Trump’s agenda?” The answer offered is an assertive “yes.” The following evidence is offered:

  • Rudy (Rudolph) Giuliani, The Donald’s newly-appointed personal lawyer, just said so in an unexpected speech (both in timing and given his role as Trump’s personal attorney with no role in the White House) on Saturday to the Iran Freedom Convention for Democracy and Human Rights (IFCDHR) a front for the MEK, Mujahidin e-Khalq, stating that Trump was “committed to regime change” in Iran
  • Giuliani also said that, “We have a president who is tough… a president who is as committed to regime change as we are” and that confronting Iran is “more important than an Israeli-Palestinian deal.”
  • Giuliani has been a lobbyist for over a decade for the MEK (see Jonathan Vankin in the INQUISITR)
  • In 2012, Giuliani was widely credited with getting the MEK delisted from its fifteen-year-old U.S. State Department designation as a “terrorist organization” under a court-imposed deadline for a decision (cf. Spencer Ackerman in Share 12/09/2012)
  • The MEK as a proxy for the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq had been held responsible for the deaths of three American military officers and three military contractors
  • The MEK, following a 2004 NYT Magazine report, is widely regarded as a husband-and-wife cult led by Massoud and Maryam Rajavi given its controls over the sex lives and reading of its members, though it now presents itself as a pro-democracy organization and implacable enemy of the Islamic Tehran regime that provides intelligence (usually fake) on Iran’s nuclear program
  • In 2012, the MEK, in spite of the support it had gained among some American politicians and policy buffs, was still largely considered a fringe cult with limited appeal to Iranians
  • However, currently both John Bolton, Trump’s newly-named National Security Adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the newly-minted Secretary of State, are known supporters of the MEK
  • Trump in his campaign to be the Republican nominee, in his presidential campaign and as president, has repeatedly denounced the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a “bad one,” the “worst deal ever”
  • This week it is widely believed that he will renounce the nuclear deal and re-impose economic sanctions contrary to the dire warnings against such a move by world political leaders such as Emmanuel Macron, President of France, and UN Secretary General António Guterres because of the imminent prospect of war (Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, arrived in Washington yesterday to continue Macron’s lobbying campaign)
  • May 12 is the deadline for making a decision about renewing sanctions by the U.S.
  • Trump is highly unlikely to go to war against Tehran given his dedication to pulling troops out of the Middle East and Far East (“We are going to stop spending US$7 trillion abroad and start focusing on infrastructure at home.”) in spite of the propensities and preferences of the hawks among his reborn foreign policy personnel

By all reputable accounts and inspection reports, Iran has kept the terms of the nuclear deal, but it has not curbed, and likely enhanced, its missile program as well as its troubling interventions in Syria, not just to back the Assad regime, but to establish long term military and missile bases in Syria. If the U.S. re-authorizes economic sanctions, thereby renouncing its commitment to the nuclear deal, a deep schism will result between the U.S. and its European allies who are intent on continuing their support for the nuclear deal.

The likely result will be that the U.S. will give, and has already probably committed itself to giving, Israel permission to act as its surrogate in attacking Iranian targets in Syria. Note the following:

  • Retired Israeli military generals and intelligence officers have become very vocal and have openly warned that withdrawal from the nuclear deal will make matters worse
  • In The Guardian on the weekend, Mark Townsend and Julian Borger reported that an Israeli intelligence firm had been employed by the Trump campaign to discredit those in the Obama regime (Kerry, Rhodes, Kahl, Biden) that had been active in forging the deal by means of “dirty ops” thereby helping to discredit the deal
  • Netanyahu in the week before presented an elaborate show-and-tell with an impressive array of detail captured by the Mossad on the well-known pre-deal record of lying and cheating by the Iranian regime on the Iranian nuclear program
  • Netanyahu almost explicitly claimed that Iran was continuing its past practices of lying and cheating in the post 2015 nuclear deal period but provided absolutely no evidence to that effect
  • Most ominously, Netanyahu insisted that Iran had to be stopped and it was better to do that now rather than later
  • Israel insists on continuing its policy of absolute control over the skies concerning any threats emanating from Syria as evidenced when Israel shot down an Iranian drone in February
  • In the past several weeks, Israel has upped the ante in attacking Iranian facilities in Syria; in the most significant action, Israeli F-15 fighter jets destroyed a cache of Iranian missiles and, in the process, reportedly killed dozens of Iranian military personnel
  • On 30 April, the Knesset voted to give Netanyahu authorization, if the Defense Minister agreed, to “declare war under extreme circumstances,” thereby amending the Israel’s Basic Law Clause 40A that states that the “state shall not start a war save by force of a government decision” and that such a decision will be conveyed to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee ASAP; the revised procedure would sideline the traditional pattern that the IDF, the intelligence institutions and the Foreign Affairs Ministry would all be consulted before such a decision
  • Netanyahu has repeatedly drawn a red line in the sand insisting that Israel will not permit Iran to establish military bases in Syria; in fact, there are three red lines: 1) no Iranian or Iranian proxies (e.g. Hezbollah) on Israeli borders; 2) no Iranian precision-guided missiles in Syria; 3) no expanded Iranian military entrenchment in Syria
  • Putin’s meeting this week with Netanyahu is unlikely to dissuade Israel from any further military action in Lebanon but will seek reassurances and mechanisms that Russian facilities will not be targeted
  • Hawkish Israeli cabinet members have insisted that Israel’s security will remain in dire jeopardy unless Assad is removed, an unlikely prospect, but holding that goal up will make Netanyahu’s military initiative against the Iranian presence in Syria appear as a more modest effort, even if quite disproportionate to the provocation, and will put further pressure on Assad to accede to Israeli demands that Iran be required to remove its military bases from Syria
  • A distraction from the eruptions expected from Palestinian quarters to the imminent U.S. embassy opening in Jerusalem in a week adds fuel to the increased prospect of a much higher military engagement of Israel against Iran in Syria
  • The disproportionate Israeli response to the Hamas efforts against the fence received relatively muted international criticism and Hamas has now been reduced effectively to pleading for a long-term military truce

Iran has become both very circumspect at the same time as it has been more vocal in warning the U.S. not to cancel the nuclear deal. More specifically,

  • Until 12 May, Iran has put further military initiatives in Syria on “pause”
  • On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani not only threatened the U.S. if it reneged on the nuclear deal, but also announced that, “We have plans to resist any decision by Trump on the nuclear accord…Orders have been issued to our atomic energy organization … and to the economic sector to confront America’s plots against our country”
  • American and/or Israeli diplomatic and/or military initiatives will weaken Rouhani and strengthen his rival hard line Revolutionary Guard Corps leader, Qassem Soleimani and solidify support for him by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
  • Soleimani is almost surely planning a quid pro quo attack on an Israeli military operation after 12 May even though it will almost surely result in a much larger retaliation against the Iranian military presence in Syria
  • In the May 6th elections in Lebanon, Hezbollah has run candidates, even more hawkish than before and in all constituencies for the first time in an effort to extend its control over Lebanese political and military policies and put Lebanon even further into Iran’s back pocket
  • The prospect of war with Israel and the imminent likely cancellation of the nuclear deal has led to a further precipitous decline in the value of the Iranian currency, putting more pressure on the regime to find a distraction and a nationalist rallying cry
  • The radical forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, especially the Al Quds division, is highly unlikely to retreat from its efforts to provide the point of attack for Iran to project power in the region even though in the past it moved into vacuums created by others; Soleimani likely views himself at a point of no return or retreat, but this is the critical breaking point on which Israel is forging its new activist agenda against Iran (cf. the recent piece by Jonathan Paris in the Fathom Forum)

I have been a strong supporter of the Iran nuclear deal. I have also warned that the debates over the Iran nuclear were really over differences in how to respond to the increasing threat of a more conventionally militant Iran. Both issues are now merging once again and the most likely prospect is an Israeli enhanced military involvement in Syria targeting Iran and with an implicit backing of the U.S. I believe that such an enhanced response would be more effective if it was de-linked from the Iranian nuclear deal but the Netanyahu government seems to believe otherwise and that now is the time to take action in the interest of long-term as well as immediate strategic goals.

Expect war unless Soleimani backs away temporarily (unlikely) to increase his forces fighting in Yemen and with Turkish forces against the Kurds.

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The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals

by

Howard Adelman

On 5 May 2016 at noon at Massey College at the University of Toronto, Professor Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, a Professor of History and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the university, gave a talk entitled, “The Iran Deal and the End of the Iranian Revolutionary Radicalism.” The talk was not about the terms of the deal itself, upon which I have written a great deal, but rather on the far more important topic, the significance of the deal as an indicator of the current stage of the Iranian revolution and the implications on both domestic policy within Iran and on international relations.

Mohamad’s most important book has been Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Historiography (2001). In it, he described the unique historical cultural and religious heritage of Iran, in contrast to the imposition of Western imperialist influences. In the journal, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (23:1&2, 2003, Nasrin Rahimieh described the scholarship in the book as “a remarkable work of historiography and an original analysis of Iranian cultural history” by challenging the Euro-centred concept of modernity and the widespread intellectual conviction that the spirit of inquiry, rationalism and scientific discovery can be traced exclusively to the European Enlightenment. In Mohamad’s thesis, the Enlightenment itself was influenced in its development by a dialectical relationship with the East, in particular, the Middle East, which facilitated the refashioning of the cultural revolution underway in Europe and the emergence of a new conception of self epitomized by the Enlightenment.

True to that spirit of exploring the interaction of East and West, Mohamad began his lecture with the depiction of the confluence of two streams, the final stage of the Iranian revolution and America’s historical withdrawal from its self-defined role as spreading democracy to the rest of the world. On the latter, it is noteworthy that former Vice-President Dick Cheney, a prime author of the military intervention in Iraq, on Friday endorsed Donald Trump as the standard bearer of the Republican Party, the very same Trump who has repeatedly denounced that intervention as America’s biggest foreign policy mistake and who has championed an America First policy that requires America to surrender its role as policeman of the world. This is also the same presidential candidate who repeatedly knocks the Iran nuclear deal as the “worst deal ever” while revealing he knows very little about its terms.

Three months ago, as Trump campaigned in the New Hampshire primary, he was interviewed by Anderson Cooper for CNN where he put on full display his total ignorance about the contents of that agreement and his absolute lack of credentials to be the leader of the free world. Trump boasted as usual that he is “the best deal-maker ever,” “the best negotiator ever,” while revealing gross misrepresentations of the deal and the process that lead to it. As Trump mis-described the terms, he claimed that America was paying Iran $150 billion to sign the deal. In reality, the UN was lifting the sanctions that blocked Iran from using $50 billion (not $150 billion) of its own money. America had been the main initiator and the most important enforcer of the sanctions, but in no rational world could the release of Iran’s own money be described as the U.S. giving Iran that money to sign the deal. Yet this blustering braggart went on to win, or is on the verge of winning, the Republican nomination to run for President on the absolutely unique campaign of presenting himself as a victim of the “establishment” and a heroic one person saviour – victim and victor at one and the same time.

Mohamad’s thesis was precisely the opposite of Trump’s. Though Mohamad did not spell it out in his lecture, the implicit assumption of the talk (confirmed in my discussions with him afterwards) was that the deal was the best one possible for both sides, and, more importantly, was a significant step in the advancement of peace in international relations. Further, in the major thrust of his talk, the deal was critical both as a signal of and an instrument for the advance towards moderation of the Iranian regime. While I have agreed with the former conclusion, I have been sceptical about the latter claim. Mohamad’s talk forced me to reconsider that position.

In the talk, Mohamad presumed he was addressing an educated audience and took for granted that we were all familiar with the variation of theories of the stages through which revolutions pass. When I was an undergraduate, I read Crane Brinton’s 1952 revised edition of The Anatomy of a Revolution and believe it is still among my collection of books now mostly shelved in my garage. As a medical student at the time, I recall that my predominant reaction was that the book should have been called The Physiology of Revolution for it was far more of a dynamic account of stages revolutions pass through than of its structural elements. Further, it was more of a disease account, a portrait of an abnormality that societies have to go through in order to develop an immunity to political domestic violence. Mohamad referred to, but did not explicate, the fact that the dominant conception of the Iranian revolution by Iranians was an engineering rather than a medical model, implying a constructive rather than abnormal political pattern through which societies pass.

Since he did not elaborate on how the stages of a revolution conceived in engineering terms differed from those stages conceived in a medical framework, I had to fall back on the disease model as a means of understanding the intellectual foundation for his talk and when I asked two questions afterwards, I chose not to raise the question because any answer would require another lecture. In the disease model, revolutions are abnormalities in social development, but usually necessary abnormalities that societies in the process of maturation need to go through, to acquire the necessary institutions that will immunize that society from the destructive forces as inherent propensities in domestic politics.

Revolutions begin with failures of the old regime, more specifically, the increasing costs of maintaining the regime and carrying out its perceived responsibilities, and the decreasing ability to access the funds necessary for that task. As the regime grows more ineffectual and less able to enforce its rules, defectors come forth from the regime and an opposition arises in significant part from elements outside the normal power structure. When a regime can no longer hold the centre, when it can no longer enforce the values underpinning the regime and the order established by it, a revolt or a disaster instigating a revolt breaks out. Moderates step in to try to mollify the rebels and reassert control. They fail. The reforms they initiate are half-assed. And they are caught in a vice between reactionaries who condemn them for their weakness and selling out, and by the militants who denounce the wishy-washy half-hearted efforts. After the regime has lost its immunity to change, after the incubation period, then the revolution proper begins and the disease soon appears at fever pitch.

The radicals lead an uprising to challenge the constituted authority directly and take control of the main centres of power – the railways, the communications centres, the seats of law and of governance – precisely the key source of failure of the Easter Rising in Ireland where the revolution was delayed rather than halted in its tracks by this failure, by a focus on symbols of place rather than power. That was lucky, lucky, because of what also failed to follow – the initial successful seizure of control and The Terror as a way to deal with the domestic opposition and its foreign supporters. Instead, the British ruling regime resorted to terror, retaining power temporarily, but at the cost of its legitimacy.

Normally, terror perpetrated by the militant revolutionaries emerges like a raging fever. While a weak regime tries to extend and consolidate its power and authority, many errors are committed and the revolution is only partially successful. The radicals give rise to an equally powerful reaction as moderates either gradually or suddenly assume power over the instruments controlled by the radicals. But they too cannot regain the trust of the population and a new regime led by a charismatic and populist leader takes charge to exercise control primarily through coercive power rather than through the authority of legislated and judicially adjudicated laws and certainly not through the influence of ideas.

This standard pattern is neither a necessary nor a constant one. For example, though the British Revolution produced a Cromwell, the French a Napoleon and Russia a Stalin, the U.S. exceptionally did not yield to dictatorship. Not all revolutions need devour their children. In the U.S., this may have been because the American Revolution had a release valve – the cleansing of the figures of power of the old regime took place by means of a forced exodus as the elements of the old power structure fled to the mother country or to Canada as self-defined United Empire Loyalists. But whichever path taken, given the context and circumstances, what initially emerges is a regime of dual power – Presbyterians and the military leaders of the new modern army in Britain, Girondins and Jacobins in France, Bolsheviks versus Mensheviks in partnership with liberals in Russia. And that was certainly true in the Iranian Revolution.

Though often viewed as a reactionary regime to restore the power of the Mosque, the Iranian Revolution exemplified the pattern of extremist control in a revolution. In the very significant first phase through which it passed, the so-called men of virtue, those most fanatically dedicated and led by a small and resolute disciplinary leadership gained power in conjunction with the Revolutionary Guards. The exercise of that power was characterized by summary executions at home to expunge the regime of “vice,” and the export of the revolution to the near-abroad. If France had its Committee of Public Safety and Britain its Council of State, Iran had its Council of Experts to centralize power and authority through the use of lethal force to repress any perceived opposition. The domestic repression was combined with missionary adventurism and then went through two other stages, the seeming compromise between the clerics and the militants in a so-called period of apparent moderation and then the supposed reinvigoration of the revolution under the Terror of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian Revolution under the rule of President Hassan Rouhani is now going through the consolidation of its Thermidor, its second substantive moderating phase and convalescence from the fever of its incandescent fervour in the disease version of the stages of revolution

At the height of the feverish period of Puritanism and the revolt against the influence of the Great Satan, during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election and then fraudulent re-election in June of 2003, the third phase of the Terror began. The final evident opponents of the regime were either killed, suppressed into silence or forced into exile, like the Nobel Prize winner for human rights, Shirin Abadi. That is when Ahmadinejad announced the resumption of the Iranian nuclear program and the plans for 10 nuclear plants in total disregard of UN resolutions. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were banned and Iran declared it would no longer be bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran had passed through the first stage of the actual revolution in the first decade of the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini who consolidated his power in partnership with the Revolutionary Guard by expunging his communist and liberal secular allies from power in the decade until his death in 1989. He did so under the rule of Islamic law, velayat-e faqih. (Faqih is an Islamic jurist). Khomeini’s death inaugurated the second stage in the dual split between Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, and President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the incomparable deal maker who makes Trump look like a wuss. At the same time, Iran exported its anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli fervent orthodoxy and revolutionary spirit in the bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Argentina in 1994.

A radical dual system of rule had been incorporated into the Council of Guardians to mediate between decisions of the Majlis or parliament and the Council of Experts, charged with selecting the Supreme Leader. This proved inadequate. In 1988, constitutional reform created an Expediency Council, an administrative amalgam of clerics, scholars and intellectuals to resolve disputes between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians and ensure the efficacy of legislated rule. Although its creation seemed initially to be ineffectual as the Iranian Spring was suppressed in the tyrannical rule and consolidation of clerical power, Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi in his talk seemed to suggest, if I interpreted him correctly, that the Expediency Council saved the new revolution from the Terror instituted under Ahmadinejad and his continuation in power via a fraudulent election in 2003. That Council enabled his replacement by the consolidation or power of the moderates under Rafsanjani.

In the terror, the Revolutionary Guards had gained a monopoly and consolidated its corrupt control over entire economic sectors of the economy, arrested critics routinely and permitted prison guards to routinely flout the rule of law in the treatment of prisoners (see Michael Ledeen Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West.) The West’s reaction was primarily stimulated by the resurrection of the nuclear program rather than by the abuse of civil liberties. Utilizing gradually increased smart sanctions while avoiding a direct military confrontation, the attack against Iran’s nuclear program worked. Moderates were elected and the new regime in 2009 launched a process of reconciliation, of which the most momentous outcome was the nuclear deal. But that was made possible when Iran entered the fourth phase of its revolution and the real Shiite scholars began to reassert themselves against the pseudo and unrecognized scholarship of a third rate Khamenei as they tried to distance the clerics from the political misrule of Ahmadinejad, who tried to cover up his corrupt and inept regime with the rationale that his rule exemplified the return of the Shiite messiah. Anti-clericalism had mushroomed and hope for the preservation of the status of the clerics depended on the resumption of a widely recognized clerical scholar becoming the third Supreme Leader.

But political and economic revolutions are relatively superficial and deal with the earth’s crust and not the momentous shifts in the tectonic plates on which that crust rests – such as the Industrial Revolution and the Reproductive Revolution. In the next blog I will discuss that interaction as exemplified by developments in the Iranian Revolution as depicted, to the best of my memory, by Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi.

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Deep Foundation for the Iran Nuclear Deal

The Deep Foundation for the Iran Nuclear Deal

by

Howard Adelman

Instead of waiting until the end, let me sum up the main conclusions I arrived at from studying the history of the Iran and P5+1 negotiations leading up to the 2013 Framework and Joint Plan of Action deals. That way the reader can keep them in mind as he or she reads this potted history and sees if they would draw the same conclusions, most of which are not controversial. Or else they may also not want to bother reading the rest at all.

  1. A deal between parties needs willing parties on both sides. Between 2000-2008, the allied side lacked a committed U.S. partner. Between 2005-2012, Iran was an unwilling partner. The deal came together (and rather quickly) in 2013 because both sides were ready to make a deal.
  2. The allies could have obtained better terms that included non-nuclear items, such as ending Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, if they had negotiated in 2003.
  3. Once Iran went full speed ahead on its nuclear program and invested so much in it, the only deal available was a restriction on Iran’s capacity to build nuclear weapons.
  4. The total elimination of Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear enrichment program was never on the table.
  5. Netanyahu was opposed to making a deal with Iran no matter what the terms of the deal were.

Professor Toope in his discussion of the Iran nuclear deal on Yom Kippur did not have time to spell out the background to the deal; he concentrated on the analysis of the terms. In my last blog, I referred only to one item in that background, the 11 November 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) with IAEA and the 24 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action Agreement (JPAA) with the P5+1 that put in place the foundations for the detailed negotiations.

The deeper foundation was that Iran under the Shah had signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 making any Iranian nuclear program subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. In 1987, Iran began to use the black market to acquire the capacity to enrich uranium by purchasing the technical details on how to build a P-1 centrifuge from the Pakistani nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the atomic bomb in Pakistan and the greatest scourge ever in the business of nuclear proliferation.

Back in December 1975, after three years on the job, Khan left his position with the Physical Dynamic Research Laboratory (FDO) in The Netherlands, a subcontractor in the uranium enrichment consortium, with copied blueprints for centrifuges and the list of suppliers needed to build one for Pakistan, a goal achieved by 1978. However, because of the USSR’s war in Afghanistan, no sanctions were imposed on Pakistan lest Pakistan be pushed into the Soviet embrace. By the 1980s, Pakistan was able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

Soon after, Khan began supplying the Iranian Ruhollah Khomeini regime. (Khomeini was the founder of the Iranian revolution who ruled from 1979-1989 as distinct from the current Ali Khamenei Supreme Leader who succeeded him.) Iran received both blueprints and a list of suppliers. Khan’s clandestine activities spread to North Korea, Syria and Libya through the nineties. The Pakistan authorities, if not aware of his nefarious activities before the turn of the millennium, a highly dubious proposition, finally forced Khan into retirement in 2001 and put him under arrest in 2004. He was convicted but pardoned the very next day by President Pervez Musharraf and only held under “house arrest” until 2009.

The whole surreptitious trade in nuclear materials, centrifuges and centrifuge components came into the open when Libya renounced production of nuclear weapons in 2003 and Colonel Qaddafi turned all of this valuable intelligence over to the CIA, ending once and for all any credible claim that Iran, and of course Pakistan, were not involved in illegal transfers of nuclear technology. George W. Bush had gone after the one country, Iraq, that for one reason or another had declined Khan’s offers to provide nuclear technology to it. The result of the huge American mistake: the effective destruction of Iraq and eventual turning of most parts, except for the Kurdish area, either into a satrap of Iran or control by ISIS.

The 2003-2004 revelations set off an international effort to rein Iran in, possibly less from the fear of Iran as a nuclear power than the fear that Israel, with U.S. backing given Bush’s record, would bomb Iran and expand the sphere of instability in the Middle East beyond Iraq. (Arab Spring was not yet on the horizon.) The effort was accelerated with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the wild man of Iranian politics, as President in 2005 with 62% of ballots cast. In his previous position as mayor of Tehran and as President, he was both a hardliner and irrational. It was under his watch that the UN became increasingly aggressive with a sanctions regime put in place until the election of a “reformer,” Hassan Rouhani, on 15 June 2013. Within the next six months, on 11 November 2013, the Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) and, on 24 November 2013, the Joint Plan of Action, were both signed. The two will be discussed in subsequent blogs.

This set of blogs is intended to sum up the foundation of the Iran nuclear deal, depict and evaluate its terms and the role and motives of various agents for the part played leading to the agreement on the terms. For example, did Netanyahu really believe the deal was a bad one and, if so, why? Was he justified? Or was he whipping up fear for domestic purposes to ensure he would remain in power? Or was he using Iran’s nuclear enrichment program as a wedge issue to keep Iran, a real conventional threat to Israel, ostracized and isolated? What effect did Netanyahu’s opposition have on the terms of the deal, on Israel’s relationship with the U.S., and on the security of Israel itself?

Before Ahmadinejad assumed office, Iran was the last signatory to the non-proliferation treaty to accept the obligation of providing the IAEA will all plans related to nuclear activities. The then President of Iran, using high level officials in President Mohammad Khatami’s government of Iran (1997-2005), set up a back diplomatic channel that promised not only full transparency into the Iranian nuclear program, but cessation of support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The proposal was purportedly endorsed by Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Bush administration ignored the offer.

Key European governments – France, Germany and the UK – did not. Together with the Iranian government, they along with Iran jointly issued the Tehran Declaration that would be recycled as the foundation for the FCA in 2013, but stripped of its non-nuclear provisions. Iran had agreed to the following:

  • Pledged full cooperation with the IAEA
  • Promised to sign and implement the Additional Protocol on disclosure of any plans as a voluntary, confidence-building measure
  • Agreed to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities during the course of the negotiations.

In return, the EU-3 agreed to:

  • recognize Iran’s rights to develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes
  • discuss ways Iran could provide “satisfactory assurances” with respect to its nuclear power program
  • provide Iran with easier access to modern nuclear technology as long as Iran was in compliance with its signed obligations.

As a result, Iran signed the Additional Protocol on 18 December 2003 and set out to file the required reports with the IAEA as well as allow access to IAEA inspectors. The backlash within Iran, in part based on wild distortions of the Tehran Declaration, is viewed as one of the catalysts for Ahmadinejad’s resounding victory in the 2005 elections and the subsequent suspension of Iran’s agreement to abide by the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran also reneged on the promise to allow unfettered access to Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, Iran accelerated its nuclear program, though, given Iran’s pattern of deceit as revealed in the IAEA Report of 15 November 2004, many contend this began even before Ahmadinejad took power. But, as will be seen in the next blog, the real acceleration started in the latter half of 2008.

Iran tried to blame its resorting to surreptitious activities on the American obstreperous barricades to Iran developing a nuclear program for peaceful purposes. The IAEA 2004 Report was agnostic on whether Iran was developing its technology for the military use of nuclear weapons, for the IAEA found no evidence that the previous undeclared activities were geared to developing a nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, neither could the IAEA vouch for the exclusively peaceful nature of the program.

In 2004, Iran voluntarily suspended its uranium enrichment program, but refused to agree to a permanent termination. Under pressure from the U.S., the EU could not agree to a partial limitation with the only condition, the enrichment could not be diverted for military purposes. It is not clear whether the failure of the EU to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes helped elect Ahmadinejad as President in June 2005 in an election largely fought on domestic issues – corruption and renewal. During the first few months of Ahmadinejad assuming the presidency, there was a flurry of events:

  • In August 2005, Iran removed the seals on its uranium enrichment facilities at Isfahan
  • Germany responded and refused to either export any more nuclear equipment to Iran or even refund monies already on deposit
  • The IAEA reported that bomb-grade uranium found on inspected materials in Iran came from imported parts from Pakistan
  • In September 2005, the EU rejected Ahmadinejad’s offer at the UN that Iran’s enrichment program be managed by an international consortium and the Paris Agreement was dead
  • In February 2006, the IAEA in a 27-3 vote reported Iran’s non-compliance to the Security Council
  • In 2006, the Bush administration in Washington insisted that Iran could have no enrichment program whatsoever;
  • After that there were no substantive further negotiations until Ahmadinejad left office.

Even though U.S. intelligence at the end of 2006 declared that there was no evidence that Iran had a military nuclear program, that year was a turning point. It began with the reference of Iran to the Security Council to require Iran to suspend its enrichment program, cease construction of the Arak heavy water reactor (necessary for the production of plutonium) and fully cooperate with the IAEA. Iran signalled a willingness to cooperate but, at the same time, announced its initial success in enriching uranium to 3.5% at Natanz. In June, the first iteration of what would become the 2013 Framework agreement was proposed by some permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.

On 31 July, the UNSC adopted Res. 1696 demanding Iran suspend its enrichment program altogether. Though rejected, Iran responded with an offer to negotiate. At the same time, a new tunnel entrance was constructed at the Estfahan uranium enrichment facility and construction resumed at the Natanz conversion facility. By the end of the year, the UNSC passed Res. 1737 imposing sanctions on Iran for the first time even though American intelligence had concluded there was no evidence Iran had a nuclear weapons program. Countries were prohibited from transferring sensitive and nuclear-related technology to Iran. The assets of ten Iranian organizations and twelve individuals were frozen.

These resolutions were passed under the authority of Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter permitting the exercise of UNSC authority even though a peace threat had not been determined. However, unlike article 42, which does require a peace threat determination, there was no binding enforcement obligation under article 41. The sanctions only became effective because of the power and positions of the P5+1 and their willingness to impose sanctions. The failure to establish an actual threat to the peace sewed a fatal flaw in the long term effectiveness of the sanctions, especially if the P5+1 lost their united front. In that case, even if the U.S. had the power alone to make the sanctions quite effective, without a solid legal and even moral authority, the sanctions regime was being built on straw.

While emphasizing the importance of political and diplomatic efforts to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme was exclusively for peaceful purposes, three months later in March 2007, Res. 1747 was passed under Article 41 of the Charter. The resolution elaborated on the implementation of the sanctions Res. 1737 and introduced broader sanctions and targets in paragraphs 5 and 7:

Para 5: Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.

Para 7: Calls upon all States and international financial institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans, to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes.

Under this pressure, Iran agreed on a “work plan” in late August,but there was no substantive progress in the ongoing negotiations. In December, the U.S. publicly declassified and released a summary of the National Intelligence Estimate Report on Iran’s nuclear program, concluding that the intelligence community judged “with high confidence” that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and, further, declared that the program had not resumed as of mid-2007. Breakout time was then considered to be three years.

In March 2008, UNSC Res. 1803 was passed broadening the sanctions and the targets even further, but also offering to freeze further sanctions in return for Iran halting its enrichment program. In February 2009, Iran announced that it had successfully carried out its first satellite launch. Barack Obama was then President of the U.S. and he agreed that henceforth the U.S. would participate fully in the P5+1 talks with Iran without Iran agreeing to meet demands first. However, this seemed to have no influence on the Iranian election in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, even though there was some evidence and many claims that the election had been rigged.  In the period of unrest and protests, diplomatic efforts were suspended. The suspension of back channel talks was reinforced when France, the U.K. and the U.S. jointly revealed that Iran had been constructing a secret, second uranium-enrichment facility at Fordow near the holy city of Qom.

New proposals nevertheless followed – a fuel swap with respect to the enriched uranium. In the interim, in 2010 Iran began enriching uranium to almost 20% instead of trading its 3.5% enriched uranium for 19.5% enriched uranium for Iran’s research program.  However, in May Iran agreed to a specific version of the fuel swap agreement, but that was vetoed by France, Russia and the U.S. Instead, the UNSC adopted UNSC Res. 1929 on 9 June 2010 again expanding the sanctions that now placed an arms embargo on Iran and prohibited ballistic missile testing. Seizure of shipments to Iran was authorized. On 24 June 2010, the U.S. Congress adopted the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISAD) aimed at firms investing in Iran’s energy sector and companies which sell refined petroleum to Iran. The sanctions were not set to expire until 2016. Two days later, the EU imposed even broader sanctions aimed not only at energy and trade, but at financial services and more extensive asset freezes.

During this period, Israel had not been sitting still. In 2005, the Jewish state defined the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat. Israel was widely believed to be behind the Stuxnet computer virus that disrupted Iran’s nuclear enrichment program at Nantaz in September 2010.  Israeli decision-makers began to consider whether and when to order a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. As rumours grew that such an attack might be imminent, the P5+1, fearing enormous economic, political regional and global security repercussions, upped the pace and efforts at reaching a deal with Iran. However, between 2010 and 2012 the negotiations with Iran produced no substantive results. In the interim in 2011, Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant began operating and achieved a sustained nuclear reaction. Further, Iran announced its intention to increase the amount of 19.5% enriched uranium it produced. This was all documented in the IAEA 8 November 2011 Report. That document also included further information on Iran’s deceptive practices even before 2004.

Then the final turn of the screw. As part of the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress passed legislation allowing the U.S. to sanction foreign banks if they process transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The EU slapped a ban on the import of Iranian oil and prevented insurance companies from indemnifying tankers carrying Iranian oil. Negotiations, though protracted, began in earnest and at a deeper level through 2012 with more substantive exchanges of proposals and, on another level, crucial technical meetings. However, there was still no substantive movement on key issues.

At the United Nations on 27 September 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a red-line: if Iran amassed enough (250 kilos) uranium enriched to 20 percent. Without saying so, the red line implied that Israel would then launch an air attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (See the U.S. Government analysis of that threat: http://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R42443.pdf.) Initially this did not seem to deter Iran as, according to the IAEA November report, more centrifuges were installed at Natanz and Iran completed installation of the 2,800 centrifuges for Fordow. However, Iran kept constant the number of cascades producing 20 percent enriched uranium. The P5+1 talks with Iran still went nowhere until Hassan Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, was elected president of Iran on 14 June 2013.

With that, especially after Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the UN in September 2013 presented a new proposal to the Americans and President Barack Obama had a telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, talks then moved very rapidly towards the conclusion of the November 2013 Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA) and the Joint Plan of Action in response to the demonstrably new candor from Iran.

Next: The Terms of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement (FCA)