The other day YouTube decided that I wanted to see a compendium of large ships crashing into each other or into docks, cranes, and other installations. What impressed me was the unavoidability of the crashes: the ships moved ponderously, inexorably, toward their fates as tiny humans scuttled around on the decks, horns blowing with great urgency (I imagine the ship’s captains shouting “Full astern!”), but all for nothing when the almost irresistible force of the ship meets the almost immovable object of its nemesis in a crescendo of crushing, grinding, and snapping.
Whew. And this reminded me of the situation with Iran. The Iranians have ramped up their production of enriched uranium and activated advanced centrifuges in their Natanz facility, and they are threatening to kick out IAEA inspectors on 26 February. They are telling US officials that if they want to reenter the (worthless) deal, they’d better hurry and start removing sanctions while there is still time. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, for his part, is demanding that the Iranians first “return to compliance,” although what that would mean in practice considering the progress they have made is unclear.
What is becoming clear is that the Biden Administration is dead set on a course of returning to the deal, although Blinken, at least, wants to renegotiate it. On the other hand Robert Malley, President Biden’s choice for Special Envoy to Iran, wants to jump back in to the deal as it was when President Trump took the US out of it. Malley’s think tank published a position paper a few days ago, which contained this:
The Biden administration should pursue U.S. re-entry into the 2015 nuclear deal, starting by revoking the 2018 order ending U.S. JCPOA participation and initiating a process of fully reversing Trump-era sanctions while Iran brings its nuclear program back into full compliance. As further confidence-building measures, Washington could support Iran’s International Monetary Fund loan request as a sign of good-will in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and perhaps engage Tehran in discussions on a prisoner swap.
Do you hear the horns blowing and the captains shouting yet?
Persia was among the earliest known places where the game of chess was played, and the Iranians have proven to be very good negotiators. A strategy that calls for American concessions up front (“confidence building”) will fail, as it did under Obama. Only a tough strategy that demands action by Iran as an alternative to more pressure (“an offer that they can’t refuse”) will succeed. The Trump Administration left the US in a strong bargaining position toward Iran, with very painful sanctions in force. The US should insist on concrete, verifiable steps by Iran before removing any sanctions, and should threaten to take even stronger action if Iran does not comply.
Biden’s administration is replete with former Obama Administration officials (conservative blogger Jeff Dunetz calls it “the reBama Administration”), including Malley, who incidentally is also very out front about his pro-Palestinian sympathies. From the standpoint of American or Israeli interests, Malley is a wretched choice. He is far more pro-Iranian than even Blinken, Jake Sullivan, or Wendy Sherman, all former Obama-era Iran hands retreaded by Biden.
One wonders why Biden picked a team that is unlikely to produce better results than it did under Obama, and may even do considerably worse. Maybe Blinken vs. Malley is a good-cop bad-cop routine. But who knows if Biden was responsible for those choices, or if they were made for him?
Fortunately I am not Prime Minister of Israel, but if I were I would not expect better performance from a reBama Iran team than from the original one. And I think this could have been known for some time. Biden announced his intention to reenter the deal in September of 2020. From then on, it became clear that any military action by Israel – even special operations short of war – would be construed by the new administration as a slap in the face.
This could be the reason that Biden announced so early that he would be re-entering the deal: so that the “slap in the face” argument could be used against any last-minute Israeli action before Biden took office, or even before the election. And it was indeed deployed (by Obama surrogates Ben Rhodes and John Brennan) to criticize Israel’s assassination of the head of Iran’s nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, on 27 November.
Rhodes and Brennan said that Israel’s act was “aimed at undermining diplomacy” between the US and Iran, and that seemed ridiculous. How could anyone see it as anything but an attempt to slow Iran’s progress to the bomb? But in fact they were sending a message: after Biden becomes president, we’ll remember anything you do now, and you’ll be sorry.
I missed this. On 1 October, I wrote that I had expected that if Biden won the election, Israel would act against the Iranian nuclear facilities in the last weeks of the Trump Administration. I was wrong. Apparently our government got the message that the Americans would not forgive Israel if she eliminated the need for an Iran deal before Biden could sign one.
The weeks passed, Iran ramped up their processes, and Israel did nothing. Now that Biden is in the White House, it is even less likely that Israel will act, despite the recent sabre-rattling of our Chief of Staff.
Israel is in the position of a helpless observer on the deck of a small vessel who can only watch as a huge cruise ship or supertanker plows into it – which is just where the people pulling Biden’s strings want us.