Sunday, August 30, 2015

Iran Nuclear Deal - What Now?

This review article in American Thinker provides a nice summary of the Iran deal and what we may expect from Israel:

In summary, there are many in Congress, certainly all of the Republicans, who would like to weaken the White House.  So this autumn is going to be a busy time for both Parties; debates will cover not only the Iran Deal, but also the CPP and the Paris climate conference.  In these disputes, any actions by Iran and its Middle East neighbors will be of great consequence, and there could be many surprises.

Iran Reaction
There has been a certain amount of speculation on whether Iran would accept the Deal.  To many, approval would seem obvious in that it gives Iran much of what it wants: a lifting of sanctions, the unfreezing of about $150 billion, and the possibility of freely exporting its oil.  However, “ideological correctness” may interfere with approval.  
Iran’s leaders are oriented to enmity towards the United States (“Great Satan”) and Western countries generally; some commentators think theological purity may affect their view of the Deal.  Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum has pointed to this possible decision by supreme leader Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khameini and recommends preparing for such a possibility.
The Administration has not only failed to integrate the ballistic-missile issue into the talks, it derided the claim that paying attention to delivery platforms was a worthwhile endeavor.  

In her February 2014 testimony to Congress, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs -- and chief US negotiator -- Wendy Sherman, likened such platforms to being “almost irrelevant.”  By contrast, Iranian negotiators defined the negotiating parameters in their favor.  By late August 2014, Iran’s Minister of Defense boasted: “The missile issue has not been raised in the negotiations and Iran's missile power will never be an issue for negotiations with anyone.”  Instead, after numerous extensions to the talks, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif raised the matter of ballistic-missile sanctions at the eleventh hour -- and won.

The missiles concession went directly against the advice of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities and arms trafficking.” 

Reaction by Israel

There has been overwhelming opposition to the Deal by the Israeli public.  This is understandable since Iran's leaders have consistently advocated the elimination of Israel -- presumably with missiles carrying nuclear warheads.  But well before then, Iran can make use of its proxies, like Hezb’allah, which is said to have close to 100,000 rockets with conventional explosive warheads; many of these have precise targeting and could hit vital infrastructure in Israel.  
All this is known and widely discussed.  But Israel has important countermeasures also.  It can target Hezb’allah forces currently fighting in Syria and add to the 1000 or so casualties that have been reported so far -- perhaps increasing them to 5,000 or even more.  Israel can weaken Hezb’allah in other ways as well by making use of allies in the Lebanese Christian, Druze, and Sunni communities.

Will Israel Attack Iran and Pre-empt Iran’s Nuclear Development?
Israeli military action may become more likely once Obama leaves office in February 2017 -- but perhaps even as soon as the November 2016 elections.  
In the past, Israel has pre-emptively destroyed nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria -- garnering some immediate criticism, but much gratitude later on.  Pre-emption against Iran is not as difficult as it looks; three matters need to be taken care of: 
1.  Neutralizing the anti-aircraft system should not present an insuperable problem.  The S-300 system being sold by Russia to Iran has its limitations; there are at least two ways it can be neutralized -- and probably more.  

2.  Planes flying from Israel to Iran will have to rely on refueling -- unless Israel makes an arrangement with Saudi Arabia.  Published reports tell us that Israel is updating tanker aircraft and not waiting for a modified Boeing 747 to do the job.  

3.  Destroying the Arak nuclear installation is relatively easy.  It is in the open, located in the western part of Iran near the Persian Gulf, and presents an attractive target.  It is built to produce weapons-grade plutonium; the Deal calls for dismantling that option.  The world will be watching.  

To destroy the centrifuges producing Uranium-235 requires a different approach.  Since they are well protected by being located underground, Israel’s planes would need special “bunker-buster” bombs that can penetrate the defense.  Israel could rely on the US to supply such bombs -- after 2016.  It can purchase them elsewhere, or it can design and build its own bombs.  Israel is likely to pursue all three approaches in order to maximize the psychological impact on Iran.  But it will probably not take any action unless and until it is established that Iran is cheating on the Deal. 

Iran Cheating and Inspection

A crucial part of the JCPOA, and by far the weakest, is the proposed inspection scheme.  Iran will probably offer little cooperation to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged to do the inspection job.  Under the Deal, Iran requires a 24-day notice, which will make cheating very difficult to prove.  Then there are political problems: the IAEA is a political organization as much as a scientific one; and its report has to be agreeable to the UN Security Council (UNSC), which would then have to decide whether cheating did in fact occur.  One can expect that there will be attempts at whitewashing -- at least while the Obama administration is still in power.  

“Arguments against new nuclear sanctions will include questions about the credibility of evidence, the seriousness of the infractions, the appropriate level of response, and likely Iranian retaliation,” predicts Mark Dubowitz  of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.  Similarly, the U.S. would not unilaterally impose new biting sanctions, even if Iran is found to have reneged on its commitments, in the face of European opposition, which would be galvanized by “pressure from European business lobbies.”

Secret Side Deals: Trust but Don’t Verify
The AP has confirmed a secret side deal between the IAEA and Iran on Parchin, a military test site whose existence Iran had tried to hide.  The Iranians have used Parchin for tests relevant to the detonation of nuclear warheads. (The IAEA needs to know how far they got, so the Agency can set up a verification regime against future violations.)  The White House had consistently promised Congress that the issue of Parchin would be resolved before any final deal; the JCPOA was nonetheless announced without that resolution.
AP has published a copy of that side deal: instead of allowing IAEA inspectors to collect evidence from Parchin, samples will be collected by Iranians using Iranian equipment; instead of allowing the IAEA to collect everything it wants, only seven samples will be handed over from mutually agreed-upon areas; instead of giving inspectors access to facilities, photos and videos will be taken by the Iranians themselves.  The JCPOA is built entirely on trust, but without “verify” any “trust” may be misplaced.

To sum up: Israeli pre-emption, though feasible, is much in doubt -- partly because Iranian cheating has to be internationally established, and partly because Iranian proxy actions through Hezb’ allah may take center stage sooner.  Technically, however, the pre-emption operation should be well within Israel's capabilities and may indeed become necessary.

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