The rise and fall of the Iran nuclear deal
The Iran nuclear deal was struck between the Islamic Republic and a group of world powers known as the P5+1 — the permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, UK, Russia, France and China) plus Germany — in 2015. As I mentioned at the time, when the agreement was reached and celebrated, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as it is known, was flimsy, unlikely to last and had fundamental flaws, including the sunset clauses that removed the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program after the expiration of the deal.
Iran’s military sites, such as Parchin, which is reportedly where nuclear development and research is conducted, were also out of the reach of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. In addition, there was no reference to Iran’s ballistic missile program, which is a core pillar of its foreign policy and appears to be linked to the nuclear program. Furthermore, Iran’s breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb — was set at only one year.
The West hoped that the nuclear deal was going to be transformational, meaning that it would change the Iranian regime’s behavior in the region, empower the country’s “moderates,” and put an end to its nuclear defiance and threats.
But, from the perspective of the Iranian leaders, the nuclear deal was never going to change the revolutionary ideals of the Islamic Republic. Instead, it was a transitional, temporary deal. In their desperation to sign an agreement with Iran, Western leaders appear to have paid too high a price. In other words, through the nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic effectively bought itself a blank check to advance its aggressive, zero-sum policies across the Middle East.
After the nuclear agreement was signed, Iran’s meddling, interventions in the region and funding of militia groups escalated. Iran also increased its deliveries of weapons to its militias, as the number of ballistic missiles deployed by Iran’s proxies rose to an unprecedented level. For example, the UN revealed in a report that four ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Houthi militia in 2017 appeared to have been designed by Iran. A panel of experts concluded that the “design, characteristics and dimensions of the components inspected by the panel are consistent with those reported for the Iranian-manufactured Qiam-1 missile.” The Iranian support of the Houthi rebels in Yemen has contributed to the conflict raging on for so long.
The Islamic Republic effectively bought itself a blank check to advance its aggressive, zero-sum policies across the Middle East.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite branch, the Quds Force, have also infiltrated top security, political, intelligence and military infrastructures in Iraq, allowing them to make decisions that should be made by Iraqi leaders and politicians. The IRGC and Quds Force have operatives and agents across the Arab state.
The nuclear deal allowed the flow of billions of dollars into the Iranian regime’s treasury, providing the revenues Tehran needed to escalate its military operations in Syria and guarantee the survival of the Assad regime.
Putting the brakes on Iran’s nuclear program should have been just a means to achieve the wider goal of curbing Tehran’s regional ambitions. Western leaders’ focus on the narrow objective of checking Tehran’s arsenal — in which they succeeded — came at the heavy cost of removing leverage on the country’s more immediately malign and destructive policies.
After US President Donald Trump took office in 2017, he invited Tehran to come to the negotiating table in order to address the terms of the nuclear deal. Iran declined and, consequently, the Trump administration withdrew from the JCPOA. The US Treasury Department then reimposed the sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the Obama administration. The sanctions on Iran’s energy and shipping sectors, as well as banking and financial systems, hit the country’s economy hard.
For a while, the Islamic Republic declared that it would remain part of the nuclear deal with France, Germany, the UK, China and Russia. But, as the Iranian leaders began to see that they were incapable of helping them financially and, as the cash stopped flowing into Tehran’s treasury, they began threatening that they would pull out of the JCPOA and enrich uranium at a higher level unless they received financial benefits. Iran has now announced that it will breach the 300 kilogram limit on its stockpile of enriched uranium. According to Tasnim News Agency, the Iranian government plans to arrange “an unlimited increase in the enriched uranium stockpile and a second step that Iran could take to back off from certain commitments.”
In a nutshell, the rise and fall of the nuclear deal should teach the international community an important lesson: Concessions and appeasement policies will only empower and embolden the Iranian regime to further pursue its interventionist and aggressive policies in the region. No amount of concessions will fundamentally change Iran’s domestic and foreign policies because concessions are viewed as a weakness by the Islamic Republic.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh