Donald Trump has just over 27 months to renegotiate a nuclear deal with Iran. It simply won’t happen. At the root of Trump’s problem is the prospective price of oil and his decided lack of international support. In order for US sanctions to bite, Trump must push Iranian oil deliveries as close to zero as possible. This will require an enormous effort in order to persuade China, India, Turkey, Japan and South Korea that Saudi Arabia can make up for the lost Iranian oil. It won’t happen, because in the course of such a policy, the price of oil will rise dramatically. This will doom the global economy and cause Trump to lose the next presidential election.
However without such an effort (as close to zero barrels of oil as possible) Iran will muddle along within a lower economic growth range called by its leadership as the “resistance economy”. They have done this for years. The only reason Iran came to the negotiating table in 2014 was because the entire international community was united in its support for sanctions, and also Tehran’s belief that a US Democratic administration would agree to far more lenient negotiating terms than a Republican one.
Enter Obama. Under his leadership, the US and its international partners signed a “sweetheart” deal whereby within 10 to 15 years most controls on the Iranian nuclear program would be lifted and the prospect of nuclear weapons breakout would diminish to a matter of weeks, if not days. Bibi Netanyahu opposed Obama’s deal in the strongest possible tones (and rightly so). But in the interim, the Israeli PM diminished Israel’s bi-partisan US support by not offering an alternate official nuclear deal. Such overt criticism without an alternative came across as highly partisan.
A proper Israeli nuclear deal would have gone much further than Obama’s JCPOA by being wise enough to take into consideration Iran’s legitimate geopolitical strategic concerns. Instead, Bibi and his Republican supporters demanded complete capitulation from Iran; Obama and his Congressional Democrats knew such a demand would not be possible. In the end, the Democratic Party leadership settled for an Obama deal that had deep and abiding flaws but was considered the only deal possible given the lack of an official Israeli government alternative.
Enter Trump. Trump campaigned against the JCPOA (Obama’s nuclear deal) by calling it “the worst deal ever”. He was correct. So within 16 months of haggling with his national security team, the new president finally took control and abandoned the deal. Now a Republican president, along with a right-wing Israeli PM are demanding that China, Russia, Turkey, India, Japan and Europe recommit themselves to a new negotiation whereby Iran will essentially abandon its nuclear program and capitulate. Talk about chutzpah.
The Likud-dominated Israeli government is now perceived as pro-Trump and pro-Republican. In the face of extreme American partisanship, Bibi’s political tilting has become a disaster for Israel. Although I have also been an ardent opponent of the JCPOA for the last few years, I have always offered a balanced alternative plan (see Times of Israel, May 11,2018 –“Between Israel and Iran: Putin in Jerusalem” by Steven Horowitz). The Likud and its close Republicans friends have never offered an alternative plan to the JCPOA other than total capitulation — hardly a legitimate strategy. This lack of an inspirational nuclear peace initiative has allowed the US Democratic Party to correctly maintain that there is no legitimate alternative to the JCPOA. In other words, Bibi has sided with the Republicans, and for the next 27 months he is counting on either an Iranian capitulation and/or a Trump victory in the 2020 election. Bibi needs a Trump victory to keep the pressure on Iran in hopes of eventual regime change.
The far greater likelihood is that neither a Trump victory nor an Iranian capitulation will happen. Iran will hold firm to its “resistance economy” and also will find a way to still raise the price of oil to the detriment of both the global economy and the Trump reelection. Iran can very easily use surrogate militias in Iraq or Yemen to damage oilfields and/or pipeline infrastructure. This could easily be done even in Saudi Arabia with domestic Shiite terrorists. With few obvious fingerprints and just enough damage to rile a fragile oil market, already worried by an extremely tight supply window, Iran can avoid a military clash with the US, while working to dump a fairly unpopular Republican president.
Enter Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Joe Biden will beat Donald Trump in the 2020 US presidential election. He will have the support of 48% of the white working class and 65% of the vote of the independents. He will also be indebted to the far left of his party who are hardly friendly to Bibi and the Likud. Trump’s 2016 election numbers were 70% of the white working class and at least 50% of the independents. Even if the jobs and the economy are decent, the Iran policy will ensure that oil prices are high and Trump won’t stand a chance. However, he could choose the military option against Iran. Without an obvious casus belli, however, such an action will not go over well either domestically or internationally. It would be counter-productive because it would raise the price of oil to astronomical figures. Also, regional military escalation would become probable, especially directed at Israel from Lebanon and the Gaza. This would be a disaster.
Let’s face it, Bibi has no strategy for dealing with a new US Democratic president. Joe Biden could even choose his very good friend, Barack H. Obama, for a high security position within his administration. Biden, like his European counterparts, might even decide to return to the JCPOA — providing that in the next 27 months Iran maintains its adherence to the deal. With such a development, Bibi’s partisanship — because of a lack of any alternative nuclear plan — would isolate him internationally, cause a deeper rift with the US Jewish community and the Democratic Party, and quite probably bring his premiership to an ignoble and very sudden end.
The Israeli people need a regional nuclear peace plan as an official alternative to the JCPOA. Without one, Israel is doomed to a nuclear arms race and shaky deterrence. The Iranian people need a government committed to regional peace without hegemonic designs and nuclear weapons. The great powers of the world need a stable Middle East in a very unstable world economy. This can only be accomplished when all the nations of the Middle East feel safe and secure. This geopolitical environment, I have labeled as a Middle East Zone of Peace.
Iran needs a region without foreign military forces at its doorstep. Israel needs a defensible security zone that is much wider than a low nine-mile-wide plain buttressed against the sea. The old game of continuous war in the Middle East is about to either go nuclear or find a dramatic alternative transformation. Both Israel and Iran need their people to show prophetic leadership. I am certain that all the world’s governments, including both political parties in the US, will warmly welcome such a move toward peace.