Iran, the United States and the Legislatures

President Obama has secured his place in the history books. He has not declared war. Just the opposite, he has managed to secure a withdrawal from Iraq and in the new year a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Two of America’s longest and least fruitful military endeavour outside of her own hemisphere and her first two major wars of the 21st Century. Obama has also managed to avert a war through diplomacy to terminate Syria’s chemical weapon capability. With such a ball rolling he no doubt saw a diplomatic deal with Iran about its nuclear enrichment as a foregone successful conclusion. However just when you thought international diplomacy had conquered all the domestic legislatures of the United States and Iran have entered the fray to the dismay of the American executive. For Israel, this means that “Bomb or be Bombed” is once again on the table when dealing with Iran.

International diplomacy against Iran was threatened when bipartisan legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate last Thursday that would authorize new economic sanctions on Iran if it breaches an interim agreement to limit its nuclear program or fails to strike a final accord terminating those ambitions. It was not the introduction of the legislation that was at fault because such a measure was intended to show Iran that America meant business. The legislature correctly believe that current sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and a credible threat of future sanctions will require Iran to cooperate and act in good faith at the negotiating table. At fault was the executive in the White House who failed to recognise that diplomacy requires teeth, and that the legislature was providing that. The White House said new sanctions would undermine those delicate efforts on the global stage and that President Obama would veto the legislation if Congress were to approve it.

For Israel, the fact is that if Iran is serious about the diplomatic agreement reached in Geneva then Iran should have no problem with the threat of sanctions because these sanctions only kick in if they don’t comply with the agreement. Israel is surprised at the White House’s stance because Obama should want these sanctions as a threat to hold over the Iranians. The issue for Israel therefore is that although talks are under way on a permanent agreement the outcome is uncertain and Obama is clearly displaying confusing messages. The Obama administration has said that the centrepiece of its policy is for Iran to not achieve a nuclear weapon yet Obama is relying too much on the diplomatic talks themselves while also attempting to suppress his own legislature.

The one redeeming feature of the domestic American fray is that Iran has followed suit. Iran has adopted the Western democracy game if only for propaganda purposes. The Iranian nuclear issue is now a contest between the legislature of the United States and that of Iran. Iranian lawmakers introduced a bill in Parliament this week that would force the government to increase uranium enrichment to 60 percent if new sanctions are imposed on Iran. The bill, introduced by 100 lawmakers, has to be approved by the 290-member house and then be ratified by a constitutional watchdog in order to become law. This is in response to the legislation introduced in the United States Senate.

Israel is not party to this tit-for-tat legislature contest between Iran and the United States. For Israel the Iranian nuclear propensity and capability is a life-threatening issue. Israel is content to accept the Geneva deal whereby Iran has agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent and neutralize its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium in return for the easing of some sanctions and a pledge not to impose new ones. However it is not clear if Iran will abide by this. Also the verification procedure and process of the deal is not assured and a future Iranian leader might not abide by the deal. Moreover the differences of opinion between Obama and his legislature doesn’t offer hope that the United States can enforce any agreement with Iran. This leaves Israel with the most assured and guaranteed option that she has voiced for some years. For Israel “Bomb or be Bombed” is at the top of the lists of options to neutralise Iranian nuclear propensity and capability since the enrichment centrifuges are still turning.

Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Research Fellow at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Editor of the London Security Policy Study and Research Director of Securitatem Vigalate Ireland.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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