Joe Biden on Iran, the nuclear deal, sanctions and a changing Middle East

Then US Vice President Joe Biden on his way to speak to the press at the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Debbie Hill, Pool)

Everyone take a deep breath; Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States. With controversy and conspiracies on the way out, we can once again return to discussing policy matters. At home, daunting challenges lay ahead for the Biden Administration. Biden will need to unite a deeply divided nation and get a surging Covid-19 under control. Abroad, Biden will look to reverse course on Trump’s isolationist policies and reengage with allies across the globe. In doing so, the Biden Administration should work closely with its Middle Eastern allies to confront Iran.

The Biden Administration should take heed to something extraordinary currently taking place in the Middle East. Remarkably, after more than 70 years, Arab states are now waiting in line to establish ties with Israel. Israel and several Arab states have signed or are in the process of signing peace accords and publicly establishing financial and cultural relations. A move that has broken down traditional barriers and has the potential to usher in a new age of stability and prosperity in the Middle East. The biggest factor facilitating this seismic shift in policy is Iran. In an astonishing display of unity for a bitterly divided region, countries across the Middle East are coming together to present a united front against Iran.

41 years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, an Islamic dictatorship still rules Iran with an Iron fist. Widely recognized as one of the world’s worst human rights violators, Iran’s prisons are overflowing with pro-democracy student protestors, women’s rights activists, journalists, homosexuals, ethnic minorities, and all sorts of other political prisoners. Critics of the regime are routinely arrested, tortured, and far too often executed without a fair trial. For those reasons alone, the Biden who campaigned on protecting democracy and civil rights here in the United States should maintain maximum heavy sanctions on a regime like Iran’s.

Afkari, a 27-year-old Iranian national-champion wrestler, was imprisoned, tortured and hung earlier this year for taking part in anti-government protests (screenshot from The Times of Israel “International Olympic Committee ‘shocked’ by execution of Iranian wrestler”)

However, the Iranian regime’s depravity does not stop at its own borders. Regarded by the United States as the largest financier of terrorism in the entire world, Iran spends billions of dollars annually financing terrorist organizations, military proxies, and wars across the Middle East. Its Revolutionary Guard paramilitary force (“IRG”), tasked with protecting the Revolution at home and spreading it abroad, is deployed across the Middle East. For decades, the IRG has brazenly orchestrated and carried out terrorist attacks against American, Israeli, European and Jewish targets around the globe. The IRG and Iranian military proxies are deployed from the Gulf to the Mediterranean fueling wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.  While Iran has held Lebanon politically hostage for decades through the terrorist group Hezbollah, it is now looking to extend the same level of influence and control in Syria and Iraq.

Joe Biden pledged during his campaign to reenter the 2015 nuclear accord and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that Tehran was willing to return to the deal if Biden lifts sanctions upon entering the White House. However, opposition to the 2015 agreement was one of the largest factors that drove the Gulf states and Israel together in the first place. At best, the deal was a short-term fix to a long-term problem, something like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. Opponents of the nuclear deal were vehemently opposed to the ‘sunset provisions’ which saw some of the nuclear restrictions on Iran expire as soon as 2025 with others lasting until 2030. Critics were quick to point out this provided Iran with a “patient pathway” to acquiring a nuclear bomb as it would not need to change its behavior or its goals, it would simply need to wait. Additionally, the deal was criticized for its failure to address Iran’s massive ballistic missile program, the very essential delivery method for launching a nuclear bomb.

The 2015 deal opened up the Iranian economy to trade with eager European and Asian countries waiting to buy cheap Iranian oil. Billions of dollars flowed into state-owned oil companies thus boosting the economy and solidifying the regime’s hold on power. Not surprisingly, the money did not trickle down to the Iranian people desperately in need, but rather flowed straight to the regime and the IRG, the military and overseas to the terrorist groups and militias it finances. The notion that once the sanctions were lifted, with more money at its disposal and a stronger hold on power, the regime would stop its malignant actions throughout the Middle East and the world was naïve and remains so today.

Biden’s desire to re-enter the nuclear accord stems from good intentions; to prevent Iran from ever having a nuclear bomb, however, his eagerness to return to the deal gives Iran the upper hand in negotiations. Iran will seek to obtain massive concessions in order to quickly reenter the deal. With so many issues demanding Biden’s full attention at home, Biden should maintain maximum sanctions on Iran, at the very least, until his administration can dedicate the amount of time and effort needed to reach a responsible deal. Make no mistake, while the Biden administration will have its hands full at home, the nuclear negotiations will have the Iranian regime’s full attention. Whether or not you agreed with the agreement five years ago, it would be foolish to ignore its shortcomings when negotiating a new deal. Sanctions implemented under Trump’s maximum pressure campaign have weakened the regime. With an economy in shambles, a region putting aside old differences to unite against it and growing domestic unrest, the United States has profound leverage if It plays its cards right. A new agreement must address Iran’s ballistic missile program and eliminate the “sunset provisions”. Otherwise, the Biden administration should sit tight and maintain maximum pressure.

About the Author
Evan lives in Philadelphia, PA where he attends Rutgers Law school. He's a former IDF paratrooper and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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