The decision of President Trump to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), drew the criticism of many pundits in the western media. Yet, these critics would do well to consider the consequences of an alternative scenario: the nightmare of living with a nuclear-armed state sponsor of terror after the limitations on Iran’s nuclear program expire.
The most important word necessary to understand the rationale behind President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal is a technical term called, “breakout”. It is defined as the time it would take a nation to develop enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon.
The key issue relevant to breakout has to do with Iran’s ability to enrich uranium in gas centrifuges. According to the terms of the JCPOA, Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges in use from 20,000 to about 6,000 centrifuges. The other 14,000 centrifuges have been placed in storage. Iran is also limited in its stockpiling of enriched uranium to 300 kilograms.
That means that Iran’s capacity for breakout has been temporarily set back. Before the JCPOA, Iran’s breakout capacity was about two months. For now, it has been set back to one year and that’s a good thing.
So why is the JCPOA so problematic?
One of the main problems is embedded in what are referred to as the “sunset provisions” of the deal. Between years 10 and 15 of the JCPOA, the limitations on Iran’s right to enrich uranium will begin to disappear. After 2030, all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will be eliminated. At that point, Iran will be allowed to operate as many centrifuges as it wants and enrich as much uranium as it wants. After 2030, Iran’s capacity for breakout will shrink back to weeks and then to a few days.
At that point, Iran will become what is called a “nuclear-threshold state”, and it will be impossible to detect breakout and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent revelation of the trove of documents captured by the Mossad detailing Iran’s nuclear program prove that Iran has both the scientific knowledge and determination to produce nuclear warheads.
We also know that Iran already has the capability to deliver nuclear warheads. Since the signing of the JCPOA, Iran has continued to develop and test nuclear capable ballistic missiles, like the Shahab 3, that can reach Israel and beyond. The failure to address the missile threat is another weakness of the deal.
Given the fact that Iran’s leaders repeatedly call for the destruction of Israel, the sunset clauses pose an intolerable threat to the future of the Jewish state. As Israeli journalist Ari Shavit once asked, “Don’t we want to live after 2030”?
In the meantime, the JCPOA does not address the major threats currently posed by Iran including its support for terrorism and the murderous regime of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. The relief in economic sanctions provided by the deal has enabled Iran to spend billions of dollars to wreak havoc across the Middle East. In fact, few have bothered to ask: Why has Iran been investing so much blood and treasure to prop up Bashar al-Assad?
Most analysts explain that Iran’s support for the Syrian regime is designed to fulfill their strategy of creating a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean to achieve, “regional hegemony”. Yet, that abstract term fails to capture the essence of the danger that Iran poses to peace in the region. There is a much more sinister aspect to Iran’s ambitions.
Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran’s foreign policy has been guided by two key principles: exporting the Islamic revolution and working toward the destruction of Israel.
In an excellent article, Iran expert Karim Sadjapour quotes Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Velyati wrote, “The chain of resistance against Israel by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, the new Iraqi government and Hamas passes through the Syrian highway. …Syria is the golden ring of the chain of resistance against Israel.”
In other words, there are now 500,000 dead Syrians and seven million refugees because of Iran’s obsession with the destruction of Israel. And now that Assad’s future in Syria seems secure, we see a growing threat unfolding before our eyes.
Over the past year, Iran has been working to create another front against Israel in Syria. It’s not enough that Iran has already supplied more than 120,000 rockets and missiles to its loyal proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran is building a large military infrastructure in Syria.
The tension we see on Israel’s northern border is explained by Israel’s efforts to prevent the buildup of this threat through targeted air strikes on Iranian bases in Syria.
If the United States had remained in the JCPOA, it’s not hard to imagine a situation taking place after 2030 when Iran would work to achieve breakout and develop nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders would then feel emboldened to use their nuclear umbrella as a cover for the launching of its vast arsenal of missiles at Israeli cities from Lebanon and Syria.
And that could be just the beginning of an escalation into a nuclear nightmare scenario.
President Trump recognized the deadly flaws in the JCPOA and decided to take action. Following the announcement of his decision, the leadership of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) released a statement saying, “…we believe that President Trump made the correct and courageous decision in terminating America’s involvement in the JCPOA, re-imposing economic sanctions on Iran, and stating that the U.S. remains open to diplomacy that will achieve a better agreement”.