The purpose of the Iran nuclear deal was twofold. It was an attempt by a Democratic Party president to alter the trajectory of both Iran’s nuclear program and its regional ambitions by integrating Tehran into the world economy. On both scores, it must be considered as an abject failure. Not only has the deal failed to address the future dimension of Iran’s nuclear capacity, it has totally misjudged the extent of the Islamic Republic’s desire to moderate its military position within the area of the Levant.
New US President, Donald J. Trump, understood that the Iran nuclear deal was deeply flawed. But Trump has had little inclination to use American military force to directly challenge Iranian behavior in either the Syrian or Lebanese theaters of operation. On the contrary, Trump no longer believes in a global US hegemony, known as the Pax Americana. He doesn’t believe — unlike many in the US political establishment — that America should continue on with its role as policeman to the world.
Enter the two US withdrawals: First, the Trump rejection from the Iran nuclear deal itself, and now, the withdrawal from the Syrian civil war. What is the logic to these apparently contradictory moves? For the past five years I have argued that the Iranian nuclear program in conjunction with its regional behavior is a serious risk for all the nations of the area. I have never separated regional behavior from nuclear ambition. My 14-point peace plan for the greater Middle East addresses not only conventional warfare and nuclear potential, but also, the future of the region’s only nuclear arsenal (Israel’s), as well as the role of outside powers within a new military structure for the area.
But unlike my peace plan, which takes into consideration the need for a totally balanced regional military approach, both Iran and Trump now offer each other only a form of capitulation, leading eventually back to square one — the very real prospect of war. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that Iran’s dual ambitions (conventional and nuclear) must be checked. And I do believe that sustained global sanctions over the course of the next six years will force the Iranians to accept a balanced alternative. But what I have rejected about Trump’s approach is his failure to provide just such an alternative plan. Because in order to be truly successful, only an alternative plan can rally the world behind the steps that must be taken if Iran decides on a nuclear breakout.
No, I am not advocating a new muscular Pax Americana. However what I am advocating is a peace plan based on American, Russian, European and Chinese cooperation to adjust the imbalances of the Middle East with a new architecture of security for all. In other words, the future of the region must be spelled out in specific terms, so that all will understand the exact direction upon which we can safely head. Without such a peace plan, Iran will not be offered an alternative to Israeli nuclear hegemony and Israel will continue to be isolated from its many potential global partners. Meanwhile without an alternative to the Iran nuclear deal, there will always be the serious threat of an eventual Iranian nuclear breakout. Will Israel be alone in stopping this threat? Or will the Jewish state succumb to a deadly nuclear arms race? Only an alternative peace plan will assure Israel of a coordinated global response to an attempted Iranian nuclear breakout.
From 1956 onward Israel’s strategic position has rested on two pillars: First, it has relied on the building of a powerful army to offset any combination of conventional military threat by any combination of advisories; second, it has also relied on its own nuclear arsenal and the power of the US to offset the potential of a nuclear-based alliance poised against its very existence. These two strategic pillars worked throughout the period of the Cold War and its twenty year aftermath. But the Obama-Trump era has shown that Pax Americana is no longer a viable option and Israeli Middle East nuclear hegemony is also no longer a certainty.
The US is in serious fiscal and monetary jeopardy. Large elements of both its political parties no longer want to play the role of the world’s policeman. With this reality as a background, the future of the Iranian sanctions no longer seem in doubt — the Republicans embrace them, and the Democrats can’t remove them without a new injection of American conventional force into the Middle East. This will not be possible. Now that Trump has left Syria, the Democrats will not allow themselves to be branded as the 21st century war party, the Middle East policeman.
In fact, I believe that Pax Americana (especially in the Middle East) would probably be rejected by 80% of all US voters. But the reinstatement of the Iran nuclear deal — by any Democratic party candidate for president — in conjunction with an absence of a regional police role, would automatically brand the Democrats as pro-Iran and anti-Israel. This is not a tenable political position. So where does that leave both US policy and the world?
There must be an alternative to the Iran nuclear deal, so that the international community would rally against an Iranian nuclear breakout attempt. Also, the sanctions must continue throughout the term of the next US president and they must be severely strengthened by a determined international commitment to a nuclear-free Middle East.
The ball is in Israel’s court. It can except the reality of nuclear competition; or it can go to war against Iran to prevent such a reality. However a far better choice would be to endorse an alternative regional peace plan. Many years ago Israeli Prime Minister Shamir was asked when would Israel accept the idea of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East: He answered, “only when all the nations of the region have concluded diplomatic relations with the Jewish State”. My plan calls for just such recognition. After five years of commentary, I am still waiting for some politician to endorse it.
Without an alternative plan, the new situation appears this way: Both Israel and Iran have been stymied, Israel through its isolation in case of an Iranian nuclear breakout, and Iran forced to live with economic sanctions far into the future. The simple truth is that the US Democratic Party will not allow itself to be perceived as pro-Iran. So the Middle East has finally come to the crossroads. Iran must decide to moderate its ideology and come to terms with Israel, and Jerusalem must decide on what terms it will end its nuclear weapons monopoly. Of course, the other alternative is an Iranian nuclear breakout and its consequences.