The incoming administration of President-elect Biden has stirred up conversations across the Middle East about America’s future policy toward Iran. It’s no surprise that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is at the center of these discussions. What is surprising is that Arabs and Israelis are now using the pronoun “we” to express their concerns about Iran. Hopefully, the incoming Biden administration will take note of this dramatic shift, and listen to America’s key allies in the region.
One such example can be found in a fascinating conversation between Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the United States, and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence and currently Executive Director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).
In the conversation, Ambassador Al Otaiba was asked, “What is your opinion of the new Biden Administration as it contemplates returning to the JCPOA?”
The Ambassador responded, “Our view of the JCPOA was that it was a good deal, it just did not go far enough. It did not get to address all the issues that bother us and Israel… Let’s not just take the nuclear issue and forget about all the other problems that we have to deal with today. We haven’t talked about missiles, we haven’t talked about proxies, we haven’t talked about interference.”
Most significantly, Ambassador Al Otaiba urged the incoming Biden administration to listen. He said, “If we’re going to negotiate the security of our part of the world, we should be there.”
General Yadlin called for a realistic reassessment of the JCPOA created in 2015. He said, “There are much more realistic Democrats who understand that five years have passed and the situation in the Middle East is different. Expectations on Iran’s behavior were found to be false. The Israeli Mossad found evidence that Iran is developing weapons and not only a nuclear program.”
General Yadlin also emphasized the importance of Arabs and Israelis being together at the table for discussions with the Americans. “We should have a dialogue with the new administration, with our allies in the Middle East, and bring our concerns to the negotiations.”
There is growing concern amongst America’s Middle East allies that the new Biden administration will simply re-enter the JCPOA that the Trump administration left in 2018, relieve the economic sanctions that were re-imposed on Iran, and try to turn back the clock to 2015.
The concerns center around three key flaws with the JCPOA. The bi-partisan advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) has detailed the flaws of the JCPOA on its website.
First, the main concern regarding the nuclear issue revolves around the “sunset” provisions of the JCPOA that would have ended restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program by 2030. This would open the door for Iran to achieve “breakout” and create highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons after 2030.
Second, the deal did not address Iran’s continuing development of advanced ballistic missiles that could be used to deliver nuclear weapons.
Finally, the JCPOA did not address Iran’s support for a wide range of terror proxies like Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Iran’s support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad that has murdered at least half a million of its own citizens.
The 2015 JCPOA gave Iran every opportunity to begin a new chapter in the history of the Middle East. Iran’s leaders could have redirected the billions of dollars they spend on terror proxies and their nuclear program and instead, invest in the good and welfare of their own people. Iranian leaders chose not to do that. And that is the dangerous reality that America’s Middle East allies have to live with.
The expected re-engagement with Iran by the incoming Biden administration could be beneficial for the region if the concerns of America’s friends are taken into account. When America’s allies speak with one voice on existential threats that impact their common future, America should listen.