Trump’s Ultimatum — Israel’s Dilemma

President Trump swears that he will drop the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) within 120 days unless it is re-negotiated. Such a negotiation is probably never going to happen. But Trump insists that his NATO partners — France, Germany and the United Kingdom — alter their approach to the deal or he will demand its immediate end. Most importantly, if the deal ends, Trump will also insist on the equally immediate snap-back of the original sanction regime that got Iran to the diplomatic table in the first place.

For Israel, these actions could once again place its military on an immediate war-footing with Iran. But such a scenario will not only be an acute problem for Israel. It could also mean a deep political rupture within NATO, leading to either an American ultimatum with Europe on trade or NATO acquiescence to end the JCPOA. Hence, the Trump ultimatum becomes either a war strategy or an off-shoot of a war strategy — nuclear deterrence. But deterrence is precisely what Trump doesn’t want on the Korean Peninsula. So why should he accept it with Tehran? The answer is, he probably won’t. Either Iran capitulates (and renegotiates the JCPOA) or Trump will be forced to defend his red line — the Iran ultimatum.

Yes, of course, the JCPOA is deeply flawed. Everyone in the West agrees to this principle. But for the Europeans and the US Democratic Party, while the deal is flawed, it is still considered functional. But functional how? At least for the time being, the Liberals argue, the JCPOA prevents war. This, of course, is its functional value. But for how long will the deal remain functional? In the long run, Conservatives argue (with Liberal assent) that the only thing holding Iran back from the acquisition of nuclear weapons is its own promise. In other words, the JCPOA is deeply flawed because it lacks a permanent verification regime. It is the opposite of the now famous President Ronald Reagan dictum — “trust but verify”.

Is Trump planning a war against Iran? Is he willing to risk a rupture within NATO in order to prosecute such a war? And what would such a war mean for US relations with Russia and China? Could such an imbroglio involve an open confrontation between superpowers in Syria or Lebanon? Maybe it might involve a second front, somewhere outside the Middle East. And what about Israel and Saudi Arabia? Certainly they would get drawn into an Iranian-US confrontation.

Israel’s dilemma in the short term is a potential debilitating war. But in the long run, Israel’s dilemma is what to do about the verification flaws in the JCPOA. Israel cannot with full assurance detect a nuclear breakout in a mountainous country like Iran. It is less than clear that the US will be able to detect any Iranian nuclear breakout. For verification to work, it must be all-encompassing and total. But such a regimen is only possible within the context of the full pacification of the entire region. But full pacification will require an agreement between Israel, Iran and all the members of the P5+1 — US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China. And such an understanding can only mean an international agreement on a nuclear-weapons-free zone, the end of all foreign military penetration in the Middle East, and a complete understanding of the nature of a state of peace within the region.

Within 120 days, Trump will either have to back down, or defend his new JCPOA red line. This will mean a harsh trade ultimatum toward his crucial NATO allies. But what if America’s allies resist? What will Trump do then? Will he initiate a US-Europe trade war? Will he suspend the NATO Alliance? Such a policy might play well in Moscow, but how will it play in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh or New York City? The Republican Party is already deeply divided over trade and many other issues. 2018 is an election year, and all signs point to a sweeping Democratic Party victory. Trump’s new red line on the JCPOA will surely be portrayed by the Democrats as wildly erratic, economically dangerous and politically war-like. Will Trump have the support of his Secretary of State or his Secretary of Defense? And what if both these highly regarded cabinet members threaten to resign their posts? What then for Republicans, in an all-important election year? If Trump becomes isolated will he be forced to back down?

Neither war nor nuclear deterrence can be acceptable to either the US or Israel when facing Iran. A whole new follow-on agreement must eventually replace the JCPOA. In such an endeavor Russia, China, and NATO must begin a totally new understanding to replace a deeply frayed uni-polar US global leadership. The world desperately needs an alternative geopolitical structure. This understanding must be global, but it must begin in the Middle East, and it must begin soon.

Nuclear deterrence is the equivalent of nuclear proliferation. Such proliferation of nuclear weapons within the region of the Middle East cannot be solved by the JCPOA. Extreme verification is the only answer. Israel must lead, because at the present time Israel has a monopoly on nuclear weapons within the Middle East. Also, everyone understands that in the long-run Trump is correct about the JCPOA; it is indeed a deeply flawed document that can only lead to nuclear proliferation. Does the Jewish State want to eventually live in a region on a hair-trigger nuclear alert with Iran and other Middle East nations in possession of nuclear weapons?

Trump has now upped the ante and the time-frame on the future of the JCPOA. He has promised a confrontation on the issue within 120 days. Time is running very short. Will Israel and the US allow Iran to use the Trump ultimatum to call the president’s bluff — i.e., remove itself from the deal without a war or a renegotiation? Or will Iran stay true to the deal, knowing that it will be Trump and Netanyahu who will become isolated and weakened internationally? Soon the moment of truth will be at hand!

Is there an alternative to the Trump ultimatum? Is there an alternative to the flawed JCPOA? Is there an alternative to US and Israel global isolation in the face of the Trump ultimatum? Is there an alternative to the prospect of an eventual nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East with the continuation of the JCPOA?

The answer is a robust — Yes! Israel could break out of its nuclear dilemma by proffering an entire new design for the region. A design free of both war and nuclear proliferation. I call this design — The Zone of Peace. In our highly dangerous age, these ideas might seem very idealistic. But when confronted with their opposite scenarios, they become quite appealing and even realistic. The Zone of Peace consists of 14 points.

1) A Zone of Peace shall be established among the states of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, so that trade and navigation shall move uninterrupted. 2) All foreign navies shall be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 3) All foreign air forces shall equally be denied basing rights within the Zone of Peace. 4) No state within the Zone of Peace may attack another state. 5) If such an attack should occur, the permanent members of the UN Security Council would come to the aid of the aggrieved state, and points 2 and 3 would become temporarily suspended. 6) If such an attack should occur, the states within the Zone of Peace would come to the aid of the aggrieved state. 7) Only sovereign states would be allowed to possess military equipment. Extra-territorial militias would be outlawed. Missiles and missile production would be kept at very low distances and very low numbers.

8) Nuclear enrichment would not be allowed, and its enforcement by the strictest verification regime of the IAEA would become the norm. The reprocessing of plutonium would be prohibited. 9) All states within the Zone of Peace must recognize and have diplomatic relations with all other states. 10) All states within the Zone of Peace must sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), and negotiations for a Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone must begin no later than 24 months after all states have finalized mutual recognition. 11) All states within the Zone of Peace must respect the human rights of their citizens, and states whose use of force against their own citizens, which violates international standards, shall be suspended from the Zone of Peace. 12) All states within the Zone of Peace shall pledge their allegiance to a non-hegemonic regional structure, and states within the zone will also pledge not to conspire with other states for the purpose of such hegemony. 13) All states within the Zone of Peace shall abide by the rules (to be established) for the equitable dispensation of all regional hydraulic resources. 14) The Zone of Peace is NOT dependent on the conclusion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, this conflict shall be decided through negotiations among the parties themselves without coercion or outside interference. Genuine compromise and goodwill must become the principles upon which these negotiations rest.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).