Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (left) and Ebrahim Raisi (right). (Photo by the Iranian leader’s press office / Handout / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images.)

The Biden administration took office determined to restore the common comprehensive plan of action – the Iran nuclear deal – that the Obama administration accepted in 2015 and from which Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. Despite six rounds of failed talks in Vienna and despite Iran’s pursuit of advancing its nuclear programs, the administration continues to send signals saying, “Pretty, pretty, please let’s talk about it.”

There is now no doubt that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his mini-me president, Ebrahim Raisi, have no intention of agreeing to a deal that could arguably be described as a sequel to the JCPOA. In recent months, the Islamic Republic has increased uranium enrichment levels to 60% (ideal bomb purity is 90%), moved closer to developing high-efficiency enrichment machines and called the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) “unprofessional”. Reports indicate that Iran could be within a month of having enough military-grade uranium to make a nuclear bomb.

If the White House gets a new deal – and Khamenei is to be admired for the way he methodically stepped up pressure on the United States, via uranium enrichment and attacks by Shiite militias in Iraq – that will amount to a American surrender with, at best, an Iranian promissory note for the continuation of the talks after Joe Biden has eliminated the penalties that matter. The advanced development of centrifuges will surely continue, as will all the sunset clauses of the JCPOA, which in a few years allow an easily militarized industrial scale nuclear infrastructure.

The White House deserves some praise: the president has so far refrained from making the concessions demanded by Khamenei, which are probably even more extensive than those offered by Obama. The White House has only three options: free the US Air Force and Navy, publicly concede Tehran’s nuclear ambitions (and either maintain sanctions or give up), or strike a deal that temporarily reduces stocks. uranium from Iran and nothing else and call it victory. Since there is probably no national political sanction, certainly not within the Democratic Party, with option three, Biden will try to pull it off, provided Khamenei has not decided to just tell America to stuff it. (Always a possibility with the clerk.)

The American model with the Islamic Republic, with a few memorable exceptions (the assassination of Revolutionary Guard overlord Qassem Suleimani in 2020, the Baghdad raids in 2006 and Operation Praying Mantis in 1988), has been a game of chicken where Washington blinks. first. In that vein, Biden could have started in January 2021, with all the concessions he will likely make soon. Iranian pride – that of Khamenei purpose revolves around sticking it to the US – maybe he stopped it. And perhaps also a general understanding – Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan both essentially conceded this point – that the JCPOA was not a splendid arrangement.

Now the president can usher in a new era in which we will not have Iranian politics, even under a future Republican administration. The Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department will, of course, continue to produce articles on the Islamic Republic. The National Security Council will hold its meetings. We could convene an official Washington task force to discuss “Where the US vs. Iran”. When Republicans take over the White House and Congress, we could again see severe sanctions against the theocracy. But probably not much more.

If the Israelis haven’t hit the Islamic Republic’s nuclear sites by 2025, when the regime will already have advanced centrifuges in production, then Jerusalem will have made it clear that preventive military actions are just too much to handle. The Mossad can still detonate things and assassinate key Iranian scientific personnel when they can, but such actions will likely only serve to delay Tehran’s timeline a bit.

If the Israelis “accept” the Iranian bomb, we can be sure that what remains of the hawkish wing of the Republican Party will too. By 2025, Iranian hegemony over much of the Middle East will be established, unless internal Iranian unrest, or Israel, upsets the ambitions of the theocracy. The “realistic” state of mind on the Republican side coexists well with the many conservative sentiments which consider the region to be too perverse and intractable. Democrats and Republicans cannot, when all the rhetoric clears, differ so much in how they act towards the Islamic Republic.

Barring a staggering act of Iranian stupidity (and it would have to be a great terrorist attack that Tehran could not hide), the United States could now not even claim to have the means and the will to change the behavior of the regime. of the mullahs. We will be like France which has an ardent anti-proliferation mentality and a deep mistrust of the clerical regime but which is inevitably inclined to appeasement.

We are surely at the moment when Washington de facto accepts the nuclearization of the Islamic Republic; we have already accepted its rule over the northern Middle East. The southern Middle East will take longer because oil is still too important to make Sunni Arabs in the Gulf believe they can protect it, despite their massive purchases of American and European weapons. But what you don’t want to fight for you can’t protect, and Donald Trump wrote our future in 2019 when he refused to respond militarily to the Iranian missile attack on the Abqaiq oil facilities and of Khurais in Saudi Arabia. To imagine Biden, who is more determined than Trump was to downsize America in the Middle East, becoming bold against the Islamic Republic, is begging belief.

In other words, by 2025 it’s game, set and match. For the United States, without the Israeli intervention and the potentially productive regional disruption and uncertainties that it would bring, we have probably already lost. Under a new executive deal with the Biden administration, Tehran could ship some of its growing stockpile of enriched uranium. But with new and improved machines, that doesn’t really matter. With the current batch of fairly primitive centrifuges from the Islamic Republic, the ones the JCPOA failed to destroy, the mullahs’ regime can obviously increase its enrichment capacity and purity quite quickly. With better machines, it will be nearly impossible, at least for the CIA and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to detect the stunts if Tehran decides to deploy them clandestinely. Their electricity consumption and space requirements will be too low to be recovered by technical collection. Human intelligence would be necessary; Given its background in Iran, the CIA’s direction of operations would likely need divine intervention.

Once a new deal is struck, the administration and much of the Washington foreign policy establishment will no doubt claim that America is still a player in the Middle East, which the United States does not have. goes bankrupt and retain options. The reflexes of American hegemony die hard, even among those who are opposed to the use of American power. The president and his top foreign policy advisers seem to be on that side. But Jerusalem and Tehran will know better. The U.S. rout in Afghanistan is just a forerunner of what will happen when the rest of the Middle East realizes – Arab political elites are more stubborn in their plots over American omnipotence than Americans of the Cold War are not in their hegemonic ways – that our mandate has passed.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Iranian targets officer, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.


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