Patience for the Iran Deal

In 2012, Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, a prominent nuclear chemist, was riding in his car on the streets of Tehran, when a motorcyclist accelerated alongside the vehicle and strapped a magnetic bomb to its door. The bomb exploded, killing Mostafa while the biker-assassin sped away without a trace. Such a precise strike, executed against a high profile target with care, planning, and skill, garnered international attention. The United States, for what it is worth, vehemently denied any role in the events. Although Israel declined comment, experts agreed that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was most likely responsible.  

This January, Mossad returned to its 2012 action-movie-esque form with a night raid on an inconspicuous Iranian safehouse. Their impressive and unlikely effort yielded over a half a ton of intelligence, largely documents and CD-rom discs, detailing Iranian nuclear capabilities. As with the assassination of Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, Mossad managed to humiliate the Iranian government, and highlight their incompetence to the international community.  Even their own citizens were “laughing at the Islamic regime on social media.” Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu theatrically showcased the results of their raid, backdropped by the words “Iran Lied” on a powerpoint slide.

In light of Israeli capabilities, and the new intelligence,  Americans ought to be cautious of quickly dismantling the Iranian nuclear agreement. First, a concession: the negotiated deal, and the subsequent shipments of money to the Iranian regime, must be understood as a bad bargain. The agreement itself did nothing to stay Iranian development of nuclear weapons past its expiration. Inability to track any funds sent in the form of cash means one can reasonably suspect the pallets were spent in a manner that undermines U.S. interests. Moreover, we now know the agreement was negotiated in bad faith, as it was conditional upon complete honesty from the Iranian government regarding the scope of their nuclear program. The Mossad documents have confirmed what many suspected; the Iranians lied about what they had in the first place.  

However, the documents also revealed a favorable fact to the public. Namely, that the Iranians have stalled nuclear development since signing the agreement. No doubt Iran plans to resume their programs when the deal expires, a reality that seemed lost to the last U.S. administration, but the fact remains that at this moment, they have not. As Kenneth Pollack recently wrote, “There are powerful countervailing reasons not to throw out the JCPOA, even if it isn’t as good as we hoped for (and arguably could have gotten).”

Other actors in the Middle East have a more vested interest in preventing nuclear proliferation than the United States. Sunni nations, mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, stand firm against the predominantly Shia Iranians. Israel, to its obvious credit, has thwarted Iran for the better part of a decade. These countries, usually adversaries, are now forced together by a common goal and enemy. Were President Trump to “rip up” the deal immediately, this motivation would be lost.

It would be wise to allow these countries to build a coalition against Iranian nuclear capabilities, while continuing to rely on U.S. power to verify compliance with the original deal. Again, as development is currently stalled, the international community has the result it seeks. The United States might as well benefit from current circumstances, considering these ends are what was hoped for in the first place. While the time for a renegotiation may well come as the agreement nears its end a hasty withdrawal throws out the baby with the bathwater.

America can toe the line between “pie in the sky” diplomacy and fatalistic rhetoric. We can understand the severe limitations of the Iran deal, and the bad faith it was created under, while still allowing nations to build their own allegiances. We can distrust the Iranian regime, yet know that we are not best situated to pressure it. Patience, in this step of the process, is the best prescription.