To understand fully the political consequences of the Iran nuclear deal and Donald Trump’s decision to ax it, it is necessary to understand both the progress of Iran’s nuclear facilities and capabilities and the type of game that Iran is playing.
During his Washington visit in January, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen informed Trump of an operation in which the Mossad had raided a secret location in Tehran and taken original documents on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently claimed that Iran had lied about its nuclear ambitions and deceived the US and the Europeans.
Netanyahu further claimed that Iran had not disclosed the details of its past nuclear program fully to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as required by the nuclear deal, claiming that Iran’s development of its centrifuges shows its ambitions in this regard. The Associated Press, furthermore, has predicted that Iran will begin replacing currently installed centrifuges with more powerful models.
Without judging whether such accusations or predictions are valid, no one has found any evidence that Iran has violated the JCPOA.
It is worth examining the political consequences of both the Iran nuclear deal and the US withdrawal from it. Some fear that withdrawing from the Iran deal will have disastrous implications for the EU countries as well as the Middle East region. Iran lies between two of the world’s more abundant energy resources, the Caspian Basin and the Persian Gulf, which makes it a possible solution to Europe’s energy dependency on Russia. Energy industry experts argue that Trump’s staunch stance on Iran is likely to keep the price of oil and gasoline at a high level while driving Iran into a deeper alliance with Russia.
The Western powers have in general been neglecting Iran. Even though Iran has followed the requirements set forth in Articles III and IV of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the US has refused to deliver the nuclear materials for the US-built medical reactor in Tehran. What is more, despite Iran’s adherence to the NPT requirements, the Western powers have been violating Iran’s NPT rights to seek nuclear assistance from other states under paragraph 2 of the treaty’s article IV. Iran is therefore highly likely to enhance its regional power status by challenging the Western powers and establishing domination over the Gulf’s vital energy supply routes.
Former president Barack Obama’s Iran deal has been a positive-sum game in which Iran and all the other powers involved in the 2015 agreement establish win-win cooperation. The deal has, however, dire political consequences, in that Iran is playing the positive-sum game in order to win a future zero-sum (win-lose) game.
Even though Iran has adhered to the NPT’s requirements, it has actively supported Shi’ite terrorist groups and uprisings against Sunni regimes across the region. This makes the claim that Iran is a peaceful nation implausible. Iran has also built a deeper engagement with Russia. On March 14, 2017, for instance, Iran and Russia began the construction of a new reactor at the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant.
Not only has Iran strengthened Hezbollah and Hamas by transferring weapons-grade material, but it has also developed medium-long-range missiles that could threaten such EU countries as Poland, Belgium, Greece and Hungary, as well as Israel.
If Iran were to go nuclear it would escalate tensions in both the Middle East region and Mediterranean. Arab countries would find themselves trapped between a nuclear-armed Iran and a nuclear-armed Israel.
This raises the question of what NATO would do if Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were to become nuclear powers, as Pakistan already is, in order to deter Iran. Some may consider this question and its associated scenarios to be based on too many assumptions about Iran’s future behavior, but global politics change. Allies can turn into adversaries and vice versa.
It is crucial to know what game Iran is playing and what its endgame is. Netanyahu claims that Project Amad, which is Iran’s nuclear program, has already designed and produced five nuclear warheads with a yield of 10 kilotons. Iran is a major player, with its nuclear project’s sites spread throughout the country.
According to Michael Bar-Zohar, Iran has signed a confidential agreement with Pakistan for such Pakistani scientists as Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan to help it develop a nuclear bomb. Is it possible that Iran is forming something bigger? Time is on Iran’s side. Cooperation can indeed be used for winning a future victory. Proving that Iran is cheating and playing the game is a challenging task for Israel. Consequently, Israel will be alone.
The author is research director and chief consultant of Global Partnership and Development, New Zealand. She is a conflict analyst and strategy and security consultant. She is currently a research fellow at NATO Defense College. The views expressed in this paper are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Global Partnership and Development Ltd, the NATO Defense College or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.