US President Donald Trump is withdrawing the United States from the nuclear agreement with Iran.
According to the deal, Iran agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allowed international inspectors to enter in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions.
The conflict between the US and Iran is not new. It has many dimensions and dynamics. The current conflict, coupled with the decision of Trump’s deal with Iran, may explain Israel’s precaution at this time. After the identification of irregular activity of the Iranian forces in Syria, the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) decided to change the civil protection instructions in the Golan Heights and instructed the local authorities to unblock and prepare shelters in the area. The defence systems have been deployed,and the IDF troops are on high alert for an attack. This is one of the most consequential decisions of Trump’s presidency.
Trump expressed dissatisfaction and displeasure with the Iranian nuclear agreement for several months and called it the worst deal. The other allies such as France and Germany tried to persuade Trump to stay on the promise to improve the agreement but to no use.
The nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, stops Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for at least a decade. In 2015, the US, the UK, France, Russia, China, Germany and the European Union agreed to lift paralysing sanctions imposed on Iran due to its nuclear programme, giving it greater access to the global economy. In return, Iran agreed to take concrete steps to curb its nuclear programme, limiting it to strictly peaceful applications and to allow comprehensive inspections of key nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure compliance.
Iran had about 20,000 centrifuges. But the deal said that Iran couldn’t use more than 5,000 of them, and they must be among the oldest and least useful ones. That makes it very hard for Iran to create a nuclear bomb if it wanted. Iran gave up 97 percent of its enriched uranium but kept only 300 kilograms of its 10,000-kilogram stockpile in its current form. It has to keep its uranium at about 3.67 percent enrichment; uranium used in nuclear bombs must reach 90 percent enrichment. Iran would destroy or export the core of its plutonium plant at Arak and replace it with a new core that cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium.
The restrictions on Iran’s centrifuges disappear after ten years, and the limits on uranium enrichment go away five years after that. Some critics including Trump believe it’s therefore possible Iran could go back on the nuclear path around the mid-2020s. However, inspectors will continue to have access to Iran’s nuclear facilities even after those terms expire, meaning they might still catch Tehran if it tries to digress.
European signatories have said they have no intention of leaving the deal even if the US does. That’s in their interest since European businesses have started to do business with Iran since the deal was signed
The important question is: why would Iran want a nuclear weapon? The answer might be for both defensive and offensive reasons. Leaders in the US and Israel continuously threaten to bomb Iran. The Iranian military is strong, but it would likely lose in a war with Washington or Jerusalem just because of their powerful nuclear weapon. Having nukes is an equaliser and would help Iran deter any American and Israeli plans to attack. This is similar to North Korea’s reason for having nuclear weapons. Having nuclear bombs would also give Tehran flexibility to wreak even more havoc in the Middle East. With those weapons, Iran could more boldly support Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that it finances, or confront its archenemy Saudi Arabia with more force. In effect, Iran could be more aggressive and pursue some of these objectives with less worry that other countries will attack it.
Having nuclear weapons would make Iran stronger, as it would any country. That, in part, is why successive US presidents have worried about Iran getting the bomb. Former President Barack Obama decided that making a deal with Iran was the best way to prevent that from happening. In 2015, Obama once stated that his goal, when he came into the office, was to make sure that Iran did not get a nuclear weapon and thereby trigger a nuclear arms race in the most volatile part of the world. Obama also concentrated that Iran has only two options; one is to resolve the nuclear weapons issue through diplomacy and second is through use of force.
Trump has railed against the Iran deal since the early days of the presidential campaign. In essence, Iran remains a US enemy, and Obama failed to address that with the deal. Here it is important to note that Trump’s objection misses the point. Hezbollah, Syria, Yemen, missiles, and human rights. Take the missiles part; the Iran deal doesn’t prohibit Iran from testing missiles at all. The Obama administration knew that to get Iran to agree to curb its path to a nuclear bomb, the US would have to give up a lot more than simply lifting a few sanctions.
Another reason behind this withdrawal is that Trump doesn’t like certain restrictions of the deal like the ones on uranium enrichment and the use of centrifuges to end. He would prefer those restrictions remain indefinitely,so it’s even harder for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Trump’s third reason is really different and unique in its context.He thinks he could make a better deal. In fact, he has signalled a desire to improve the Iran deal, not necessarily leave it yet. Trump said earlier this year that he had outlined two possible paths forward:either fix the deal’s disastrous flaws or the US will withdraw. The Trump administration is in talks with European officials on Trump’s proposed changes, but they have yet to reach an agreement. Meanwhile, a parade of European leaders has appealed Trump to remain in the agreement.
It is interesting to see what happens if the US leaves the Iran deal. The very first thing that would happen is that the US would re-impose the sanctions on Iran. But what happens after that is not totally clear. How will the other countries that are party to the deal react? How will Iran react?
European signatories have said they have no intention of leaving the deal even if the US does. That’s in their interest since European businesses have started to do business with Iran since the deal was signed. If the deal ends, it’s possible that Europe would have to end its newfound economic ties with Tehran.
As for Iran, President Hassan Rouhani has said that the deal could survive even without America. “If we can get what we want from a deal without America, then Iran will continue to remain committed to the deal,” He also said. “What Iran wants is our interests to be guaranteed by non-American signatories,” adding that “getting rid of America’s mischievous presence will be fine for Iran.”
This contradicts what Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said last week when he noted that Tehran would most likely leave the deal if the US did. And if it does, Iran might put itself on the path to a nuclear weapon again. French President Macron said that the US leaving the Iran deal ‘could mean war’, although he added that he doesn’t think Trump wants a conflict.
Still, this shows just how serious this moment is. Foreign leaders are openly wondering if war with Iran is imminent because of Trump’s decision.
The writer is PhD Scholar in Media and Crime and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, May 12th 2018.