Iraqi Hizbollah supporters march in Baghdad, 2017
A new Iran deal needs to limit all the regime's crimes, not just its nukes
Donald Trump’s decision to pull America out of the nuclear accord with Iran didn’t quite come as a surprise. Yet the announcement sent shockwaves across the diplomatic community in Europe, which had hoped for a last-minute miracle to save the deal.
In the corridors of power – from London to Paris to Berlin and Brussels – we’re hearing gloom and doom stories of how Trump’s decision could trigger a new war, unleash Iran’s nuclear programme or destabilise the Middle East.
The criticism of Europe’s leaders would be worth entertaining if the JCPOA (the formal name of the nuclear deal) hadn’t done exactly that
already. It provided the Islamic Republic with a patient pathway to a nuclear bomb less than a decade from now. The despotic regime received billions in sanctions relief to bring chaos and destruction to the Middle East. And a new Lebanon war with Israel has become a question of when, not if, thanks to Iran filling the depleted stockpiles of Hizbollah with game-changing weapons.
We now have two options: We can see America withdrawing from the JCPOA as a threat. Or, if we're smart, we see it as an opportunity to formulate a new, broader Iran strategy which adequately curbs Tehran's illicit nuclear activity and, at the same time, addresses its malign non-nuclear activity.
Why is it smart? Because it destroys the fatal fiction at the heart of the nuclear accord. Proponents of the JCPOA have vowed that it would make the world safer and lead to prosperity and political moderation in Iran - a theory that has proven completely false.
The mullahs in Tehran never had the intention to use the JCPOA as means to integrate into the international community and improve the lives of their people. Instead they chose power, terror and deceit, undeniably proven by Israel's intelligence bombshell from last week.
A major rationale behind Iranian efforts to acquire a nuclear device has always been what may be termed "immunity from prosecution." Put simply, by becoming a nuclear weapons state, Tehran would be able to deter both America and regional foes from intervening - militarily or otherwise - in its illicit non-nuclear activities.
While the two - Iran's nuclear ambitions and foreign policy goals - have always been intimately linked, the JCPOA has brought them together to a point where they are now inseparable from each other.
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard attack a training vessel during a drill in the Strait of HormuzCredit: Hamet Jafarnejad/AFP
What does that mean? Going forward, we need a strategy on Iran that stands on two legs. We mustn't let the turbulences over the JCPOA blind us to the need to confront Iran's vision of a new Shiite empire, threats to Israel and aggression against Arab allies.
First, any new framework must include the following. No sunset clauses: Iran must be permanently banned from building a nuclear device; anytime, any place snap inspections by the IAEA of all nuclear sites, including military ones: no more taking them at their world; crippling limitations on Tehran's research and development of advanced centrifuges; and, finally, an end to Iran's ballistic missiles programme, whether long or short-ranged.
Second, America and its allies should be clear that Iran will face increased pressure until they pull their troops out of Syria. A permanent Iranian military presence in the country is a recipe for disaster. Moreover, we must assist the Iraqi government in curbing the influence of Iranian-controlled militias in Iraq and reformulate our Lebanon policy to acknowledges that Hizbollah - and by extent, Iran - has considerable power over the country.
That's our best chance to prevent more war in the Middle East. Iran negotiated the nuclear accord from a position of strength, knowing that America placed all other regional policy goals as secondary to securing an agreement. Bad diplomacy led to a bad deal.
Now Iran's currency is in freefall. The economy is on the brink of collapse and popular dissent is on the rise. By reimposing sanctions, we can win back the leverage to formulate a broader Iran policy on our terms.
President Trump didn't shut the door on future negotiations. The administration indicated interest to sit down with the Europeans and regional allies to start discussions on a broader resolution to the destructive behaviour we see from Iran.
The countries that fight the mullahs at the front line every day - Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States - have already welcomed the President's announcement. It is now on us to accept the challenge and deliver what the JCPOA has failed to do: stop Iran from ever acquiring nuclear capabilities and make the world a safer place.