11/27/13

In my blog here, I predicted that the Iran talks would end in failure. Some may say that I was wrong. I was not. Nothing really happened. This interim deal is neither here nor there…except that it does give Iran time to do what they are trying to do (see below). It also avoids an even strengthening of the sanctions, which would have made the lives of day-to-day Iranians even worse. However, even strengthening of the sanctions would not have stopped the dash to nuclear weapons. Nothing will, short of a military strike.

I do have a number of questions though:

1. To the President:
Whenever the president has a weak hand, he tries to posit it as an axiom in the hope that no one will dare question him. Most times, due to the ignorant, lazy, and subservient news core on the one hand, and useless opposition in the form of Republicans on the other hand, he succeeds. True to form, in this case the president stated a number of times that “it was always clear” that an interim deal will be necessary.

My question is WHY? Why was it necessary? If the goal is to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapon capability, and if the Iranians do not want nuclear weapons, as both sides declare respectively and repeatedly—why was it necessary to have an interim deal? Especially now that we know talks on this interim deal have been going on for about nine months. We are now being told that a final deal will be achieved in the next six months; why was it not possible to reach a final deal in the last nine months? And why is no one else asking this question?

2. To Iran:
Why did you accept this deal? What are you gaining? If the sanction relief is so minute, as the US and the media is trying to say, why would the Iranians agree to freeze (let’s accept this rosy-glassed version) their program?

3. To Israel:
What now? Is Israel going to attack?

4. To Congress:
What can Congress do to try and help matters now?

5. To the Media:
Really? That shallow?

6. And Finally, Another One to the President:
What if? What if nothing happens in the next six months?

Here are my answers:

  1. There was no good reason to do an interim deal. There were only bad reasons: Obama’s naiveté, his lack of understating of Middle East politics and the players, and in particular, the Iranians, and mostly his desperate need to show his accomplishments, given the current state of affairs domestically, ObamaCare, and his poll standings.
  2. Iran agreed to this deal because they needed the time anyway. It is nonsense to measure what they gained in this deal as compared to the sanction relief that they obtained, which is minute. The correct way to analyze it is to compare it to the additional sanctions that they avoided, those that were surely coming down from the US Congress if it was not for this deal.

Some uninformed commentators claim that in this deal, the Iranians have not gained time due to the fairly accurate fact that during the next six months, Iran cannot progress their enrichment program further, so ostensibly no time is gained. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of where we are. Iran has mastered the enrichment cycle, PERIOD (to use a phrase favored by the president). Experts differ in whether it will take one or three months for a “breakout,” given where they are, but no one really disputes that if the Iranians want to, they could take the enrichment program to the finish line—producing enough uranium and at a high enough quality to make a bomb. This is NOT their problem and NOT their critical path.

The real answer is in the weaponizing system. Iran has had the capacity for a “breakout” for a long time now. So why didn’t they do it already and put an end to this charade? The naïve or eternally appeasing commentators and analysts will stick to the ridiculous notion that Iran did not do it because they have not made the political decision to go for nuclear weapons. This is bullshit (excuse my language). I have commented on that many times in previous blogs. Pure hogwash! So why not? Because they do not have the weapon delivery system ready.

For Iran to have a credible nuclear weapons capability, they need a reliable, threatening nuclear delivery system. Otherwise they may sit on a crude bomb but how will they deliver it? They do not have an air force to speak of; certainly no air force capability to launch enough bombers equipped with nuclear bombs with any realistic chance that one or more will get to its destination. The Israeli Air Force and even that of Saudi and other Gulf states are all very capable to intercept the possible one or two bombers that the Iranians may master if they are lucky. The only delivery system that they can use in order to be effective and threatening as a nuclear power is missiles.

Iran has been working for years on their advanced missile program, by the way, this too is in contradiction to the UN resolutions, but it seems that they have not mastered yet the technological breakthrough required to weaponize the nuclear material into a missile head. THIS is their BOTTLENECK. This is their critical path and that is why they were more than happy to freeze their enrichment program at its current level. It does not matter as long as they have not mastered the weaponizing technology. Once they do that, all bets are off and the “breakout,” whether it is one or two months, is way too short for the US to act anyway.

It is curious that nothing in this entire “historical” agreement (so called by the US—it is not historic and not even an agreement—it is nothing, it is window dressing), deals with the missile technology. So Iran as I predicted is gaining time, gaining sanction relief, which is of course welcome but giving NOTHING in return, as the critical path is NOT the enrichment program.

By the way, this is EXACTLY what the Iranian president did back in 2003, when he was the nuclear negotiator for Iran. He agreed to freeze enrichment then. But the critical path then was not enrichment but production of centrifuges. So they stopped enrichment but once they were ready, they started it up again with many more centrifuges and thus multiple capacity to enrich as they were able to manufacture centrifuges while no one looked. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

3. So what will Israel do? I do not think Israel has much of an alternative other than to pursue the same dual path that they were doing until now. Israel knows better than I that the critical path is in the missile technology. Therefore, it will continue to watch wearily as Iran is making progress and attack IF and ONLY IF they feel that the missile technology is reaching a serious level. On the other hand, it will continue to make noise and push as much as possible for the final deal to be a tough one, IF there is one, and I believe Israel knows there will never be a final deal.

4. Congress has a huge role in shaping the outcome here. Contrary to the president’s assertion in taking credit for the sanctions that theoretically brought Iran to the negotiating table, it was Congress that initiated these sanctions. They had to drag the White House kicking and screaming to support these sanctions. The main contribution of the White House was to weaken these sanctions at every stage. Congress can do that again.

I would recommend a three-pronged resolution from Congress:

  •  Clearly defining what a final deal should look like, putting minimum red lines that should not be crossed in a final deal, and demanding that a final deal will take shape within 180 days.
  • If no such deal takes shape within 180 days, Congress should NOW authorize the president to use military power (air power in its broadest definition) and recommend, request, and push the president to indeed do that on day 181.
  • Resolve that any breach of the interim agreement by Iran will bring the “181” day mentioned above about immediately.

If Congress will pass such a resolution, and IF, that is a big if, the president signs it into law, the Iranians will know that the game is up. Ironically that is the only way to avoid war here. Iran will need to decide if they are seriously willing to face US military action. It is the only measure that has a fair chance of stopping Iran before they become a nuclear power. Such a resolution will change the power equation in the entire Middle East and will be a win-win for everyone.

A simple further sanction resolution will not be sufficient to move Iran off the path to nuclear weapons. They will bag the six months and suffer the consequences of any more sanctions if they need more than six months. The ONLY way to give them a pause, to make them think again is a clear, present, and CREDIBLE threat of military power. Like many times before, it has come down to the fact that the only way to avoid war is to make a credible threat of one.

5. My low esteem of the media is well known. But this was another trough. On one of the most important issues of our time, the media once again proved its shallowness, superficiality, and lack of understanding. Not one, NOT ONE media person or pundit really understood the real issue here (the weaponizing issue). When Senator McCain tried to explain it to Bill O’Reilly, the latter was totally not interested. That is not surprising as O’Reilly is only interested in …O’Reilly. When the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, and he should know, tried to explain the weaponizing angle to the doyen of foreign affairs amongst the news anchors—Wolf Blitzer—he of the “most trusted name in news,” and the anchor of the main news program on CNN—The Situation Room (supposedly, as the name infers, a serious program on national security matters and foreign affairs), Blitzer was either not interested or did not understand the point. To be fair to the media, both McCain and Rogers were ineloquent and did not articulate the point well. I am speechless.

6. The most likely outcome of the next six months of negotiations, however much they will be extended (only if it suits the Iranians to extend it, which would mean that they have not mastered the delivery system) is nothing, zero. The Iranians, the moment they feel that they can do the “breakout,” will leave the negotiation table blaming the West. My question to president Obama: What then, Mr. President? Will you then give the order to attack? Probably not. Like so many other things that you promise and did not mean it, this is also one of those promises where you never had the intention of actually delivering on it. You do not care if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. Indeed, you could not care less.

To summarize: In any deal, one has to consider what one gives and what one gets. Iran gave nothing. Their critical path to nuclear weapon remains intact. The West and the World gave them a huge consideration for nothing. The big prize is the avoidance of even stronger sanctions that were coming down from Congress. Military action on Iran was always unavoidable in my view. Therefore, this deal did not change the probability of war. You cannot increase the probability if it is already 100%. But it did make it likely to occur sooner.

And…the “I told you so”:

So… before the ink was dry on my blog (before I was able to even post it), a twitter message came from none other than the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani: “Atmosphere has changed. Before, there was the question of whether more sanctions would be imposed or not. Now, there’s a freeze in sanctions.”

The emphasis is mine. The interesting thing is that as I said above, Iran’s biggest practical achievement is not the small relaxation in the actual sanctions but the avoidance of significant additional sanctions that were coming. The fact that NO ONE (other than your humble blogger) saw this as the main thing that Iran got out of this deal (in return for giving up nothing) is astounding. I guess I have to thank Rouhani for explaining it. To be clear, nothing in his tweets refers to the relaxation of existing sanctions. That was not the goal and is marginal, as I said above.