In Iran We Trust?

Jewish Light Editorial

Conflict abounds on how and whether to continue nuclear negotiations with Iran in their present state, at least until the July deadline. Should recent events serve as a context clue?

In the aftermath of the attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the patrons of a Paris-area kosher restaurant came an Israeli helicopter strike in Syria on Sunday that killed five Hezbollah fighters. Among the dead were not only the son of the terrorist group’s main military commander, Imad Mughiyeh, but also Iranian General Mohammd Ali Allahdadi.

Hezbollah is the Lebanese-based Shia organization that is listed by the U.S. State Department and the European Union as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah, which has long received weaponry and funding from Iran, has continued fighting alongside troops loyal to the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

The attack on Hezbollah forces comes at the very time in which there is renewed debate in Congress over the timing and scope of Iranian sanctions. While a good number of sanctions have remained in place during the so-called P5+1 negotiations, proposed bipartisan Senate resolutions call for reinstating and increasing sanctions in July if current negotiations fall through. 


At least two general assumptions are behind these calls for congressional action. First, many senators, especially but not exclusively Republicans, believe the negotiations will not prove successful. And some also believe any hope of success depends on Iran knowing there will be no further extensions or weakening of sanctions.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, continues to insist that he opposes any limitations on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and most believe there can be no agreement without his sign-off, despite the public facade of some Iranians at the bargaining table. 

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has asked Congress to “hold its fire” on any new resolutions until the current round of negotiations run their course, and he has threatened to veto any congressional legislation to reimpose and increase sanctions against Iran.

So the stage is set for a Washington showdown. The previous sanctions imposed against Iran by the United States and the European Union – which have by many experts’ acknowledgment played a major role in weakening Iran’s economy – are regarded as the principal factor in bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. So the argument in favor of continued negotiations without an additional hammer, especially as Iran continues to suffer economically, is predicated on the impact to date.

But opponents of the negotiations don’t really think that there will be progress even with the financial difficulties Iran faces. Many see the discussions as simply a further stall by Iran as it prepares (or continues) to further enrich uranium, making the situation, especially for Israel, more precarious.

Add to that skepticism about current events in Syria, with Hezbollah’s continued aggression fueled by Iranian money and partners on the ground. And one of the proposals in place would call for Russia – another untrustworthy sovereign – to serve as the repository for enriched uranium to ensure peaceful purposes. 

How reliable is such a methodology given the ruthless leadership of President Vladimir Putin and his recent treatment of Crimea and Ukraine?

In the aftermath of this weekend’s developments, it’s absolutely fine to again ask whether the Iranian regime and its Russian and Hezbollah allies can be trusted to honor any agreement put forward in the current negotiations.

The only problem is, it’s not the right question, because there are no advocates of a settlement with Iran that would depend on much trust among the parties. They all would insist on practical verification, backed by the U.S. and our allies’ intelligence channels.

So if you believe there is no settlement proposal that provides the necessary verification, it would make total sense to support Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., in their effort to constrict the Obama administration’s tactics. In fact, from that perspective, it would make sense to walk away from the table today.

We don’t think that’s wise. We agree that, based on what we know today, there should be no immediate extension of the talks should the current round fail and, if it does, Congress should go ahead and enact tougher sanctions against the regime in Tehran. After that, Iran – caught in a time of severe duress not only for itself but its partner Russia – will have to consider the consequences of an even greater squeeze on its economy.

We aren’t hopeful that the negotiations will succeed, whether or not the Senate inserts its own resolution, and it’s awfully hard to opine on whether such a resolution will have a substantial impact on Iran’s behavior at the table. 

But right now there are three tools to bring Iran to heel: negotiations, sanctions and military action. We will be far more fearful if and when the options are reduced to two.