Israelis press U.S. not to rejoin Iran nuclear deal

“The 2015 nuclear deal, struck during Barack Obama’s presidency, lifted an array of U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for major restraints on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, saying it was too weak and too narrow and he reimposed the sanctions while adding new ones. After about a year, Iran began violating the terms of the deal, including by enriching uranium to high levels and shutting out inspectors.

President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the deal — he and his aides argued that it remains the best vehicle to contain an Iranian nuclear threat. Over nearly a year and a half, a period that included some long pauses, Biden’s emissaries have engaged in indirect talks with Iranian officials about reviving the agreement.

The two sides, whose discussions have been mediated primarily by European officials, have tangled on a variety of thorny topics. Those include: whether the U.S. will rescind Trump’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; the fate of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency into traces of nuclear materials at various Iranian sites; and Iranian demands for certain guarantees that the lifting of sanctions will lead to economic benefits — and that the U.S. won’t pull out of the deal under a different president.

Biden has said he will not rescind the IRGC’s terrorism designation, and the IAEA has indicated it will not give up on the probe.

Iran recently responded to a European draft proposal on reviving the deal with comments mostly focused on sanctions and economic guarantees. U.S. officials have been looking at the Iranian demands and preparing their own response, which may be sent to European negotiators later this week.

The U.S. has been consulting allies, among them Israel, before sending its response, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it would wait until after Gantz’s meeting with Sullivan.

“At every step of the process, we have been in touch with our Israeli partners to update them on where we are, to compare notes on the state of Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.

The Israeli officials are making their push at a sensitive time: the country, currently being overseen by a caretaker government, will soon hold its fifth election in less than four years.

The main internal debate among U.S. negotiators has been about the economic guarantees sought by Iran, said Ali Vaez, a top Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group. Those guarantees deal in part with Iran’s concerns that even if the 2015 deal is revived, foreign companies will consider it too risky to invest in the country. Even when the deal was in full force, many foreign firms were hesitant to do business in Iran.

For Israel’s political leaders, an Iran whose economy is stronger is an Iran that is a bigger threat to their country’s existence. Iran’s rulers consider Israel an illegitimate state, and some have predicted its eventual doom.

Israeli political leaders’ argument against the nuclear deal often boils down to concerns that, if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran, the regime will use the incoming cash to engage even more in an array of unsavory activities, including funding and arming terrorist groups that target Israel.”

“some Israelis in the security establishment — often retired officers with more freedom to speak out — have broken with their political leaders on this issue. They argue that, as imperfect as the nuclear deal may be, it’s better than having no restraints on or surveillance of Iran’s program.”

“At present, Iran’s breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon — is believed to be a few weeks. Under a restored deal, it would likely be around six months. Under the original 2015 agreement, it was estimated at around a year.”

3 Scenarios for How Putin Could Actually Use Nukes

“Tactical nuclear weapons are often called “battlefield” or “theater” weapons to distinguish them from much more powerful strategic nuclear weapons, but they are far more destructive than conventional weapons. During the Cold War, tactical nuclear weapons had yields ranging from tens or hundreds of tons of TNT to thousands of tons. These weapons came in many forms: gravity bombs, short-range missile warheads, anti-aircraft missiles, air-to-air and air-to ground missiles, anti-ship and anti-submarine torpedoes and even demolition devices or mines. Reportedly, the smallest tactical weapon in the Russian nuclear arsenal has a yield of about one-third the size of Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombs, or equivalent to about 5,000 tons of TNT.

There are a few ways that such a tactical nuclear weapon could be used to fire the kind of “warning shot” envisioned in Russian military doctrine. These options come with increasing degrees of risk for the U.S., Ukraine and its allies, and for Russia.”

Russia may do Biden a favor by killing the Iran deal

“The original deal was reached during Barack Obama’s presidency, after years of talks among Iran, the United States and other leading countries, including Russia and China. It lifted an array of nuclear sanctions on Iran in exchange for severe curbs on its atomic program. The deal had limits, however, including provisions that would expire over time, technically starting within the next three years. (Supporters of restoring the deal argue that the most important provisions won’t expire for several more years and some elements last in perpetuity.)”

“the original Iran nuclear deal involves the Russians taking special roles in helping Iran implement the agreement, such as shipping out Iran’s excess enriched uranium. If Russia refuses to play that role, the deal is once again undermined.”

An expert on the dismal state of nuclear treaties

“When the [second] Bush administration came in, they actually used the withdrawal provision to get the country out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that had been in place since 1972. That limited what kind of missile defenses both sides could deploy. [The administration] didn’t want to see any limits at all anymore. And ironically, to this day, we have not deployed defenses that are substantially in excess of those limits. In fact, I think with very slight modifications to the treaty — deployment locations, things like that — we could still be inside it. But the point was more to get rid of the treaties, in my view, than it was to actually deploy a working defense.”

Negotiating With Iran Isn’t Working, But Biden Has a Better Option

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/02/18/biden-threat-conflict-iran-nuclear-bomb-diplomacy-00010162

No, We Shouldn’t Attack Russia and Start World War III Over Ukraine

“First off, the U.S. cannot attack Russia because Congress has yet to declare war on the country. And make no mistake, a direct attack on Russian forces by either the U.S. or NATO would be an act of war. This would bring two of the world’s superpowers into direct conflict for the first time since World War II. The risk of a nuclear attack, on either side, would increase dramatically. Indeed, favorable conditions for an all-out nuclear war would, for the first time in world history, finally be achieved.

The plight of the Ukrainians is tragic, but as much as we might like to aid them militarily, the U.S. cannot undertake a course of action with a significant likelihood of causing nuclear annihilation. While it would be gratifying to punish Putin for trying to reclaim the Soviet empire, a bad actor’s malicious behavior is no excuse for recklessness on the part of the U.S.”

“A no-fly zone is not a magic protective barrier—the U.S. would have to enforce it by shooting down Russian airplanes. Russia’s air force is quite powerful, so this would be no easy feat. But in any case, it would still amount to war with Russia. The U.S. must therefore reject Zelenskyy’s heartfelt request for a no-fly zone. The Biden administration has thus far wisely indicated that such a move is off the table.”

‘Yes, He Would’: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes

“I think there’s been a logical, methodical plan that goes back a very long way, at least to 2007 when he put the world, and certainly Europe, on notice that Moscow would not accept the further expansion of NATO. And then within a year in 2008 NATO gave an open door to Georgia and Ukraine. It absolutely goes back to that juncture.

Back then I was a national intelligence officer, and the National Intelligence Council was analyzing what Russia was likely to do in response to the NATO Open Door declaration. One of our assessments was that there was a real, genuine risk of some kind of preemptive Russian military action, not just confined to the annexation of Crimea, but some much larger action taken against Ukraine along with Georgia. And of course, four months after NATO’s Bucharest Summit, there was the invasion of Georgia. There wasn’t an invasion of Ukraine then because the Ukrainian government pulled back from seeking NATO membership. But we should have seriously addressed how we were going to deal with this potential outcome and our relations with Russia.”

“It’s reestablishing Russian dominance of what Russia sees as the Russian “Imperium.” I’m saying this very specifically because the lands of the Soviet Union didn’t cover all of the territories that were once part of the Russian Empire. So that should give us pause.

Putin has articulated an idea of there being a “Russky Mir” or a “Russian World.” The recent essay he published about Ukraine and Russia states the Ukrainian and Russian people are “one people,” a “yedinyi narod.” He’s saying Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same. This idea of a Russian World means re-gathering all the Russian-speakers in different places that belonged at some point to the Russian tsardom.”

“The thing about Putin is, if he has an instrument, he wants to use it. Why have it if you can’t? He’s already used a nuclear weapon in some respects. Russian operatives poisoned Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium and turned him into a human dirty bomb and polonium was spread all around London at every spot that poor man visited. He died a horrible death as a result.

The Russians have already used a weapons-grade nerve agent, Novichok. They’ve used it possibly several times, but for certain twice. Once in Salisbury, England, where it was rubbed all over the doorknob of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who actually didn’t die; but the nerve agent contaminated the city of Salisbury, and anybody else who came into contact with it got sickened. Novichok killed a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, because the assassins stored it in a perfume bottle which was discarded into a charity donation box where it was found by Sturgess and her partner. There was enough nerve agent in that bottle to kill several thousand people. The second time was in Alexander Navalny’s underpants.

So if anybody thinks that Putin wouldn’t use something that he’s got that is unusual and cruel, think again. Every time you think, “No, he wouldn’t, would he?” Well, yes, he would. And he wants us to know that, of course.

It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared. That’s exactly what he wants us to be. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.”

“similar to Hitler, he’s using a sense of massive historical grievance combined with a veneer of protecting Russians and a dismissal of the rights of minorities and other nations to have independent countries in order to fuel territorial ambitions”

“Every country in the world should be paying close attention to this. Yes, there may be countries like China and others who might think that this is permissible, but overall, most countries have benefited from the current international system in terms of trade and economic growth, from investment and an interdependent globalized world. This is pretty much the end of this. That’s what Russia has done.”