As the chances for the conclusion of the Vienna negotiations with an actual agreement seem narrower, the United States and Israel must be prepared for the morning after. Following the collapse of the negotiations, Iran is likely to attempt to punish the US and its allies in the region through a campaign of aggression and destabilization carried out by its various proxies. Coordination for swift security responses and alternative courses of action to stop the Iranian nuclear program are overdue.
The enthusiasm with which US and EU officials spoke for weeks of the imminent conclusion of Vienna’s talks seems to wane significantly, giving way to unambiguous signals of pessimism. The process started with a confident promise from the new administration of a “longer and stronger” deal. The confidence was likely built on the unwarranted assumption, a leap of faith, that the Islamic Republic of Iran, perhaps motivated by the mutual resentment towards the former Trump presidency, would play along with the Biden administration. State Department officials were so confident that this would be so much of a win-win that the Iranians could not possibly refuse; a foreign policy victory for the administration, a campaign promise fulfilled, and a complete repudiation of the Trump foreign policy legacy while giving the Iranian much-needed sanctions relief without blocking their path to nuclear power.
When hope is the only national security strategy, helplessness is inevitable. The Iranians, being the savvy and cunning power they are and aided by Russia, worked diligently to extract as many concessions as possible from the administration. The end result was that the administration was openly admitting it was, as a matter of fact, seeking a much shorter and weaker deal that was not better but actually worse than the original JCPOA. And when such a course of action was protested, it was always easy to blame Trump for making such concessions necessary.
But the latest demand on which the Iranians insisted and which the administration seriously considered managed to bring this terrible show to a sudden halt. The Iranians demanded that Iran’s primary armed organ, the IRGC, be removed from the FTO, Foreign Terrorist Organization list. The IRGC is the Iranian body responsible for funding, arming, training, recruiting, maintaining, and supporting terrorist organizations worldwide in various ways. Many Americans and Israelis were murdered with weapons, funds, and plans provided by the IRGC.
What made this dreadful episode even more outrageous is that US officials and foreign policy pundits were defending the symbolism of not recognizing the largest terrorist organization in the world as one at the same time the IRGC was involved in plotting the assassination of several former current US officials. Last March, the Washington Examiner reported that the Department of Justice had “indictable evidence” against officers of Al-Quds Forces, an arm of the IRGC, who were directly involved in plots to assassinate former Secretary Mike Pompeo and former national security advisor John Bolton. However, the Biden administration refused to file for prosecution out of fear it would derail the diplomatic efforts in Vienna and asked Pompeo and Bolton to sign non-disclosure agreements in return for classified information about the plans for their assassination.
The egregiousness of such a demand and the sincerity with which the administration tried justifying it, to the extent of reaching out to the anthropological science of symbolism, is what prompted a serious lash back from many members of the US Congress and a coalition of Gold Star families whose family members were killed by Iranian provided weapons. Thankfully, the pressure did work, and rumor has it, that the administration decided not to delist the IRGC, which the Iranians claim to be a dealbreaker.
There is still a considerable chance that Iran is pulling a classic bazaar stunt and that Iran will agree to the deal even without the delisting of the IRGC from the FTO, given the number of benefits Iran still gets. But regardless of the outcome, the United States and Israel need to start preparing for the morning after Vienna, deal or no deal. Iranian aggression will only escalate in the region whether driven by the will to punish America and its allies, or by newly acquired confidence and billions of dollars from unfrozen assets. Iran has already planned to over double the budget of the IRGC this year, and the Iranian proxy Hezbollah is doubling its revenue from the trade of captagon, the drug of choice fueling the Syrian bloody war and spreading all over the Middle East. That those new assets and allocations are going to be translated into more Iranian hegemony and aggression is not even a question. This is not to mention that the nuclear program will still have to be dealt with, deal or no deal.
The administration is simply kicking the can down the road. Iran may be a difficult adversary to contain but by no means impossible to manage. The American allies in the region, Israel and the Gulf states are demonstrating they have the will and ability to push against the Iranians. The question is, does the United States?
The Emotional Hold of Our Symbols
Iran’s aspersive goals are not limited to the Middle East
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