By Richard Walker
The war in Ukraine coupled with the power of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington to collapse the Iran nuclear deal could pitch the Middle East into serious turmoil at a very dangerous time in the world.
With reports that a deal with Iran was perhaps only a week away, interested parties have sown disunity that could lead to Iran deciding that Washington’s promises are hollow and its best option is to increase its uranium output to make a nuclear bomb. It is unclear how long it would take for Iran to go nuclear, but any hint of it happening would inevitably lead to Israel launching massive strikes against Iran, as it has promised to do in such an eventuality. This would ignite a conflict that would spread beyond the Middle East and draw in the major powers, especially Russia and the United States, but perhaps even China, which is now an ally of Iran, as is Russia.
When Joe Biden came into office, he promised to place the internationally negotiated 2015 Iran nuclear pact on a solid footing, with the aim of removing sanctions against Iran as a “thank you” for its continued adherence to being a non-nuclear power. But, as with anything to do with Iran, the hidden hand of Israel in the form of its powerful congressional lobby is always in place to thwart any effort to peacefully settle matters with the Tehran regime.
The previous Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, not only opposed the nuclear pact—known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—but he tried to encourage the Trump administration to launch a war against Iran. His successor, Naftali Bennett, another war hawk, has claimed, without evidence, that Iran has been breaching the agreement by secretly amassing uranium to make a bomb.
Bennett has warned that Iran could have a bomb in a short time, with one Israeli report claiming one month is Iran’s nuclear break-out time frame, but even this is now disputed by other Israeli agencies. This confusion alone could lead to war.
If this is not enough to complicate matters, there are other elements that could scuttle an Iran deal. Forty-nine Republican senators have said they will not support any effort by the Biden administration to weaken sanctions against Iran and ease controls on Iran’s nuclear industry. Rand Paul, the only senator to break with his colleagues, felt it was somewhat absurd for them to dismiss a deal that had yet to be put on the table. It was somehow coincidental that this move by Senate Republicans, who were advancing Israeli aims, coincided with Russia’s decision to pause talks being held in Vienna to finally resolve the impasse over the Iran pact.
Russia has been taking the lead in bringing all parties to an agreement with Iran, so it came as a shock when Moscow paused talks as a consequence of the war in Ukraine. This came as reports confirmed that the major powers were close to finalizing a deal with Iran. Suddenly, Moscow said that it wanted an assurance that America’s sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine would not affect Russia’s relations with Iran, meaning any economic and nuclear business between the two countries. Washington’s response was that this was irrelevant, but the bottom line is that the Ukraine conflict is having an impact well beyond Europe.
Until now, Washington and Moscow had clearly decided that the war in Ukraine would not impact their cooperation in the Iran discussions, but even with the best intentions there are factors outside their control. Iran has been demanding from the Biden administration guarantees of economic security, making the point that a future U.S. president could scrap what is agreed now and reinstate sanctions. Understandably, Tehran knows that Washington has not always played with a straight deck when dealing with Iran, but the Biden White House could not constitutionally give Iran assurances that would be legally binding on future U.S. administrations.
This issue aside, Russia, along with China, France and Britain, were upbeat about a deal until Republicans in Congress announced that they would scuttle a deal that did not suit their combined agendas. No one felt until the last minute that the Ukraine conflict would leak into a Middle East issue, posing a major threat to peace in that region. The impasse will please Israel, which does not want a nuclear agreement with Iran. It could be reasonably argued that, as Iran was coming more into the Western fold with the negotiated pact in 2015,
Israel used its influence with Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner to kill the Iran pact and set back Iran’s relations with the West, especially the United States.
As one commentator ruefully remarked: “If the JCPOA talks are held hostage to the Russia-Ukraine crisis and thus ultimately fail, Eastern Europe won’t likely be the only region wracked by new rounds of instability.”