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Breaking Bad Behavior: Can There be Deterrence After the JCPOA?

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On July 14, 2015, much of the world gave a sigh of relief as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program was announced.

At best, the comprehensive agreement is the kind of policy that instills hope in global diplomacy and solidifies presidential legacies. Despite years of multilateral negotiations, however, some critics believe that Iran remains a substantial threat to U.S. and global security. Many of the agreement’s critics cite Iran’s habitual use of asymmetric warfare and deterrence as reason to speculate that the joint agreement will not only fail but will increase Iran’s nuclear threat. This commentary inventories alternatives to the JCPOA and the pros and cons of each of these policies. A specific evaluation of Israel’s future policy towards Iran is also essential because the JCPOA has the potential to affect Israel’s strategy the most.

With the acceptance of the JCPOA, most influential governments from around the world adopted very similar nuclear deterrence strategies with regard to the Iran nuclear program. The White House has assured the U.S. public and other interested parties that the deal will create transparency that “ensures sanctions can be snapped back into place if Iran violates the deal.” Despite these assurances, Scott Sagan importantly illustrates, “Washington learned with India and Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s, sanctions only increase the cost of going nuclear; they do not reduce the ability of a determined government to get the bomb.” Because of this potential complication, it is important to evaluate other viable options for deterring Iran from attaining a nuclear arsenal.

There are three primary options that could extend deterrence to the region: a multilateral agreement, a regional security system, and the ‘Holocaust’ declaration. The multilateral agreement, as Carlo Masala explains, “entails the great nuclear P5 powers declaring their willingness and readiness to defend Israel and the Arab states, by nuclear means if necessary, if Iran attacks.” If the P5 countries announced their willingness to such an arrangement, then Iran may feel less inclined to become hostile towards regional adversaries. The problem with this strategy is that it does not address the question of the P5 countries using nuclear weapons if Iran simply breaches the terms of the JCPOA. In other words, if Iran chooses to incrementally breach aspects of the agreement with more and more severity, will the P5 countries have the resolve to use force to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon? Additionally, even if a multilateral agreement such as this were reached, there is no reason to believe that the Israelis would view the guarantee as credible.

The second option that has been considered is the idea of a regional security system. The notion behind this strategy is that a security team or alliance would have a security plan with a single goal: to deter a nuclear Iran. The security team would be comprised of Arab states, Israel, as well as external powers like the U.S. and possibly Russia. The participants would commit themselves to defend any member of the system attacked by any means necessary. Again, there is potential with this strategy, but there are two major conflicts that could hinder its success. The first dilemma is the commitment of external powers to the success of the security system. Unsurprisingly, countries like Russia and China have been eager to conduct business with Iran, even while Iran was under sanctions. To be fully committed to the success of a security system such as this would require these external powers to be more concerned with regional issues and less concerned with the prosperity of their own economies. That may be too high of a demand. The second dilemma, and most important, is a security system and agreement such as this would have a high probability of ineffectiveness or even collapse due to the estranged relationship between Israel and Arab states and the U.S. and Arab states.

The third and final option is what Charles Krauthammer has named “The Holocaust Declaration”. The basic idea of this policy would be to treat any aggression by Iran towards another state, particularly Israel, as an act of aggression towards the U.S. Krauthammer argues that the greatest deterrence towards Iran can be declared by adopting and rephrasing Kennedy’s language during the Cuban Missile Crisis: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear attack upon Israel by Iran, or originating in Iran, as an attack by Iran on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon Iran.” This final option may be the best for deterring Iran if the U.S. wants to consider an action besides reinstituting sanctions. But this strategy has flaws as well. By making the declaration that an attack against Israel would be viewed as an attack against the U.S., it could lead other nations within the region to believe that Israel is the only country valued by the U.S. This could make an already shaky relationship between the U.S. and Arab nations deteriorate even further.

The P5+1 countries obviously have a vested interest in the success of the JCPOA, as they were responsible for its creation, but every nation within the Middle East is equally concerned with the success of the agreement. No country has more to lose from the Iran nuclear deal than Israel, who announced its staunch opposition to the agreement on countless occasions. Before calculating what Israel’s next move will be now that the JCPOA has been signed, we must first comprehend the reasoning behind Israel’s discomfort with the agreement. The most obvious reason for Israel’s discomfort resides in former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s constant spew of anti-Israel and Holocaust-denying statements. These statements, accompanied by the Iranian governments’ nurture of resurrection ambitions against Iran’s Sunni neighbors and support of Hezbollah, has made Israel extremely uncomfortable with an agreement that will allow Iran to join the global community and gain economic and possibly global political power. Second, Israel views Iran’s real government to be extremely unstable. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is a group giving grave concern to Israeli leadership. The IRGC has been known to recruit “true believers” to join its ranks and to subject them to ideological indoctrination. Additionally, Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the IRGC, has come out against the JCPOA in certain aspects stating, “some points included in the draft [are] clearly contrary to and a violation of the red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran, specifically of Iran’s arms capabilities, and will never be accepted by us.” This statement, paired with the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered in 2003 that the IRGC was responsible for securing production for nuclear materials, gives Israel no confidence to assume that other political authorities in Tehran could control the actions and operations of the IRGC.

Israel realistically has two options: a preemptive strike against Iran or revision of its nuclear deterrence policies to include clear “red lines” for Iran, trusting the U.S. will honor its policy of extended deterrence. In theory a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and key infrastructure could make sense for Israel, but only if certain assumptions were presumed: 1. Israel believes that Iran will inevitably have nuclear military power. 2. Iran will plan to use its nuclear forces as a first-strike option against Israel. 3. Iran’s key decision-makers will likely be irrational. While none of these assumptions can be dismissed outright, a strategy of preemption could prove risky and the retaliatory costs towards Israel could certainly exceed the anticipated benefits. This accompanied by the near unanimous worldwide praise of the JCPOA make this strategy an unlikely option for Israel to pursue.

The far more likely scenario for Israel’s future deterrence policy will be a declaration of its own nuclear capabilities and the development of rigid “red lines” that, if breached, would facilitate an aggressive response. For years now Israel’s nuclear ability has been its worst kept secret and, if Israel truly fears that Iran will gain military nuclear abilities, it is time to announce what nuclear capabilities it possesses and what actions will illicit an aggressive response. Israeli leadership will need to consider the likelihood of the U.S. backing its deterrence standpoint as well. After all, it is improbable that Israel would employ a deterrence strategy that was not fully supported by the U.S. and even more inconceivable to imagine Israel utilizing a military option without first presenting U.S. intelligence officials with convincing evidence to substantiate such an attack. No matter what strategy that Israel employs in the future, the U.S. will need to be a fundamental aspect to that strategy.

Although there are several different theories as to how Iran can be deterred by obtaining nuclear weapons, each option has a critical repercussion. The snap-back sanctions that the U.N. has threatened Iran with may not be enough to dissuade Iran from breaching the recent agreement, but, for the time being, it remains the best option for global security. What will be essential to the success of deterring Iran will be the communication of the P5 powers that need to keep the peace between Israel and Iran. Equally important is the amount of resolve these nations will demonstrate if Iran does in fact break its promises. The old adage of ‘trust, but verify’ seems to be the only path the world is currently treading down. One hopes it will be enough.

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Saudi Arabia’s Entertainment Plans: Soft Power at Work?

Dr. Theodore Karasik

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Saudi Arabia recently broke ground on its ambitious “entertainment city” known as Qiddiya, near Riyadh. The splashy launch, attended by 300 dignitaries from around the world, highlights a frequently overlooked aspect of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan: the entertainment industry as a growing economic sector. As the kingdom diversifies its economy away from reliance on petro fuels, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been keen to showcase the increasing openness of his country, promoting festivals, concerts and sports events and ending the country’s 35-year ban on cinemas.

These projects are partially intended to bolster the economy and attract FDI—but not only. Saudi Arabia is also playing catch-up with other regional actors, such as Qatar and the UAE, in terms of cultural output and cultural participation. With Qiddiya and the other cultural projects in the works, Saudi is now carving out a road for itself to become a regional culture hub.

Thefirst phase of Qiddiya, which includes high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area, is expected to be completed in 2022.  Saudi officials hope the park will draw in foreign investment and attract 17 million visitors by 2030; the final phase of the project is expected to be completed in 2035, by which point the entertainment resort will be the largest in the world, dwarfing Florida’s Walt Disney World.

Beyond these financial incentives, however, the Qiddiya project is Saudi Arabia’s answer to events like the Dubai Expo 2020 or the Qatar World Cup 2022 and suggests that the kingdom is trying to position itself as the next big destination for lucrative events – which also add to the idea that entertainment, culture, and innovation are key to Saudi Arabia’s economic vision and success.

Vision 2030’s emphasis on entertainment raises a key question: is Riyadh attempting to increase its soft power across the region in a constructive and proactive way?  The answer to that question is yes.

In the immediate future, Qatar and the UAE will remain the region’s foremost entertainment and cultural hubs.  From Qatar’s Islamic Museum of Art, which famous architect I.M. Pei came out of retirement to design, to Dubai’s theme parks, including a $1 billion behemoth which is the world’s largest indoor theme park, these two Gulf states are demonstrating their prowess to develop an arts and culture scene.  In Doha, Qatar is exemplifying its unique outlook towards world affairs by emphasizing humanitarianism and fourteen centuries of history.  Qatar is also hosting the World Cup in 2022, intended to bring Doha center-stage in the sports world. Abu Dhabi’s Louvre has been referred to as “one of the world’s most ambitious cultural projects”, while advertisements throughout the emirate insist that the museum will cause its visitors to “see humanity in a new light”.

Despite these Gulf states’ head start on developing vibrant entertainment sectors, there is still room for Saudi Arabia to offer something new. For one thing, some of its neighbors are dealing with trouble in paradise: Qatar’s once-strong economy is under increasing strain as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt boycott it; meanwhile, the company which owns many of Dubai’s largest theme parks lost $302 million in 2017.

The Qiddiya project also represents a particular vision that’s distinct from neighboring countries’ cultural programs. Qiddiya is designed to mix desert heritage and the ethos of the past with the technological advances of the future. The intended result is to be a fusion between aspirations and building on those achievements from desert to post-modernity, on a colossal scale.

The project is crafted both to satisfy domestic demand—it includes plans to build 11,000 homes to serve as vacation homes for Riyadh residents— and to compete directly against Saudi Arabia’s neighbors in the Gulf. With two-thirds of the Saudi population under the age of 35, building a thriving entertainment sector is particularly important.

The kingdom is hoping to use its idea of mixing the past with the future in Qiddiya to significantly alter the flow of tourist revenues in the Gulf. The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain rely on tourists from the Gulf and beyond for essential cash inflows—including the $30 billion a year Saudis spend on tourism abroad every year. By providing new entertainment options in-country for Saudi Arabia’s citizens and residents, who pay more than any other country’s citizens while on vacation, Riyadh aims to redirect some of this overseas tourism spending back into the kingdom. It’s set up concrete goals to this effect, hoping to increase domestic spending on culture and entertainment from about three percent of household income to six percent. Saudi Arabia also likely hopes that Qiddiya will attract significant international tourism as well—one senior official tied the park’s creation to the goal of making Riyadh one of the top 100 cities in the world to live.

Of course, it is likely to be a long wait before the kingdom itself starts producing the cultural output that will make it a real entertainment hub; after all, Saudi public schools still do not teach music, dance and theater, and the kingdom lacks music and film academies. But by taking the first steps of embracing the vast economic potential of the entertainment sector, the kingdom may well be on its way there.

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Israel, Ukraine, and U.S. Crack Down Against Press

Eric Zuesse

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On Wednesday, May 16th, Russian Television reported recent crackdowns against the press, on the part of both Ukraine’s Government and Israel’s Government. One headline story, “9 journalists injured by Israeli gunfire in Gaza ‘massacre’, total now over 20”, reported that Israel had shot dead two journalists:

“Yaser Murtaja, 31, a cameraman for Palestinian Ain Media agency, died on April 7 after he was shot by Israeli forces the previous day while covering a protest south of the Gaza Strip. He wore a blue protective vest marked ‘PRESS’.”

And:

“Ahmad Abu Hussein, 24, was shot by Israeli forces during a protest in the Gaza strip on April 13. He died from his injuries on April 25. He was also wearing a protective vest marked ‘PRESS’ at the time.”

The other 18 instances were only injuries, not murders, but Israel has now made clear that any journalist who reports from the Palestinian side is fair game for Israel’s army snipers — that when Palestinians demonstrate against their being blockaded into the vast Gaza prison, and journalists then report from amongst the demonstrators instead of from the side of the snipers, those journalists are fair game by the snipers, along with those demonstrators.

Some of the surviving 18 journalists are still in critical condition and could die from Israel’s bullets, so the deaths to journalists might be higher than just those two.

Later in the day, RT bannered “Fist-size gunshot wounds, pulverized bones, inadmissible use of force by Israel in Gaza – HRW to RT” and presented a damning interview with the Israel & Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch.

The other crackdown has been by Ukraine. After the U.S. Obama Administration perpetrated a very bloody coup in Ukraine during February of 2014, that country has plunged by every numerical measure, and has carried out raids against newsmedia that have reported unfavorably on the installed regime. The latest such incident was reported on May 16th by Russian Television, under the headline, “US endorses Kiev’s raid on Russian news agency amid international condemnation”. An official of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) stated there: “I reiterate my call on the authorities to refrain from imposing unnecessary limitations on the work of foreign journalists, which affects the free flow of information and freedom of the media.” An official of the CPJ (Committee to Protect journalists) stated: “We call on Ukrainian authorities to disclose the charges and evidence they have against Vyshinsky or release him without delay. … We also call on Ukrainian authorities to stop harassing and obstructing Russian media operating in Ukraine. The criminalization of alternative news and views has no place in a democratic Ukraine.” However, as reported by RT, Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General called the editorial policy of the anti-regime RIA Ukraine “anti-Ukrainian” in nature, amounting to “state treason.” So, the prosecutor is threatening to categorize and prosecute critical press under Ukraine’s treason law.

The U.S. regime is not condemning either of its client-regimes for their crackdowns. (It cites Ukraine’s supposed victimhood from “Russian propaganda” as having caused Ukraine’s action, and justifies Israel’s gunning-down of demonstrators and of journalists as having beeen necessary for Israel’s self-defense against terrorism.) In neither instance is the U.S. dictatorship saying that this is unacceptable behavior for a government that receives large U.S. taxpayers funds. Of course, in the U.S., the mainstream press aren’t allowed to report that either Israel or today’s Ukraine is a dictatorship, so they don’t report this, though Israel clearly is an apartheid racist-fascist (or ideologically nazi, but in their case not against Jews) regime, and Ukraine is clearly also a racist-fascist, or nazi, regime, which engages in ethnic cleansing to get rid of voters for the previous — the pre-coup — Ukrainian government. People who are selected individually by the installed regime, get driven to a big ditch, shot, with the corpses piling up there, and then the whole thing gets covered over. This is America’s client-‘democracy’ in Ukraine, not its client-‘democracy’ in Israel.

May 16th also was the day when the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted 10 to 5 to approve as the next CIA Director, Gina Haspel, the person who had headed torture at the CIA’s black site in Thailand where Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times and blinded in one eye in order to get him to say that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks; and, since then, Zubaydah, who has never been in court, has been held incommunicado at Guantanamo, so that he can’t testify in court or communicate with the press in any way. “The U.S. Government has never charged Zubaydah with any crime.” And the person who had ordered and overseen his torture will soon head the agency for which she worked, the CIA.

Whether the U.S. regime will soon start similarly to treat its own critical press as “traitors” isn’t clear, except that ever since at least the Obama Administration, and continuing now under Trump, the U.S. Government has made clear that it wants to seize and prosecute both Edward Snowden and Julian Assange for their journalistic whistleblowing, violations of “state secrets,” those being anything that the regime wants to hide from the public — including things that are simply extremely embarrassing for the existing rulers. Therefore, the journalistic-lockdown step, from either Israel, or Ukraine, to U.S., would be small, for the United States itself to take, if it hasn’t yet already been taken in perhaps secret ways. But at least, the Senate Intelligence Committee is strongly supportive of what the U.S. Government has been doing, and wants more of it to be done.

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JCPOA in Post-US Exit: Consequences and Repercussions

Nisar Ahmed Khan

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The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal signed by the P 5+1 in 2015 was widely hailed as a landmark achievement made possible by sincere dialogue and diplomacy. Indeed, the agreement is to a greater extent an achievement of the nuclear non-proliferation regime that helped checked the increasingly disturbing power symmetry in the Middle East which in return has managed to contain the transformation of low intensity conflicts into all out wars. A relative stability is the hallmark which resulted from JCPOA in the Middle East which is extremely volatile region of the world. A vital question is: how these achievements are going to be affected by the US withdrawal from it?

The US withdrawal from JCPOA will adversely affect the aforementioned three areas of its accumulative achievement with variant degree. First, it has negative consequences for the norm that negotiated settlements in international arenas has the potential and lasting credibility to minimize violence or other coercive means led by war. The momentum and confidence the diplomatic means have garnered in post- JCPOA scenario will come to the crushing halt. The sealed and mutually agreed upon agreements in international arena especially in which the US is the potential party, will come under extreme scrutiny leading to an environment of gross trust deficit. Therefore, on the first instance this withdrawal has negative lasting consequences for the diplomatic norms in itself.

Secondly, US exist from the deal does not augur well for the nascent nuclear non-proliferation regime. This regime has a dearth of good precedents like the JCPOA which has deterred a nation from acquiring and operationalizing nuclear weapons as is the case with Iran. Keeping in view this backdrop of this institution, JCPOA has been its glaring example wherein it has managed to successfully convince a nation to not pursue the path which leads towards the nuclear weapons. Therefore, the US withdrawal has shaken the confidence of the non-proliferation regime to its core. It has engendered a split among the leading nations who were acting as sort of de facto executive to enforce the agreements on the nuclear ambitious states. Therefore, this US withdrawal has undoubtedly far reaching repercussions for the non-proliferation as an institution. This development may affect the nature and its future development as an institutional mechanism to deter the recalcitrant states to change their course regarding the nuclear weapons.

Thirdly, in relation to the above mentioned negative consequences on diplomacy and nuclear non-proliferation regime, the US withdrawal from the deal has far serious security ramifications for the volatile and conflict ridden Middle East. It has multiplied the prospects of all-out war between Iran and its regional rivals on one hand and Iran and Israel on the other hand. Just tonight the announcement of Trump exiting JCPOA and the Israeli aggression on Syrian military bases substantiates the assertion that there exists a correlation between this US withdrawal and the Zionist regime`s regional hegemonic designs. It has extremely positive message for the Saudi Arabia. The impulsive and overambitious Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) went on extended tours in the US and Europe to convince Western leadership that Iran should be contained.  Therefore, element of stability in the region – contained low intensity conflicts – got serious motivation to turn into all-out-wars  with non-exclusion of nuclear options at the disposal of Zionist regime in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern region with this exit of the US is going to observe substantial turmoil in the months to come which will have some extra regional ramifications.

As a conclusion it could be argued that the US exit has some far reaching repercussions for the diplomatic norms, non-proliferation regime and above all for the volatile Middle Eastern region. All these ramifications resulted from the US withdrawal will also in return have some serious consequences internally and externally. The status of the US as the sole super power of the world will be diminished with this decision. It will create an unbridgeable gap in the West. Henceforth, the EU foreign will be more autonomous, integrated and autonomous in her conduct.

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