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



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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Middle East

NATO and the puzzle of a nuclear deal with Iran

Mohammad Ghaderi



A meeting of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Heads of State and Government was held on Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 July 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. NATO leaders met in Brussels amidst a terse environment that threatens to further weaken the post-war order.

This year’s meeting came at a tense time for transatlantic relations since the US president is set to sit down one-on-one with Russian president Vladimir Putin on May 16 in Helsinki. One of the topics the US president sought to discuss with his Western counterparts in Brussels was “the nuclear deal with Iran” and its fate.  Regarding this controversial issue Time wrote:

“After ripping up the Iran nuclear deal in May, the Trump Administration is fanning out across the globe to rally support for a return to economy-crippling sanctions against Tehran.”

It continues: “The effort comes ahead of President Donald Trump’s trip next week to Europe, where he is expected to pressure leaders into joining the far-reaching campaign to handcuff major aspects of Iran’s economy, including driving oil exports to zero. If European allies don’t join, Trump has threatened secondary sanctions on any company that does business with Tehran.”

According to the Time and other Western sources, Donald Trump intends to press NATO leaders over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and “The president hopes his bare-knuckled approach will coerce European leaders to unite behind him, even as they publicly oppose a return to sanctions and scamper to salvage the existing nuclear deal without American participation. This is while the White House keeps to press its European allies for increasing the military and defense budget (to 2% of their GDP).

While the transatlantic tensions are raising day by day due to the imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Europe, what meaning can negotiations on the JCPOA imply? Does Trump intend to make a deal with his European partners in this regard? Do NATO’s European members welcome the integration of the JCPOA amid their conflicts with the US?

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has recently asked other European countries to remain silent against Trump’s actions in imposing tariffs on imported goods from Europe, and not to seek retaliatory measures. She also asked European authorities to negotiate with the US president on the JCPOA. Indeed, what’s going on among NATO members?

The truth is that in near future, the JCPOA will turn to the Europe’s leverage for making deals with the United States in security grounds, an issue witch its signs we could well see in the Brussels summit. It shouldn’t be forgotten that in its calculations, the EU is still regarding itself as dependent to the United States. Those like Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel are adjusting their policies in the international system based on their security dependence on the United States. It might be possible that the European officials agree on “restraining Trump”, but that’s all, and we can’t expect them to go further as to fulfil their obligations in this regard. The EU would never confront the US seriously, since “resisting against the White House” is in no way defined in Europe’s strategies and tactics.

In the course of the G7 recent meeting in Canada, Donald Trump discussed various subjects with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, including Iran nuclear deal, tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from Europe, and the increase of NATO defense budget. But these talks resulted in the intensified disagreements among EU member states and Trump. The tensions were so high that the meeting ended with no final statement. Now the US president is pursuing the same approach I dealing with NATO states.

Trump and the European countries both regard the tensions raised in the international system as a “single package”. In this equation, Trump asks the European authorities to cease their support for the JCPOA and the continuation of the nuclear deal in exchange for a decrease in the US economic and security pressures. It should be noted that one of the main reasons for the European leaders’ refusal of offering a conclusive, detailed and effective package to Iran regarding the JCPOA was their secret negotiations with the American officials. Since the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Mike Pompeo the American Secretary of State had been constantly in contact with the European troika’s foreign ministers, and announced them the exact positions and policies of the US government.

In the course of the NATO summit, we witnessed the continuation of the Europe’s paradoxical game playing towards the JCPOA. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the EU’s main strategy towards Iran and the JCPOA, is to make us remain as part of the nuclear deal as long as possible, and without benefiting from its advantages, so that the influence of the US sanctions would be multiplied. The offering of the EU’s unacceptable and useless package of proposals is also to be analyzed in the same vein; a weak package which is resulted from the special relations between the US and Europe.

First published in our partner MNA

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Middle East

God’s Grace: Reichstag Fire and July 15 Military Coup

Zakir Gul, Ph.D.



“By the grace of God!” Some rulers use the cry to explain why certain events happen and why they play out as they do. They will argue that God, in allowing the events to happen, has bestowed his grace upon the ruler. Two rulers and two events—the Reichstag fire in Germany on February 27, 1933,and the military coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016—illustrate the devastating consequences this twisted logic can have on the lives of ordinary people.When Adolph Hitler arrived at the scene, he told German Chancellor Franz von Pape, “This is a God-given signal” to crush Communists (and later opponents). Immediately after the failed military coup, Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the event was “a gift from God” and justification for Erdogan to start cleansing the military (and later purging opponents).

The similarities between the two events are striking in terms of beneficiaries, consequences and suspicions about the rulers’ true intentions going forward. Soon after the fire, Hitler started to consolidate his powers in the name of protecting the state’s security and democracy. To do so, Hitlersuspended civil liberties and shut the door on the rights and freedom of the country’s citizens. The fire in the heart of the countrywas used to justify the notion that the country was in a great danger. With decrees, Hitler purged his opponents, even though there was only one person considered to be responsiblefor the fire. Erdogan followed a similar path when he has declared a state of emergency after the coup attempt and consolidated his powers with radical changes in the country’s political and legal systems. With decrees, Erdogan purged hundreds of thousands of people under the guise of protecting the country’s security and democracy—even though soldiers who allegedly were involved in the coup attempt that night already had been into custody.In the political arena, Hitler increased the number of votes he received in the election that took place a week after the fire. Similarly, public support for Erdogan increased after the coup attempt. History does, indeed, repeat itself. These are two of many examples that could have been cited.

It may not be possible to know for sure who staged and orchestrated the Reichstag fire orthe military coup attempt; however, it is clear that the rulers’ purported motives are suspicious and their explanations filled with inconsistencies, given the many controversies arising from both events.The Reichstag firehas been discussed by scholars and historians who concluded that Hitler and his team—either directly or indirectly—helped to instigate the fire. Indeed, the arsonist responsible for the fire was pardoned years later. The military coup in Turkey wasa terrorizing and wicked deed against humanity and democracy, and the persons responsible must be identified and punished based on the rule of law and democratic values. It is, however, a Herculean task. Too many loopholes and controversies about the coup attempt need to be clarified. Erdogan should provide evidence-based, honest and objective explanations to remove the suspicions surrounding the coup attempt. Many answers are needed. For example,why did Erdogan refuse to answer questions from the major opposition party (the Republican People’s Party, or CHP) about the coup? Why has the investigation case report and the report of the parliament’s investigation committee deemed inappropriate and unsatisfactory even by some members of the committee? More important, why has an international committee not been allowed to investigate the case? Questions such as these highlight the many mysteries and suspicions that still surround the event two years after it occurred.

An independent international investigation committee should be established by the United Nations to examine the coup attempt and eliminate possible suspicions about Erdogan and his governing team. The committee also should determine whether thousands of people were responsible for organizing the coup attempt, as the government alleges, and clarify the following: whether some U.S. citizens, such as Andrew Brunson, who is still in jail, were among the primary plotters of the coup; whether some other U.S. citizens for whom bounties were offered were behind the coup attempt; and whether the United States was behind the coup attempt, as Turkish politicians and government officials claim—even though the United States has denied any involvement in the event.

Another independent international investigation committee should be established by the U.N.(or some other internationally accepted institution)to investigate the aftermath of the coup. Violations of internationally accepted human rights (as reported by credible human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) that have been committed by government security and intelligence officials since the coup attempt should be investigated. The committee also should also determine whether persons victimized in any way (such as imprisonment, job loss, inhumane treatment, and deprival of constitutional rights and freedoms)were based on evidence or resulted from the arbitrary application punishment. A final task of the committee should be to investigate allegations of abductions, extrajudicial executions and torture by government security and intelligence agencies. As John Dalhuisen,Amnesty International’s Europe director, has said, “It is absolutely imperative that the Turkish authorities halt these abhorrent practices and allow international monitors to visit all these detainees in the places they are being held.”

An independent and objective domestic committee that consists of members from every political party in the country—regardless of the parties’ percentage of the vote among constituents—should be established to investigate the same issues the two international committees need to review. Care must be taken to ensure that the members of this domestic committee—unlike those serving on the committee that was formed after the coup attempt—can maintain their objectivity and are aware of their responsibilities. The committee should be transparent and its actions and discussions observed and by international representatives of the U.N., the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union, and individual countries and/or journalists.

Finally, the European Court of Human Rights, an internationally accepted high court of which Turkey is a member,should determine for itself—rather than rely solely on the response from government officials—whether the country’s domestic legal and judicial system can be accessed openly and freely by all citizens and the attorneys representing them in legal matters.

It is only through these independent international and domestic investigations that the truth about the failed coup attempt can come to light.

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Middle East

Ghassan Kanafani, the Palestinian Pioneer Author of Resistance Literature

Sondoss Al Asaad



The eighth of July marks the 46th martyrdom anniversary of Ghassan Kanafani, who was assassinated by the Zionist Intelligence;  Mossad, along with his 17-year-old niece Lamees. Days before their martyrdom, Lamees had asked Kanafani to diminish his activitism and to concentrate on his writings. He answered her,” I write well because I believe in a cause, in principles. The day I leave these principles, my stories will become purposeless. If I were to leave behind my principles, you yourself would not respect me.”

Kanafani was born in 1936, in Palestine, to a father who was a national activist in the resistance against the British colonialism. After the 1948 Zionist occupation, his family sought refuge to Syria, when he was 12-year-old. In the refuge camps, Kanafani wrote most of his novels which highlights the sufferings that the Palestinians endure in the diaspora. He won multiple awards for his works both during his life and posthumously. For instance, in “Umm Saad,” Kanafani’s protagonist is a symbol of the Palestinian women in the refugee camps.

Kanafani was inspired by Jamal Abd al-Nasser’s ideas of national independence and defiance of imperialism. Due to the decline of Nasserism after the 1961 failure to consolidate Egypt and Syria under a unified United Arab Republic, the ascendancy of imperialism and Zionism and the rise of communism; Kanafani, along with his comrade George Habash, resolved to adopt Marxism. They belived that the political crisis in the Arab world could only be solved by turning the anti-imperialist struggle into a social revolution.

In Lebanon, Kanafani adopted the Communist philosophy and become a leading member of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). He says, “The Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary, wherever he is, as a cause of the exploited and oppressed masses in our era.”

Besides, he was a prolific creative and brilliant novelist and the first to anticipate the “resistance literature” genre. His literary products and fictitious works have inspired a whole generation of resisting youth, both during and after his lifetime as they are greatly rooted in the Palestinian culture and cause. Kanafani dedicated his works to reflect on the Palestinians’ lives and the challenges they face under the Zionist occupation. He states, “My political position springs from my being a novelist. In so far as I am concerned, politics and the novel are an indivisible case and I can categorically state that I became politically committed because I am a novelist, not the opposite.”

The assassination of Ghassan Kanafani was the result of his commitment to the Palestinian cause and the resistance methodology. Today, his legacy echo within every free revolutionary who devoted his life to confront the imperialist conspiracies. Indeed, Kanafani was murdered merely because he had constituted an intellectual threat to the Zionist entity. He refused the negotiations with the enemy, pointing that it would be “a conversation between the sword and the neck […] I have never seen talks between a colonialist case and a national liberation movement.”

The chief thematic field of Kanafani’s writing was inseparably connected to the anti-imperialism struggle. He stressed that the Palestinian cause could not be resolved in isolation of the Arab ‘s social and political crisis. Further, he insisted on developing the resistance movement from being a nationalist Palestinian liberation movement into being a pan-Arab revolutionary socialist movement of which the liberation of Palestine would be a vital component.

Definitely, Kanafani played an influential role in raising consciousness on the issue of imperialism. He maintains, “Imperialism has laid its body over the world, the head in Eastern Asia, the heart in the Middle East, its arteries reaching Africa and Latin America. Wherever you strike it, you damage it, and you serve the world revolution. “Shortly after Kanafani’s obituary in Lebanon, “The Daily Star” stated, “He was a commando who never fired a gun, whose weapon was a ball-point pen, and his arena the newspaper pages.”

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