Iran recently protested Israel at the United Nations, calling upon the world body to intervene to prevent Israel from attacking the Islamic Republic. This came after IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi condemned the possibility of the US returning to the Iranian nuclear deal under the Biden administration and threatened that Israel could potentially attack Iran’s nuclear facilities:
“The Iran of today is not the Iran of 2015 when the deal was signed. Iran now is under enormous pressure — financial pressure, massive inflation, bitterness and unrest in the population, whose salaries have tanked — because of the American sanctions. These pressures must continue. No matter what happens.”
Nevertheless, despite Iran becoming a heated issue in the Middle East, the Islamic Republic was not mentioned in Biden’s first major foreign policy speech as president, where he preferred to talk about Russia, Yemen, Myanmar, and China. This came after the US president had vowed that he would return the United States to the nuclear deal if Iran once again was compliant with it. But since then, Iran’s Foreign Minister has threatened Biden to return to the nuclear deal within two weeks and to ease the sanctions, or else Iran’s position will harden. In other words, the mullah’s are not willing to entertain Biden’s conditions for returning to the nuclear deal. So, how will the US President proceed from here?
As the new administration gets settled in the US, many things are changing in the world and the Middle East. Meanwhile Iran is one of the most dangerous players in the region and wants to take advantage of America’s desire to return to the Iranian nuclear deal, since that will have Iran receiving billions of dollars in sanctions relief. This money will likely be utilized to strengthen Iran-backed proxies across the Middle East region.
Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, warned about this threat, while pointing to the recent explosion outside the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi and the foiled terror attack against an Israeli Embassy in Africa: “As Iran is unable to respond to the Israeli shelling of Iranian strongholds in Syria and is unable to respond to America’s elimination of Qasem Soleimani,” it goes after Israel in these locations.
But Safadi also has another worry. He thinks that Iran will interfere in other countries' affairs in the region and he emphasizes that international unity is needed to prevent it, stressing: “Iranian terrorism is spreading in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, which illustrates the need to form an international coalition that includes the Gulf States, Israel, and the United States to formulate a plan to purge Iranian terrorism.”
Safadi pointed to the terrorist activity of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, emphasizing that Israel must stop Iranian terrorist activity in the region: “If we do not repel them, they will continue to spread their terrorism and destruction across the Middle East, preventing the long-hoped for peace and stability in the region.”
Proving his point, just as Israel’s relations with Lebanon are improving, Lockman Slim, a prominent Lebanese critic of Hezbollah, was killed. Such incidents will likely continue to take place, until the threat posed by the mullah’s regime is neutralized.
Behzad Khoshhali, a Kurdish writer and researcher living in Germany, who has published several books on political issues, believes that the conditions now are completely different than it was before, so things simply cannot return to what they were during the Obama years. Regarding the return of the United States to the nuclear deal, he said: “I believe that the United States will not return to this agreement but will seek a new agreement that includes Iran's missile program.”
In Khoshhali`s view, the easing of sanctions will led to Iran obtaining more access to financial resources and this is a threat for the region: “I must say that Iran's return to international diplomacy and having more financial resources will mean the strengthening of the Iran-affiliated proxies, the instability of the Middle East, and the strengthening of terrorism.”
If Biden returns to the nuclear deal, it strengthens the possibility of conflict between Iran and Israel, as Iran spends much of its money on Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad. Khoshhali warned of a war: “I must say that whenever Israel reaches the conclusion that the threats against its country are close to the red line and there is no reliable mechanism to contain Iran, it will act.”
This is likely why Iran is now turning to the UN out of desperation. Sirwan Mansouri, a Kurdish journalist and human rights activist based in the Middle East, believes that Biden should not rush to rejoin the nuclear deal for it will worsen the situation in the region: “Iran has proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, the Palestinian Authority and some other areas, so they got the ability to jeopardize US interests if given sanctions relief.”
And from the looks of it today, Iran is not willing to renegotiate any part of the nuclear deal so that it will be acceptable to Biden, nor will it have Israel and Saudi Arabia sit at the negotiating table as suggested by the French President. Considering that, it will be folly for Biden if he returns to the Iranian nuclear deal anytime soon, as Iran has taken Biden’s fig leaf and trashed it. In such an environment, it is easier for the Biden administration to just leave Trump’s policy in place and focus on other issues. After all, the Middle East right now is not a top priority for the Biden administration.
If he is wise, President Biden will take a U-turn on his stated Iran policy and recognize that things have changed in the region since Obama left office.
Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”