America's Plan B in case of failure


April 22, 2022

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Old cracked wall with radiation warning sign and painted flag, flag of Iran.

(JNS) - Despite Israeli requests for an American-led preparation of a "Plan B" in case of failure of talks to lead to a new Iran nuclear agreement, Washington has yet to formulate such an alternative in a detailed manner, a leading Israeli expert on U.S.-Israeli relations has cautioned.

Professor Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University, who is also a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, also said, however, that good ties between the Israeli and American defense establishments - and between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz - have enabled some level of coordination and extensive intelligence-sharing by Israel on Iran's nuclear progress.

Israel is alarmed by Iran's ongoing nuclear progress in the current vacuum.

Addressing a policy forum hosted by the Washington Institute on Wednesday, Gantz said, "As we know, Iran is continuing its uranium enrichment and expanding its capabilities, and they are close to 90% enrichment, once they decide to reach it. I understand the need for an agreement, but if an agreement [is not] reached, we must activate 'Plan B' immediately."

On April 6, during an address to 80 ambassadors in Israel, Gantz defined "Plan B" as "moving forward with economic pressure, intelligence, diplomatic pressure, power projection and regional counterterrorism efforts."

Strengthening Israel's military capabilities to tackle the Iranian project, and taking firm diplomatic and economic measures, including allowing the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency to publish reports of Iranian transgressions, could all be part of an effective alternative, Gilboa told JNS on Wednesday.

"But this plan has not been sufficiently formulated in Washington," he assessed.

Currently, the Biden administration is facing pressure from multiple directions over what kind of Iran nuclear deal it could sign. Pressure sources include Israel; the larger Arab-Sunni bloc that is directly threatened by Iranian aggression and nuclear aspirations; and domestic political American forces, particularly those in Congress.

This pressure helped push the White House to climb down from intentions of removing Iran's notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the American list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

That, in turn, "created an opening that Israel entered through to influence the American position on a deal," said Gilboa.

"The ball is now in the Iranian court. The Americans told the Iranians: Take it or leave it. The Iranians, for their part, still believe that the Americans are weak and that they can insist on this issue of removing the IRGC from the terror list."

Gilboa said that U.S. President Joe Biden has been quoted as saying that he supports keeping the IRGC on the terror list. "What does this mean, that he 'supports'? He is the primary decision-maker. I interpret that to be a message to Iran. Deciphering that message is key to understanding the American approach to the Iranians."

He pointed out that it is U.S. Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley who is leading America's policy on the talks, pursuing such a lenient approach to the Islamic Republic that it has led to two American members of the negotiations team quitting.

"Malley thinks that the only way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to recognize its legitimacy as a Middle Eastern power," said Gilboa. Now, Malley is promoting a workaround to try and salvage the talks by removing the IRGC from the terror list but keeping on that list the IRGC's Quds Force, which nourishes terror organizations with weapons, funds and training.

'Biden is under serious pressure'

Meanwhile, Iran is also demanding that sanctions on human-rights violations also be removed.

"Biden is under serious pressure, both in his own administration and externally, to resist the IRGC removal from the list. He faces open opposition on this from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley. The American military certainly opposes it," said Gilboa.

This opposition is shared by the Republican Party and possibly some Democrats. As a result, Biden is "looking for a patent" to get out of the dead end; that was the messaging behind his comments on the issue, argued Gilboa.

The IRGC, which controls 30 percent to 40 percent of Iran's economy, forms the basis of the Ayatollah regime, he added. During the original 2015 nuclear deal, former President Barack Obama claimed that thawed Iranian assets would go towards improving the Iranian economy.

"That did not happen," said Gilboa. "The idea that taking the [Iranian-backed, Yemen-based] Houthis off the terrorist list would moderate the war between them and the Saudis. The exact opposite ended up happening, and the Houthis increased attacks," he said.

"Then, with the Houthis hitting Saudi oil infrastructures with missiles and UAVs, the Americans came to Riyadh and asked it to increase oil output [to stabilize global energy prices in the wake of the Russian war on Ukraine]. The Saudis were furious," said Gilboa.

Domestic political pressure is building as well. Congress might demand that the White House bring any new Iran deal before it for approval. That would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which is currently split 50-50 along partisan lines with some Democratic senators, like House Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who intended to vote against the original Iran deal in 2015 had it been brought to a vote, going against the grain, noted Gilboa.

"All of this influences Biden," he said. "The internal and regional forces applying pressure have an effect. Still, the White House and State Department are making it clear that they are fixated on a diplomatic arrangement and believe that a failure to reach an Iran deal will lead to an Iranian nuclear bomb soon."

Gilboa said Israel was right to press its American ally on a "Plan B," adding that this had been neglected due to the high degree of confidence in Washington that a deal would be reached. That assessment still is dominant in the White House, he added.

"Israel is saying, what happens if there is no deal? Israel would like weapons that it does not have," said Gilboa. "Yet Biden seems to be saying that in the absence of a deal, not only will the U.S. not turn to a military option but that it would prevent Israel from doing so, too."

Hence, the concept of a formulated alternative American is not very convincing, he said.

On the other hand, the American military thinks that reviving the 2015 deal is a bad idea, pointed out Gilboa, with Gantz and Austin speaking "a common language."

He noted that the U.S. Central Command has been holding maneuvers in the Persian Gulf to deter Iran from closing the strategic maritime area, where much of the world's energy shipments flow through.

"The Pentagon and U.S. military are closer to the Israeli position. The ties between Gantz and Austin are important because of Austin's position in White House decision-making," said Gilboa. Still, ultimately, he said, it is the White House and State Department who determine policy, despite the divisions.

Meanwhile, Israel has been sharing considerable amounts of intelligence assessments with its American ally, noted Gilboa.

"Israel is sharing the full picture in ways that it might not necessarily have done under different circumstances," he said. "This is done in order to both obtain cooperation and to ensure that the Americans are fully informed on what is happening in the region."

Finally, Gilboa said, the idea that Biden is unconcerned with Iran is untrue since the American president has repeatedly committed himself to preventing a nuclear Islamic Republic on his watch - and that includes an Iran that becomes a nuclear threshold state.

"If it becomes a threshold state and only crosses the nuclear threshold later, history will look back to when Iran reached threshold status, and it will see that it happened under Biden," he stated. "Hence, this is an important issue for Biden's legacy."


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