Disarming the Iran threat




This article appeared in the Tribune-Review on Febraury 11, 2017. Click here to view the original article.

By John Bolton
February 11, 2017

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Washington this Wednesday to meet with President Donald Trump. While the two leaders have a full agenda to cover — including international terrorism, the ongoing carnage in Syria and Israel’s continuing efforts to find peace with its neighbors — Iran’s nuclear-weapons program undoubtedly will dominate their discussions.

Rightly so. Iran’s long-standing program to develop deliverable nuclear weapons is a palpably existential threat to Israel and friendly Arab states in the Middle East. Joint Iranian-North Korean work on missiles and quite likely on nuclear matters demonstrates that the threat is truly worldwide. It is no accident that the Jan. 29 Iranian missile test that provoked Trump’s strong response involved testing a re-entry vehicle. Missiles designed to launch weather satellites into orbit need not be designed for re-entry, but missiles delivering nuclear weapons to their targets obviously do.

CALL FOR A ‘COMMON STAND’

Just before meeting last week with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Netanyahu told Israel’s Cabinet that the West needed to take a “common stand” against “Iranian aggression.” Unfortunately, after Barack Obama’s fatally flawed June 2015 Vienna nuclear deal with the ayatollahs, the West is badly divided. The Vienna agreement’s elimination of economic sanctions against Iran has enticed Europeans in particular to enter extensive trade and investment dealings with Tehran. This is precisely what Iran intended: to make it difficult, if not impossible, to restore meaningful international sanctions once the West realized its basic strategic mistake in striking the deal and its frightening long-term consequences.

As long as Obama remained president, Iran’s nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs had little to fear. The advent of Trump’s White House, however, has changed all that. The new administration’s tough rhetoric and renewed sanctions demonstrated clearly that critics of Obama’s appeasement policy have taken command in Washington. They now face the question of how to pull the United States out of the hole into which Obama put it — and to do so as soon as possible.

Accordingly, Trump and Netanyahu can make progress toward accomplishing several objectives at this week’s meeting. First, they should fashion a diplomatic strategy to recreate the West’s common political resolve to prevent the ayatollahs from ever getting nuclear weapons. The emphasis should be on “effective.” Strong rhetoric, military maneuvering and economic sanctions all have their place, but even the now-defunct sanctions regime had not slowed down Iran’s nuclear and missile efforts. Putting a tough-minded Western coalition against Iran back together will face heavy going, but it is both vital and urgent.

Second, and to that end, Israel and America must enhance their intelligence-gathering capabilities and cooperation. We know already that Iran has significantly shredded the Vienna deal’s provisions regarding heavy-water production and missile testing. Since the ayatollahs’ project to obtain deliverable nuclear weapons has been an animating desire of their regime since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, we can safely assume they are still at it, likely violating many other provisions of the Vienna deal.

We can also infer that Obama gave very low priority to uncovering and investigating Iranian breaches. Undoubtedly, there is fertile ground for Trump’s new intelligence-community leadership and the Israeli government to compare notes on what nefarious actions Iran has taken since the Vienna deal.

TWO LEADING ROGUE STATES

Moreover, we know that Iran and North Korea, the two leading rogue states, have cooperated for over 25 years on ballistic missiles, and there is compelling anecdotal evidence they are similarly cooperating on nuclear matters. Working with South Korea, Japan and others, America and Israel must do far more to investigate potential linkages than in the past eight years.

Third, Trump and Netanyahu must address how to eradicate ISIS without enhancing Iran’s influence across the Middle East. Obama’s approach to ISIS, a slow-motion campaign that could take years to reach its objectives, if ever, actually strengthens Tehran’s hand in the region along with its surrogates and allies, such as Hezbollah, the Assad regime and the current Baghdad government. Even if ISIS is ultimately defeated under Obama’s approach, Iran will emerge the real victor. Trump has already ordered the Pentagon to review U.S. military options. Now, he and Netanyahu should develop a comprehensive political framework into which the new military strategy will fit.

Wednesday’s meeting in Washington has the potential to change overnight the last eight years of American retreat from the Middle East and from the great global threats of our time, such as nuclear proliferation. Not all the problems will be resolved in one meeting, but the importance of this encounter cannot be overemphasized.

John Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and, previously, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.

ABOUT JOHN BOLTON

Ambassador John Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. He served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 2005-2006. He was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security from 2001 to 2005. In the Reagan Administration, he was an Assistant Attorney General.