Contrary to earlier assumptions that the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal from the Iranian side may take a few months to complete and cannot be earlier than by spring, it now transpires that Tehran has been moving at “a very high pace”, as the IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano put it, and the high probability is that it may fulfill all the stipulated benchmarks by next month, which in turn, implies that Iran becomes entitled to begin receiving sanctions relief by January. (Guardian).
The US Secretary of State John Kerry addressed a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday to the effect that Iran is fulfilling its obligations in a “transparent” and “verifiable” way and that “suspension of sanctions… is appropriate”. The series of tasks that Iran is expected to complete include neutering its plutonium reactor in Arak, reducing its nuclear enrichment capacity and stockpile, and increasing access and transparency at its declared nuclear facilities.
As Amano put it, “Our inspectors are on the ground and they are observing their activities, and with their report I can tell that Iran is undertaking activities at a very high pace.” He estimated that “it is not impossible” that Iran will comply with these implementation tasks before the crucial parliamentary elections slated for February.
Clearly, the moment of truth is approaching for the US political establishment – and Israel. The Congress, which is heavily heavily under the influence of the Israeli Lobby, will abhor the prospect of lifting the sanctions against Iran. Some attempts are afoot already to find the alibi to reimpose the sanctions through the back door on some pretext or another. Thus, Iran’s launch of a missile (in October), its involvement in Syria, its support of the Hezbollah, etc. are being flagged as good enough reasons for the US to punish Iran all over again (here and here).
The buck stops at the Oval Office, finally. But it is inconceivable that President Barack Obama, for whom the Iran nuclear deal becomes his finest foreign-policy legacy, will want to bury the deal at this stage. He ought to know that Iran will react strongly to any new legislation threatening fresh sanctions through the back door. Again, it is improbable that the US’ allies in Europe (or even its new-found partners like India who are revving up business with Tehran) will want to go through a replay of the Iran sanctions issue all over again impacting their own relations with Iran.
The likelihood of two big veto-holding powers in the UN – Russia and China – playing by the wishes of the US to impose new sanctions is very slim indeed. Russia, in particular, sees Iran as pivotal to its Syria strategy and is stepping up all-round military cooperation with Iran. (here, here, here, here and here).
Most importantly, the prospects of US-Iranian normalization will be lethally hurt if the trust deficit that historically affected the relations between the two countries thickens further. In immediate terms, the Obama administration is also pinning hopes on the moderate factions in Iranian politics to do well at the forthcoming elections to the Majlis in February. The removal of sanctions will be seen as a vindication of the policies pursued by the present government under President Hassan Rouhani and Washington is acutely conscious of the importance of strengthening the hands of the reformist leadership in Tehran.
However, Israel is stubbornly staying put as the archetypal dog in the manger. Israel is furious that the removal of sanctions will mean the end of an era in the Middle East in which it enjoyed primacy as the region’s foremost military power. Iran is all poised to earn additional income of tens of billions of dollars, which is sure to augment its capacity to beef up its military strength and will give it the wherewithal to play a more effective role in theatres such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Israel’s existential angst is justified insofar as the way of life it led so far – living by the sword – is reaching a dead end, as Iran’s surge continues.
Furthermore, the successful implementation of the Iran deal will draw attention to Israel’s own clandestine nuclear weapon program, apart from calls to make the Middle East a nuclear weapon-free zone. Therefore, the Israeli Lobby will pull all stops to slow down the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. Their agenda will be to somehow slow down the implementation through the remaining period of the Obama presidency and to try their luck with the new president in the White House in 2017.
Put differently, the fundamental issue here is how far the US and Israeli interests converge in the rapidly changing regional scenario in the Middle East devolving upon Iran’s surge as the region’s superpower. In reality, the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal happens to be a case of Hobson’s choice for the US — and Obama would realize it — but unfortunately, such awareness is lacking among the political class in America.