Great question. Why aren’t more of us asking it?
The US must not remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ designation as a foreign terrorist organization, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned in a joint statement on Friday.
“We believe that the United States will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists,” the ministers said.
The remarks came as Israeli diplomatic sources said the US was considering acceding to Iran’s demand to lift the IRGC’s designation in exchange for a commitment by Tehran to regional de-escalation and not to attack Americans, as a side deal to the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“We find it hard to believe that the IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization will be removed in exchange for a promise not to harm Americans,” they said. “The fight against terrorism is a global one, a shared mission of the entire world.”
The move to de-list the IRGC would further free Iran to fund and unleash its proxy-running arm of the state military to run rampant in the region. The IRGC already runs proxies in Yemen (Houthis), Hezbollah (Lebanon), Islamic Jihad (Gaza), and others to encircle rival Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, as well as to threaten Israel. It also is responsible for attacks on American soldiers stationed in Iraq over the last two decades, with estimates in the hundreds for US casualties from the IRGC and its affiliates.
Needless to say, that’s a rather inexplicable decision from the Israeli point of view. Locking the IRGC into a State Department terror list may not entirely disable the IRGC, but it does at least hold the threat of legal action against any organizations that connect to it. The US has not taken such action, in part because both the Trump and Biden administrations used it as leverage for negotiations to get concessions out of Iran. Instead, the Biden administration inexplicably appears ready to surrender that leverage for nothing at all.
That’s hardly the only notable concession Joe Biden wants to make to Iran to get back into the JCPOA, as Charlotte Lawson notes at The Dispatch. The US will apparently bless a $10 billion deal between Iran and Russia to build nuclear reactors despite existing sanctions on both countries — especially on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Lawson notes just how significant that will be to Moscow:
This carveout could extend President Vladimir Putin a meaningful monetary lifeline as the West has backed Russia into an economic corner with sanctions. For context, Russia’s entire bilateral trade with Iran last year was only $4 billion in total, which was an 80 percent increase from the previous year.
Russia’s last-minute move to force the United States’ hand seemed to bet on the administration’s willingness to make concessions—even to Russia, despite simultaneously pressuring Putin to halt his unprovoked war on Ukraine—all for the sake of inking a new nuclear deal. The Biden team’s conciliatory approach last year marked a sudden reversal from the Trump administration’s 2018 withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and full enforcement of a “maximum pressure” sanctions regime. The Biden administration says the concessions are justified if they keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but critics—which include regional experts, lawmakers, and former government officials—say the administration is willing to concede too much, including so-called “inherent guarantees” to Iran that could bind future U.S. administrations.
While the precise shape of the current draft agreement remains uncertain, it’s clear that the administration’s early hopes of pressuring Iran into a more robust version of 2015’s JCPOA have dwindled.
Those “early hopes” never existed at all, Michael Doran and Tony Badran argued almost a year ago. The point of these negotiations led by Robert Malley was never to secure better Iranian compliance nor to expand the agreement to cover other Iranian threats. The purpose was to realign the region in order to let the US vacate its interests and alliances there, just as it was in the Obama administration:
Until now, those who feared that his presidency might become the third term of Obama fixed their wary eyes on Robert Malley, the president’s choice as Iran envoy. When serving in the Obama White House, Malley helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, which sought accommodations with Tehran that came at the expense of America’s allies in the Middle East. In a revealing Foreign Affairs article, written in 2019, Malley expressed regret that Obama failed to arrive at more such accommodations. The direction of Obama’s policy was praiseworthy, Malley wrote, but his “moderation” was the enemy of his project. Being “a gradualist,” he presided over “an experiment that got suspended halfway through.” …
The president’s “ultimate goal,” Malley wrote, was “to help the [Middle East] find a more stable balance of power that would make it less dependent on direct U.S. interference or protection.” That is a roundabout way of saying that Obama dreamed of a new Middle Eastern order—one that relies more on partnership with Iran.
And the dream lives on. In May 2020, six months after Malley penned his Foreign Affairs essay, Jake Sullivan, writing as an adviser to Biden’s presidential campaign, co-authored his own article laying out a Middle East strategy. The goal, he explained, is to be “less ambitious” militarily, “but more ambitious in using U.S. leverage and diplomacy to press for a de-escalation in tensions and eventually a new modus vivendi among the key regional actors.” If we substitute the word “balance” for “modus vivendi,” and if we recognize that “de-escalation” and “diplomacy” require cooperation with Iran, then Sullivan’s vision is identical to Obama’s “ultimate goal” as described by Malley. Sullivan emphasized that equivalence when he defined the objective of his plan as “changing the United States’ role in a regional order it helped create.”
This project to create a new Middle Eastern order, which now spans two presidential administrations, deserves a name. The “Obama-Biden-Malley-Blinken-Sullivan initiative” is quite a mouthful. Instead, we hereby dub it “the Realignment.”
Be sure to read it all. The point of these concessions isn’t to increase security — it’s to pull a softer version of Biden’s bug-out from Afghanistan. That’s why the Saudis are turning to China, and why both the Russians and the Chinese see vast new opportunities for power and influence in the Middle East. Biden’s giving away the store to Iran and the Israelis are trying to wake up the rest of us to the threat.
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