On May 8, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran deal. From the American Jewish establishment to Congress to policy analysts, responses to this news appear to hinge on what people think is better for the U.S. and Israel:
Do they prefer sticking with an imperfect but existing deal and maintaining a reputation that the U.S. abides by its agreements? Or do they prefer abandoning a multilaterally negotiated compromise in favor of stronger restrictions and more punitive measures against a country involved in multiple conflicts throughout the Middle East?
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was one of multiple Jewish organizations that offered a statement of support following the announcement. AIPAC’s statement acknowledged that Trump’s decision has not elicited unanimous approval, and affirmed the organization’s commitment to bipartisan partnership with Congress “to forge policies that will ensure Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapons capability or realize its dangerous regional ambitions.”
Conversely, J Street characterized the president’s decision as “a wholly baseless rejection of the conclusion of our closest allies’ military and intelligence services, international nuclear experts, and his own Secretary of Defense that the agreement is working.” The organization called upon Congress to use its powers to prevent “provocations” and the presidential authorization of military operations against Iran.
The JCPOA was established during the Obama administration in 2015 between Iran, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States — plus Germany), and the European Union. The deal put a series of restrictions on Iran that, if observed, would not fully dismantle the country’s nuclear program but would keep it from progressing for the next 10 to 15 years. If International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) checks found Iran in compliance, the country would receive relief from economic sanctions related to its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The Iranians declared that military sites were off-limits to IAEA inspectors, said Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) President Sarah Stern: “Obviously, this is where they moved their research and development.” The one partial inspection they were allowed of a military site at Parchin uncovered traces of uranium.
Trump’s announcement followed a presentation on April 30 by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, broadcast worldwide, alleging that more than 100,000 Iranian documents Israel obtained through a massive covert operation prove the JCPOA “is based on lies.” Trump echoed these sentiments in his May 8 press conference.
“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction: That a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program … Last week, Israel published intelligence documents — long concealed by Iran — conclusively showing the Iranian regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons,” said Trump.
“The fact is, this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will,” he said.
The American Jewish Congress (AJC) released a statement of support for the president’s decision. “What brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place was the success of sanctions that constrained the economy and Iran’s ability to pursue its nuclear ambitions,” said AJC President and Chairman Jack Rosen in an interview May 9. “If sanctions were so effective in engaging Iran in a deal the first-time round, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t work again.”
By withdrawing from the JCPOA, he said, the U.S. can pursue negotiations to secure a better deal, one which “limits Iran’s ballistic missile development, that prevents Iran from continuing to fund international terrorism, that prevents Iran’s incursions in Syria, as well as from making Syria its base from which to attack Israel.”
In an opinion piece published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that while he voted against the Iran deal in 2015 and agrees that Iran’s behavior in the region is problematic, the decision to withdraw is a mistake that “calls into question America’s international credibility” and sets the international community “on a slippery slope.”
“We can keep the nuclear deal working while also going after Tehran for its support for terrorism, its human rights abuses against the Iranian people, its ballistic missile testing, and its violation of arms embargoes,” wrote Cardin, who is a senior member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
While Cardin wrote that Trump’s decision will endanger Israel, David Daoud, a research analyst for the nonprofit, non-partisan organization United Against Nuclear Iran, says that war between Israel and Iran and its proxies is “unfortunately inevitable” — and not because of the JCPOA decision.
“Iran is slowly implementing a project in Syria, entrenching itself and its militias militarily. If Israel waits until Iran finishes that task, and for Tehran to start a war on its own terms, the task of defeating and dislodging it will be more difficult,” said Daoud.
“I think the Israelis have been aware of this long-term project since they started strikes in 2013, and have been trying to goad an unprepared Iran and Hezbollah into a miscalculation, justifying a broad Israeli military operation,” he said. “The way I see it, Israel has been upping the ante as of late to try to make the cost of silence for Iran and Hezbollah outweigh the benefits.”
By Rachel Kohn
Rachel Kohn is editor in chief of Kol HaBirah.