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Middle East Press On Jewish Community in UAE, Caucuses Push Turkey and Israel Closer, and Maghreb Countries: New Age Islam's Selection, 12 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

12 December 2020

• Jewish Community Celebrates Hanukkah In UAE

By Michal Michelle Divon

• Shared Interests In Iran, Caucuses Push Turkey And Israel Closer

By Metin Gurcan

• Maghreb Countries Must Take This Opportunity To Unite

By Zaid M. Belbagi

• Tragedies Bring Palestinians Together, Politics Keeps Them Apart

By Ray Hanania

• Turkey Chooses Pro-Erdogan Ambassador To Israel In Bid To Normalize Ties

By Amberin Zaman

• Is Negotiating With Iran On Its Nuclear Program Worth It?

By Reza Behrouz and Amin Sophiamehr


Jewish Community Celebrates Hanukkah In UAE

By Michal Michelle Divon

December 11, 2020


Supplied photo

Tonight is the second night of Hanukkah and will mark a historic moment in Dubai


Tonight is the second night of Hanukkah and will mark a historic moment in Dubai

Hanukkah celebration’s kicked off in Dubai with a candle-lighting ceremony at the Burj Khalifa overlooking the Dubai fountain.

The sight of a 3-meter-high menorah on the backdrop of the world’s tallest building is a sight that has astonished Jewish community members around the world. The idea of Jewish life being celebrated on Arab land is both emotional and joyous- and above all, a reflection of the post Abraham Accords era that we live in.

Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum who is spending Hannukah in Dubai says it still feels like a dream.

“It seems surreal to be celebrating the Festival of Lights in Dubai this year where last year they were amongst the regional countries that Israelis were not allowed to visit. It is indeed a miracle and hopefully the light of this warm peace will shine on the entire region,” says Hassan-Nahoum.

Rabbi Elie Abadie who recently moved to Dubai to serve as the Senior Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates says the region is changing in front of our eyes.

“Hanukkah is a holiday known to be filled with miracles and indeed almost in every generation we see miracles happening on Hanukkah. This year it’s certainly a miraculous year as we witness the entire Middle East and Gulf region becoming a place of tolerance, coexistence, harmony and living together” says Abadie

The first night of Hanukkah organised by the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Community Center, one of Dubai’s two Jewish communities, hosted roughly 250 people just outside of the Armani-Kaf kosher restaurant, with several smaller events held across the city. The giant menorah will remain at the base of Burj Khalifa until the end of Hanukkah, as an additional candle is lit every night throughout the eight-day celebration.

The story of Hanukkah is based on a miracle that happened some 2,500 years ago when the Greek empire tried stopping Jews from practicing their religion. The idea that an Arab country is not only enabling the Jewish community to practice their religion, but is encouraging them to do so – is in many ways coming full circle.

“We have the government’s support, we’ve always had it – long before the Abraham Accords,” says JCC Chief Rabbi Levi Duchman. According to him the UAE government is in constant contact with the community and its leaders, making sure all needs are met. “They make sure we are as comfortable as possible,” says Duchman.

The miracle of Hanukkah highlights the story of the Maccabees who defeated the Greek emperor Antiochus and rededicate the second Temple where the miracle of oil occurred. According to Judaism’s central text, the Talmud, the Macabees discovered a jug of pure oil that was enough to light the lamp for one day, but instead lasted eight days. This wonderous event inspired Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.

The Menorah is an age-old symbol of religious tolerance and can be found at almost every Jewish home. Within the Jewish community it is customary to gather with family and friends on every night of Hanukkah and light the menorah, sing songs, eat jelly donuts (known as sufganiyot), while children spin dreidels.

This year’s Hanukkah celebration came with a surprise from the White House who announced Morocco has agreed to normalise relations with Israel, the fourth country to do so since the UAE signed the Abraham Accords agreement and paved the way for normalisation with Israel.

Since the signing of the Accords, the Jewish community in the UAE is said to have doubled in size, and both Rabbi Levi Duchman and Rabbi Elie Abadie expect the community to continue growing significantly in the coming years.

Tonight (Friday) is the second night of Hanukkah and will mark a historic moment in Dubai as three prominent rabbis are hosting candle-lighting Shabbat dinners; Rabbi Elie Abadie of the JCE will lead a service with special guest Elan Carr, US Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Antisemitism and Deputy Ellie Cohanim, along with other Jewish community leaders who flew in specially for the occasion. Rabbi Marc Schneier, Chief Rabbi of the Hamptons Synagogue and Special Advisor to the King of Bahrain will host a dinner on the Palm Jumeirah, and Rabbi Levi Duchman will lead celebrations at the base of Burj Khalifa.

In Hannukah the Jewish community in Israel says- ‘Nes Gadol Haya Po’ which translates to ‘a great miracle happened here’, while the Jewish diaspora says ‘Nes Gadol Haya Sham’, meaning ‘a great miracle happened there’. This year, the miracle is still happening.


Shared Interests In Iran, Caucuses Push Turkey And Israel Closer

By Metin Gurcan

Dec 11, 2020


This combination of pictures created on April 1, 2018, shows a file photo taken on Nov. 19, 2017, of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), and a file photo taken on Dec. 15, 2017, of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Photo by RONEN ZVULUN,OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images.


A series of secret contacts between Turkey and Israel has raised anticipation that the two countries are gearing up to mend fences, and while the process is not likely to be smooth and easy, it holds the promise of geostrategic gains for both countries.

The behind-the-scenes dialogue was apparently initiated by Ankara about two months ago with intelligence chief Hakan Fidan at the vanguard of the effort, as Al-Monitor reported in late November. Following Fidan’s initial contacts with Israel in October, Ankara sent other officials to Israel for exploratory talks on a roadmap for normalization, sources in Ankara told Al-Monitor.

The Turkish government seems to finally recognize that its belligerent foreign policy is not sustainable, neither in terms of military and economic might nor of institutional capacity. Government supporters may laud that policy as a sign of Turkey’s growing influence and self-reliance, but it has clearly thrown Turkey into a risky loneliness.

News broke Dec. 9 that Ankara had silently selected a new ambassador to Israel. Ankara’s choice for the critical post — Ufuk Ulutas, a pro-government think-tanker with no diplomatic experience — triggered widespread criticism at home as yet another confirmation of how political loyalty to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come to outweigh professionalism and merits in the state apparatus. Moreover, it remains unclear whether Ulutas will actually go to Tel Aviv before Israel appoints an ambassador to Ankara. Israel, some observers believe, may be reluctant to rush things amid its newfound rapprochement with Gulf nations, including the United Arab Emirates, which is at loggerheads with Turkey.

Still, Ankara appears focused on positive outcomes. A retired Turkish diplomat who requested anonymity told Al-Monitor, “Many in Ankara nowadays emphasize that the return of Turkish and Israeli ambassadors, the possibility of signing a maritime delimitation accord and constructing an Israeli [gas] pipeline to Europe via Turkey, joint efforts for stability in Syria, and growing Turkish-Israeli footholds in the Caucasus and the Black Sea and Caspian basins will all be win-win outcomes for both countries.”

In other words, realpolitik is pushing Ankara and Tel Aviv to move closer, even if grudgingly.

According to the retired diplomat, “What Turkey needs to do is to normalize ties with Israel on the basis of national interests, while backing the general position that Arab countries outline toward Israel.” Such a policy, he argued, will allow Turkey to draw Israel away from Greece and the Greek Cypriots and perhaps even win back the favors of the Jewish lobby in the United States over time.

The incoming Joe Biden administration in Washington stands out as a major factor compelling Turkey to reconsider its regional posture, for it is unlikely to be as lenient on Ankara as outgoing President Donald Trump has been. “By tidying up its regional ties, Ankara will lessen Biden’s trump cards against Turkey,” the retired diplomat said. “For instance, Turkey’s new policy for a two-state solution in Cyprus will be unacceptable to the United States, but Ankara could limit the moves the United States might consider against Turkey by drawing Israel and Egypt away from Greece,” he added.

Israeli observers concur that the Biden factor is the main driver behind Ankara’s U-turn on Israel as part of efforts to recalibrate its foreign policy. In addition, there is wide room for bilateral cooperation in various fields, including energy, trade and security. For Israel, they note, a true normalization will require Turkey to sever its close bonds with Hamas and end rhetoric delegitimizing Israel, beyond the mutual reinstating of ambassadors.

Yet another important factor, perhaps less noticed, is pushing Turkey and Israel closer: their converging interests in the Caucasus. Military assistance from both Turkey and Israel was instrumental in Azerbaijan’s rout of Armenia in the recent war over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Nearly 60% of the hi-tech systems and weaponry Azerbaijan used in the clashes have been supplied by Israel as part of Baku’s efforts to modernize its army, including Heron surveillance drones, Harop kamikaze drones, cluster munitions, rockets, Barak-8 air defense systems, LORA high-precision long-range ballistic missiles, and command and control systems. Israeli military supplies continued via Turkey amidst the war, leading Armenia to recall its ambassador from Israel.

Azerbaijan’s proximity to Iran as well as its oil and gas riches make it an attractive partner for Israel, unlike Armenia, which lacks natural resources and economic might. Israel does not even have an embassy in Armenia, centering its Caucasus policy on Azerbaijan, as does Turkey, whose close bonds with Baku are bolstered by ethnic kinship.

Israel was one of the first countries to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. About 100,000 Azeri Jews have immigrated to Israel since then, and some of them now hold high-level government positions.

Moscow and Tehran will be closely watching how the Turkish-Israeli overtures advance, especially if they grow into a military and defense cooperation. The prospect of a growing trilateral partnership involving Azerbaijan would alarm particularly Iran, which is already under US, Israeli and Sunni Arab pressure over its military and economic influence in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

In the Black Sea region, Ukraine might be interested in a trilateral partnership with Turkey and Israel, as it enjoys good ties with both countries and is eager to strengthen its leverage against Russia.

Turkish-Israeli normalization could lead also to energy cooperation and even a bilateral deal on delimiting maritime zones in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is largely isolated at present in simmering rows over exploration rights. Such an eventuality would upend the geopolitical balance in the region, especially for Greece and the Greek Cypriots.

Intelligence sharing would be another gain for Turkey, especially in its fight against Kurdish militants based across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan, a region where Israel has a strong intelligence and economic presence. Turkey is already cooperating with Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the dominant political force in the region, and Israeli intelligence support would further strengthen its hand against the militants.

In sum, many actors stand to be irked by the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement in such a complex and fragile environment. The path to normalization remains thorny also because of Erdogan’s overly personalized approach to foreign policy and Ankara’s erratic changes of heart, while in Israel mistrust of Ankara is running deep and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes no secret of his aversion to Erdogan.

Still, realpolitik equilibriums are pushing Turkey and Israel to mend fences, and even a meaningful bilateral dialogue on regional issues alone could alter the geopolitics in the region.


Maghreb Countries Must Take This Opportunity To Unite

By Zaid M. Belbagi

December 09, 2020

Aside from the ties of heritage, religion and language that group the Maghreb countries, another more important reality binds them: Insufficient growth to alleviate youth unemployment. The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), founded in 1989, was in 2017 described by King Mohammed VI of Morocco as effectively dead. The once-ambitious organization, which hoped to unite Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, is today, if not dead, then at least in a state of paralysis. However, given the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic on regional economies, there is a distinct opportunity to grow what is, at present, the least economically integrated region in the world.

Maghreb unity is in a pitiful state. Trade among regional countries represents only 2 percent of the total gross domestic product of the Maghreb region. It is cheaper for Maghreb countries to import from China than it is from their neighbors. Moroccan fruits are imported by Algeria via France, while Libyan oil is imported to Morocco by boat in lieu of a more direct pipeline. Moroccan investments have created 60,000 jobs in Nigeria, yet Tunisia’s youth suffer from the same destitution that caused them to revolt in 2011. This bleak picture is the result of the high tariffs imposed by the Maghreb countries on one another’s products, as well as political issues that have fostered disunity — constraints labeled as the “politics of trade protection in North Africa” by Oxford University’s Adeel Malik, the foremost global expert on the matter. By some estimates, the region loses about $530 billion annually as a consequence of barriers to trade.

Divergent foreign policy interests, especially between the two regional powers, Morocco and Algeria, have undermined the stability of the entire Maghrebi sub-regional system. The situation is, however, not without hope. While the Maghreb has not been characterized by strong intra-regional collaboration, certain initiatives that have emerged from the pandemic — particularly in the digital field — point to a more interconnected future.

With international trade severely affected by recent events, necessity and economic logic would dictate that the long-mothballed AMU be reinvigorated to keep the region’s economies afloat. The perils of the many millions employed throughout the region’s informal economies were illustrated during lockdowns. Modest growth is simply not an option for the Maghreb countries, which must create employment or risk further instances of the social strife of the last decade. Projects such as the Maghreb Startup Network and Maghtech have illustrated the readiness of the region’s young people to supersede the political issues that molded the attitudes of their predecessors and create opportunities to work together.

In addition, Morocco’s hosting of peace talks to bring about a resolution to events in Libya is reminiscent of a more hopeful outlook that was prevalent in historical movements that supported regional cooperation. The Etoile Nord-Africaine of the 1920s and the Arab Maghreb Liberation Committee of the late 1940s, chaired by the Moroccan Emir Abdelkrim El-Khattabi, were centered on the idea of Maghreb unity. Such spirit must be used to meet today’s challenges. The biggest trade partner of the region is the EU, so the Maghreb countries would do well to act as a bloc when negotiating, as opposed to accepting unfair agreements due to their diminutive economic size. American diplomats have long highlighted the need for expanded markets for the Maghreb countries to increase foreign direct investment; only structural reforms across multiple jurisdictions will allow for megaprojects to transform the regional patterns of trade.

Recent events have also highlighted the need to address historical issues to allow the creation of strong economic ties. Trouble in the Western Sahara has brought to the fore Morocco’s commitment to develop its southernmost region and the role of its neighbors in perpetuating conflicts that should have long been brought to a close. The regional tinderbox ignited with the holding up of civilian trucking from Morocco to Mauritania, highlighting the precariousness of the trickle of regional trade. But it is only a matter of time before the calls for economic growth via regional integration become louder than the war drums of the military.

The mood of resignation is increasingly palpable in the Maghreb, as well as rising frustration with the hypocrisy of regional integration efforts. Given the impact of free market economics in markedly improving living standards in Morocco, while its brethren in resource-rich states struggle to source basic foodstuffs, it is clear that improving regional trade is an urgent necessity. There will be political concessions to be made and there will be a need to mitigate the impact of regional trade at first, but the vision of Morocco’s King Hassan II at the creation of the AMU “to turn the Arab Maghreb into one country with one passport… one identity and a single currency” can certainly be achieved with the territorial integrity of its members intact.


Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council.


Tragedies Bring Palestinians Together, Politics Keeps Them Apart

By Ray Hanania

December 09, 2020

It seems that every day marks the anniversary of some tragedy or suffering in Palestinian history. Suffering has become the substance of being Palestinian — it brings us together and defines us as a people.

I grew up with a daily calendar of events from Palestine’s past that influenced my being. Back in 1989, I even created a database called “Baladi,” which chronologically documented the tragedies and events of suffering, but the task was daunting and overwhelming because there was no end in sight to the entries I was recording.

There is the Nov. 29 anniversary of the 1947 partition vote at the UN — an action that codified the Nakba as an unmistakable scar on our lives. The worst anniversary, though, is that of the 1982 massacres at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, which began on Sept. 16. During three days of slaughter, so many civilians were butchered that, even today, no one actually knows exactly how many men, women and children were murdered in cold blood.

But that is not a unique characteristic among the Palestinians’ days of tragedy. On April 9, 1948, two terrorist organizations — whose leaders would later become prime ministers of Israel — slaughtered the residents of a non-combatant farming village called Deir Yassin. How many were slaughtered there is not fully known. The initial reports were of 250, but later, after years of Israeli manipulation of the Western news media, the number of victims was reduced to about 100 (as if there is a moral difference between slaughtering 100 innocent people compared to slaughtering 250).

June 5, 1967, was the day the Arabs stumbled into a war with Israel. Ridiculous bombast from Egypt and collusion with Syria and Jordan gave Israel the excuse to launch a “pre-emptive” attack that shattered Arab pride in just six days. On June 8, Israeli forces attacked the USS Liberty while it was in international waters about 25 nautical miles from Arish, Egypt. The ship was monitoring the conflict, as Israel was invading Jordan and taking control of Arab East Jerusalem. In the attack on the Liberty, Israel killed 34 American servicemen and wounded 171 others. It is a miracle that the ship did not sink and kill every one of the 358 Americans on board.

Every year on Feb. 25, Palestinians mark the day in 1994 that an extremist with American and Israeli citizenship walked into the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, wearing an Israeli military uniform and carrying an Israeli military machine gun, and killed 29 Muslims who were knelt in prayer, wounding 125 others. The perpetrator, Baruch Goldstein, who ironically was a doctor and had sworn to save lives rather than take them, was subsequently beaten to death by survivors.

Weeks later, on April 6, Palestinians retaliated with one of the first major suicide bombings, targeting a bus stop in Afula that was used by Israeli soldiers who were reporting to reserve duty. Eight Israelis were killed and 55 were injured.

On Wednesday, it was exactly 33 years since an Israeli military truck collided with a civilian car carrying four Palestinians, who were returning to their homes in the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, killing them all and provoking the First Intifada. Riots subsequently spread throughout Gaza and the West Bank and even Israel, too. They did not stop for more than four years, raising fears of a civil war against Israel’s apartheid government and military occupation. If the Intifada did one positive thing, it ignited a heightened sense of concern between the rivals of Fatah and Hamas about who would take control of the protests, resulting in Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat reaching out to discuss peace with Israel.

I was there when Arafat and Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — a general well known for ordering his soldiers to “break the bones” of Palestinian protesters — shook hands on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993. However, peace quickly died when an Israeli assassinated Rabin during a “peace rally” on Nov. 4, 1995.

These examples of anniversary dates of tragedy, suffering and of lost hope are the only thing uniting Palestinians, bringing them together across their political divides. They fuel anger, but even they have not been enough to fuel overall unity. The Palestinians have been defined by division, maybe even a sociopolitical form of partition that is far more destructive than the actual partition of 1947.

Some might look at this chronology as a way of reflecting the substance of the Palestinian tragedy. But, to me, the real tragedy is how easily Palestinians attack their own, gravitate to division and rivalry, and dilute their moral power.

Today, tragedies define the Palestinian struggle, which is commemorated on the worst of these dates. However, the real definition of the Palestinians’ tragedy is their inability to come together with one powerful and singular voice. That failure is marked every single day of every year.


Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at Twitter: @RayHanania


Turkey Chooses Pro-Erdogan Ambassador To Israel In Bid To Normalize Ties

By Amberin Zaman

Dec 9, 2020

Turkey has selected a new ambassador to Israel in line with efforts to normalize relations with the Jewish state and score brownie points with the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden, several well placed sources have told Al-Monitor. The new ambassador, Ufuk Ulutas, 40, is chairman for the Center for Strategic Research at the Turkish Foreign Ministry and a political appointee who studied Hebrew and Middle Eastern politics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He also worked as director of the SETA foundation, a pro-government think tank, and written numerous papers on the Middle East policy and Jewish history. Ulutas is also an expert on Iran. Sources familiar with Ulutas described him as something of a wunderkind — “very polished,” “very clever” and “very pro-Palestinian.”

There has been no ambassador in either country since May 2018, when Turkey asked the Israeli ambassador to “take leave” over escalating attacks against Palestinians in Gaza and the Donald Trump administration’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fashioned himself as a standard bearer of Palestinian rights in the Muslim world, and once booming relations between Turkey and Israel have steadily deteriorated since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) rose to power in 2002.

For all of Erdogan’s posturing, Turkey finds itself increasingly isolated and economically squeezed. With US and EU sanctions looming, it’s been trying to patch up relations with Washington and the European Union even as it continues to engage in the same behavior — locking up critics, flirting with Russia and flexing its muscles in the eastern Mediterranean — that draws Western ire.

One of the ways of making nice with Washington, or so Ankara’s thinking goes, is to be perceived as on good terms with Israel. And as Al-Monitor first reported on Nov. 30, Turkey’s spy chief Hakan Fidan held secret talks with Israeli officials and the idea of restoring ties to the ambassadorial level was reportedly floated.

Ulutas’ nomination coincided with a routine rotation of Turkish ambassadors. His name did not appear on the final list, seen by Al-Monitor, which includes new appointees for Washington and the UN mission in New York.

Turkey appointed Murat Mercan, a founding member of the AKP and currently ambassador in Tokyo, to be US ambassador. Meanwhile deputy foreign minister Sedat Onal will become UN ambassador in New York. Ulutas' appointment has yet to be formally announced.

This marks the first time, however, that Turkey would be sending a non-career diplomat to Israel, a post that has been traditionally reserved for its best and brightest envoys such as Namik Tan, a former ambassador to Washington. It’s also unclear whether Israel will send an ambassador to Ankara anytime soon.

It’s highly unlikely for several reasons. First, Israel is busy cultivating its new Gulf allies, notably the United Arab Emirates, which is deeply hostile to Turkey. Israel will not want to rock the boat until it has formally established diplomatic ties with Abu Dhabi. Israel is also heading for new elections and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no interest in providing his opponents with fodder by rewarding Erdogan.

Hostility to Turkey used to be the reserve of liberals who pushed for recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide by Ottoman Turkish forces. But 18 years of AKP rule — and Israel bashing — have radically shifted the national mood. Even the Israeli Foreign Ministry, where Ankara used to be seen as a career-boosting post, has turned sour on Turkey.

Finally, Israel is infuriated by Erdogan’s continued support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood writ large. Israeli sources contend that Hamas has plotted attacks on Israel from Istanbul and that Turkey has granted citizenship to at least 12 senior members of Palestinian group that Israel calls a terrorist organization.

Naming Ulutas, an overtly pro-AKP figure no matter how gifted, rather than a top career diplomat was probably not the wisest choice in such circumstances. It’s not even clear whether he will actually go to Tel Aviv, unless Israel appoints an ambassador to Ankara. But should he do so, Israelis will be watching closely to see whether he meets with Raed Saleh, the head of the outlawed northern branch of the Islamic movement in Israel, as did the previous Turkish ambassador to Israel, Kemal Okem. Israeli officialdom was not amused.


Is Negotiating With Iran On Its Nuclear Program Worth It?

By Reza Behrouz And Amin Sophiamehr

09 December 2020

US President-elect Joe Biden has stated his intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal, if Tehran fully complies with the agreement, saying that if Tehran complies, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in reinstated, sanctions will be lifted.

In 2015 when the deal was penned, the pact may have appeared on the surface as a diplomatic triumph, but with 2021 on the horizon, it lacks merit and its purpose is unclear.

Proponents of the JCPOA claim that an agreement with Iran was only possible because the signing nations focused on a common objective: prolong Iran’s nuclear breakout time. It is a single-issue platform, designed as the initial step for a trust-building process, with potential for future talks on other critical matters, including the regime’s ballistic missiles program and destabilizing activities in the region.

But Iran had its own set of expectations with respect to the deal. The regime viewed the JCPOA as a tactical distraction from its battles on other fronts, and their behavior became more bellicose in the Middle East after it was signed. For the regime's leaders, the deal was not the initial step, but the final frontier. Immediately after signing the JCPOA, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei asserted that it would be the last time Islamic Republic officials would meet with the Americans. The nuclear issue was the only matter that Iranian regime officials would engage on with the West.

Indeed, the regime became more belligerent following the accord. Soon after the JCPOA was signed, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tested a ballistic missile bearing an inscription in Hebrew that read “Israel must be obliterated.” The regime also increased financial and arms support for its terror proxies in the Middle East.

Given its inherent flaws, what is Biden’s rationale for returning to the deal?

Biden believes nuclear weapons, in the hands of a hostile regime such as Iran, pose a direct national security threat to the US and its allies in the region, especially Israel. If he is truly concerned about Israel’s security and wants to reach an agreement with Iran to protect Israel from a possible nuclear attack, it is important to at least hear what the Israelis think of this strategy.

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Israeli politicians have mixed views regarding the validity and practicality of a nuclear accord with Iran, though they all seemingly agree that the regime must not possess nuclear weapons. However, the main Israeli concern is perhaps Iran’s precision missile program, which Israel perceives as a more immediate threat than a nuclear bomb. This concern is shared by most Arab US allies.

Therefore, failing to address Iran’s missile program alongside – or even before nuclear talks – would constitute a diplomatic failure. Excluding Israel and Arab allies from the negotiation proceedings also constitutes such a failure.

The Europeans have fervently pushed for the US to return to the deal, and Biden has said he will work with European allies toward a multilateral accord that prevents or delays the regime’s access to a nuclear bomb. It is unclear why the Europeans are so eagerly pushing for a return to the JCPOA. Again, the “protection of allies” logic, especially regarding Israel, is abortive. The Europeans are also not listening to the Israelis or Arab states.

France, for instance, is concerned that nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of Iran’s proxies, including Hezbollah. Yet the French government hesitates to designate these factions as terrorist organizations, even though the US has designated them as such years ago, and increasingly European countries are following suit.

Furthermore, if the Europeans fear nuclear aggression by Iran on their continent, they should be equally concerned about the regime’s arsenal of long-range, precision, and nuclear-capable missiles, which can reach Europe and the continental US. The regime’s possession of a nuclear bomb is meaningless if it lacks the means and the apparatus to launch one.

Then there are China and Russia, which are both JCPOA signatories. Primarily, they would lose their strategic superiority over the regime if it becomes nuclear. But it is curious why these two countries are members of the campaign against Iran’s nuclear proliferation when neither is a target of the regime. They are both eager to sell arms to the regime, recognize Hezbollah as a legitimate political organization, and have close relations with Iran.

Human rights need to be a priority

Iran’s record with human rights abuses seem to never be on the agenda for negotiation. Biden is likely to try to tackle the nuclear issue immediately upon assuming office, and then he will most likely build on that agreement, working toward further negotiations with Iran on various other issues, including human rights. This is congruent to the Obama administration policy of “kicking the can down the road.”

Obama and Biden did not include human rights in the 2015 JCPOA platform, but it is not too late for Biden to attend to this crucial matter. However, renewal of the JCPOA is not the correct pathway. As Khamenei stated, the regime is unlikely to negotiate on other issues. From another angle, the regime’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who claims to be a “human rights professor,” has denied human rights violations in Iran. If Iran’s top diplomat denies the existence of a problem, how could negotiations or diplomacy be remotely effective in resolving it?

Why negotiate?

With JCPOA signatories ignoring critical issues, and where the regime considers them nonnegotiable, it is unclear what exactly Biden plans to accomplish after resuscitating the near-defunct nuclear deal.

Considering all arguments, the real question is why negotiate with Iran on the nuclear issue at all?

Any agreement reached between Iran and the Biden administration will be – like the JCPOA – fragmented unless ratified by the Senate as a treaty. It will be very difficult for Biden to convince two-thirds of the Senate that the JCPOA as a treaty would have any meaningful impact on US or Middle East security.

Iran would be re-entering negotiations from a position of utter weakness. By touting its nuclear program as leverage, the regime has effectively placed all its eggs in one basket. Zarif and his team of lobbyists in the US claim Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, while in the same breath, they insist on “reaching a deal.” Regime apologists in Europe and the US also claim Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program nearly two decades ago. If the assertions that the regime has ceased the military component of its nuclear program, and that the entire project is for peaceful purposes are true, why does Zarif threaten to accelerate it if US sanctions are not lifted?

All this perhaps indicates that Iran’s nuclear program might be less significant than portrayed, and it is being inflated to distract the international community from more vital issues such as the regime’s ballistic missile program, support for proxy groups from Iraq to Lebanon, and human rights violations.

The regime leveraged the same strategy going into negotiations: to depict the nuclear issue so critical that other important matters pertaining to the regime’s criminal conduct are kept off the table. It is the only leverage Iran has, and Biden should recognize its inadequacies. The US should not be deceived by the regime’s smoke screen. Biden should resist being rushed into signing an accord that is of little benefit to the US and doomed to fall apart in short order.

A joint comprehensive plan of action should be exactly that – comprehensive.


Reza Behrouz is an Iranian-American physician based in Texas, USA, and a member of the advisory board for Iranian Americans for Liberty.

Amin Sophiamehr is an Iranian-American scholar in political philosophy at Indiana University.



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