Rebutting AIPAC’s case for war with Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the AIPAC 2015 Policy Conference (Mondoweiss)

Mitchell Plitnick

Mondoweiss  /  September 3, 2022

Israel and its proxies in Washington are stepping up their efforts to promote war against Iran. Their arguments, however, can be easily debunked.

Israel and its proxies in Washington have stepped up their efforts to promote war against Iran. The stepped-up effort comes in response to the increasingly positive outlook for the United States and Iran to agree on conditions for a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Late in August, AIPAC publicized a policy memorandum that they disseminated on Capitol Hill, outlining their “concerns” about the deal. Not coincidentally, a few days later, reports emerged that a bipartisan, but majority Democratic, letter from the House of Representatives, spearheaded by prominent Iran hawk Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) was being sent to the White House, expressing similar concerns. 

The argument AIPAC makes is largely the same one it has been making for more than seven years, and it is no more substantive now than it has been over these years. As has been the case all along, it is an argument that exists outside of reality, in an alternate universe where it is possible to get an even better deal for the United States and Israel than the JCPOA, when it is clear to anyone looking seriously at the question that no such deal exists now or can be brought into existence. 

It’s important to examine the specifics of AIPAC’s arguments. Their strategy, and Israel’s, is going to depend on whipping up fear, especially among Democrats, that the Biden administration is giving Iran too much and getting back so little that it will free Iran to both construct a nuclear weapon and expand its support for militant activities throughout the Middle East. 

Actually, the inspections regime that Iran agreed to in 2015, and which would be fully restored under a revived agreement, is without precedent. No country has endured, much less agreed to, such an expansive inspection program. In exchange for this, Iran is being “granted” the ability to sell its own oil; participate—within the restraints imposed by other sanctions, unrelated to the nuclear program and which stayed in place after 2015 and would also stay in place under the potentially revived deal—in global markets; and would be opened to some investment that is currently either barred by sanctions or discouraged by the threat of new ones. In other words, the ability to do business. 

That’s a deal that greatly favors the U.S. and the other participants (the EU, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany). It is inconceivable that Iran would give even more while receiving even less. Israel and AIPAC know this very well, as do Congressional opponents of the deal. 

The alternative is war, and that, unlike a return to the JCPOA, holds at least the possibility of forcing regime change in Iran. Such a war would very likely make the invasion of Iraq look like a minor skirmish, and the potential effects on the Mideast and Persian Gulf region, not to mention the global economy, are too terrible to even contemplate. 

Debunking AIPAC’s arguments

Let’s examine AIPAC’s arguments one by one. 

Shorter and weaker: Because of sunsetting restrictions and Iranian advancement in its enrichment capabilities, a new agreement will be shorter and weaker than the original nuclear deal. In essence, we will be paying more and getting less.

The supposed “weakness” of this deal as compared to 2015 is due to its being shorter. And that does make a difference. But the reason the deal is shorter is because Donald Trump—with the full-throated encouragement of groups like AIPAC and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and, of course, the Israeli government—tore up the deal four years ago. The result has been four years of escalating tensions, Iran gradually increasing its stockpile of weapons-grade uranium, and no gains for anyone. 

Yet this argument also echoes ones from 2015, where it was often claimed that parts of the deal lasted as little as ten years, and that it didn’t address other issues aside form Iran’s nuclear program. While some parts of the JCPOA do expire in just a few years, others are permanent. An enhanced inspection regime—which no other country has ever agreed to, including countries, like Israel, whose nuclear programs are undeclared and are not monitored at all by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—is a permanent feature of the JCPOA. That’s particularly important considering that, in the wake of Trump’s betrayal of the U.S. faith and credit, Iran shut off many monitors and generally pulled farther and farther back from the access the IAEA needs. 

Additionally, Iran will be giving up its weapons-grade stockpile, and will again be blocked (permanently) from a plutonium path to a nuclear weapon, which means its potential breakout time to have enough fissile material to make just one nuclear weapon will be six months, rather than the several few weeks it would take now. When the deal was still in place, before May 2018, Iran’s breakout time was six months to a year. That level can’t be reached anymore due to the increased technical skill and knowledge Iran has gathered over the past four years, part of Iran’s response to U.S. abrogation of the deal. 

In sum, this complaint of AIPAC’s is only partially based on fact, and where it is, that is the case only because the JCPOA has not been in place for the past four years. That was the U.S.’ doing, not Iran’s. To the contrary, even after the U.S. broke the deal, Iran was very slow to resume its nuclear work, in a desperate attempt to work with Europe to keep the deal alive. And despite that betrayal, Iran is still willing to try to re-enter an agreement that might very well be broken again by the next American president.

Strengthening Russia: Russia will play a major role in implementing and guaranteeing this agreement.

In the original deal, Iran agreed to send its stockpile of highly-enriched uranium to Russia. It would do so again in a revived deal. That makes a lot of sense, as Russia has the technical expertise to handle it properly, Iran has a solid relationship with the Russians, and Russia has no use for the Iranian uranium, as it has more than enough of its own. 

AIPAC argues that doing this again would somehow empower Russia, but its explanation for how this empowerment would come about is nearly non-existent. Russia is a major world power. Its receipt of Iran’s uranium in 2015 did nothing to change its status, nor would it now. 

AIPAC argues that Russia could decide that the U.S. was not in compliance with the deal and simply send the material back to Iran. This, too, is no different than what came before, but more to the point, if Russia decided it wanted Iran to have the material to build a nuclear weapon—something that, despite the alliance between the two countries, is not the case, and Russia has never given any indication that this could change—it could simply send some of its own. 

AIPAC argues that in three years, UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the resolution that enshrined the JCPOA and which allows any of the countries to call for the reimposition of U.N. sanctions on Iran if Iran was determined to be in major violation of the JCPOA will expire, and that to continue it, the U.S. will need the support of Russia and China. This is a particularly weak argument, as it is not materially affected by Russia taking in Iran’s uranium. On the other hand, having Russia invested in the process strengthens the possibility that they will want it to continue. Moreover, it’s not like the U.S would be sacrificing anything here: the snapback provision is a tool available only to parties to the JCPOA. Unlike Iran and all the other 2015 signatories, the United States is no longer a party to the deal. 

AIPAC’s argument about Russia is the emptiest one they raise and is clearly there to raise the specter of the highly unpopular Russia over the deal. But if Russia can play a constructive role in any process it is a positive and any open channel of communication can only enhance the possibility of diplomacy on Ukraine as well.

More money, more problems: The deal will provide the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with at least $100 billion annually. Does it really make sense to provide billions to Iran as it plots to kill Americans, attack our allies, and continue its support for terrorist entities in the region?

Let’s be clear about this. No one is “providing” Iran with money. Not a single dollar. What is under discussion is lifting sanctions on Iran so it can do business and begin to shore up its decimated economy. It is worth noting that in the past four years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been as active as ever, and Iran has continued to support militias in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere. Sanctions have not slowed that effort, and there was no surge in such activity during the years the JCPOA was fully in place. The sanctions have hit where they always do: right in the heart of the civilian population. 

Indeed, JCPOA opponents have an ally in the IRGC, which has always opposed the deal. AIPAC’s claims that sanctions relief will include lifting sanctions related to human rights and that are leveled on “terrorist groups” are ironic, considering the Trump administration, whose decisions regarding Iran they supported so passionately, made no secret of having imposed them specifically to make it harder for subsequent administrations to return to the deal. In any case, plenty of sanctions will remain on the IRGC and other Iranian groups. 

Even AIPAC describes this “provision” of money to Iran as “a combination of increased oil revenue, renewed access to foreign reserves, and a general economic improvement.” The Iranian people have suffered a great deal under the weight of the sanctions. The sheer vindictiveness, even sadism, of this obsessive desire of Israel’s and AIPAC’s to make them suffer even more is something any decent person should oppose. 

The equation is simple. Sanctions have hurt ordinary Iranians. The only country in the region that has a nuclear arsenal is Israel, and, unlike Iran, it has never admitted its possession of that arsenal, much less allowed any international body to inspect its weapons facilities. When the JCPOA was in place, Iran stuck to it, and the United States violated it, even before it abandoned the deal entirely. The restoration of the deal will do nothing more than allow Iran to do some business, but significant sanctions, having nothing to do with the nuclear issue, will remain in place. 

So, the choice is clear. Either restore the deal, move into a future without a nuclear-armed Iran, and allow the Iranian people some measure of relief; or maintain the Trump sanctions, and continue on the path which leads to, at the very least, an Iran that is a nuclear threshold state and at most a nuclear power and a regional war involving Israel, Saudi Arabia, and, one way or another, the United States, whose leaders continue to chase their neoconservative dreams of regime change in Iran.

The right decision here is obvious. Americans need to raise their voices loudly to keep Joe Biden in unfamiliar territory for him: the path toward doing the right thing. 

Mitchell Plitnick is the president of ReThinking Foreign Policy; he is the co-author, with Marc Lamont Hill, of Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics