How To Avert a Nuclear Crisis With Iran | Opinion

There are growing indications that the Biden administration is slowly recognizing its Iran policy has failed. Unfortunately, President Joe Biden and his team have no idea what to do now. This is the message of a recent article by Robin Wright in The New Yorker. Titled "The Looming Threat of a Nuclear Crisis with Iran," Wright's 5,000-word treatise covers an interview with Iran negotiations envoy Robert Malley, CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, nuclear proliferation experts, Iranian officials and others. And what they all said, effectively, is that they don't know what to do.

As Wright's reporting showed, the nuclear negotiations in Vienna are going nowhere, as Iran marches across the nuclear threshold. And on the off chance Iran agrees to make some sort of deal with the administration, the deal will give Iran a lot of money, but it won't significantly stop its path to a nuclear arsenal. So the entire exercise is futile.

Moreover, according to McKenzie, Iran's nuclear weapons program is not even the most acute threat Iran poses to the U.S. and its allies. Iran's missile arsenal, which is the largest and the most diverse in the region, can overwhelm most missile defense systems. Its ballistic missiles are precise, powerful and capable of reaching targets as far away as India and southern Europe, not to mention all countries in the Middle East. Iran's proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and Yemen are fully integrated into Iran's war machine. They are well-armed and they operate at Iran's command.

McKenzie told Wright that Iran's nuclear sites are so well fortified, and its missile arsenal and proxy forces are so formidable, that were the U.S. to find itself in a war with Iran, it would take at least a year and massive losses—"We would be hurt badly"—before the U.S. would prevail.

So a nuclear deal is out, at least as a non-proliferation tool. War is a terrible option. And, according to a senior State Department official, the option of sanctions has "exhausted" itself.

The stakes for the U.S. are exceedingly high. While a hegemonic, nuclear-armed Iran is an existential danger to Israel, it also poses a massive threat to the U.S. The Iranian regime makes no effort to hide the fact that it hates and wishes to destroy the U.S., which it refers to as the "Great Satan" (Israel is the regime's "Little Satan"). A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a mortal threat to all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and Africa. And Iranian terror forces in Latin America pose threats to the U.S. mainland.

As Wright and her interlocutors noted, a nuclear-armed Iran would end all gains the U.S. has made over the past 75 years in preventing nuclear proliferation and arms races. Not only would Russia and China massively increase their nuclear arsenals. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and other regional states would follow Iran in developing or purchasing nuclear arsenals of their own. And, following hot on the heels of America's humiliating retreat from Afghanistan, a nuclear-armed Iran would destroy the vestiges of U.S. superpower credibility in the region and the world.

Given the danger a nuclear-armed Iran represents for U.S. national security and America's global position and interests, it behooves the administration to consider new policy options now that its nuclear diplomacy has failed. Two, in particular, deserve serious consideration. One has the advantage of a track record of success, and the other has no track record because no one has ever tried it.

Option one is sabotage of Iran's nuclear sites. A frequent comment from Americans tired of the Middle East is that since they have been reading the same doomsday predictions about Iran's imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons for nearly 20 years, the danger must be fabricated. These commentors fail to recognize that there is a reason Iran hasn't become a nuclear power yet despite the doomsday predictions.

All the mysterious explosions in centrifuge assembly lines, enrichment sites and research facilities, and all the nuclear scientists killed in car accidents, were not coincidental. They were part of a deliberate strategy led by Israel to slow Iran's nuclear advances. And that strategy has been successful.

Over the past month, reports have emerged—including Wright's article—that the Biden administration has demanded Israel stop its sabotage operations inside Iran, claiming the operations undermine the negotiations in Vienna. But now that even the U.S. acknowledges Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his team are uninterested in a deal, Biden and his team ought to reconsider their opposition to Israel's independent actions.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a video call with the White House Covid-19 Response team and the National Governors Association in the South Court Auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on December 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

This brings us to the second option, which no U.S. administration has ever tried. It's called Iranian freedom. Iranians have been protesting by the tens, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions, demanding the overthrow of the regime since the student protests in the late 1990s (at the latest).

Since the failed so-called "Green Revolution" of 2009, sparked by the regime's illegitimate 2009 election, mass anti-regime protests have become a constant feature on the streets of Iran.

As Cameron Khansarinia, policy director of the National Union for Democracy in Iran, explained in a recent conversation with Newsweek, protests begin over specific grievances such as non-payment of wages, water shortages, food shortages, housing shortages, government corruption, religious freedom and women's rights. But within a day or so, the crowds inevitably begin to call for the overthrow of the regime.

"There is always an initial spark or excuse that gets people into the streets, but very quickly, the protests become political," Khansarinia told this publication.

The mass demonstrations in Isfahan against water shortages, which went on for several weeks in November and early December, are a case in point. Khansarinia explained, "The farmers were angry at the regime's water policies. The regime has a long history of siphoning off water from farmers to different regime projects. There's an immense amount of corruption and mismanagement in all of these affairs, and Iran is drying up. Most of the remaining working aqueducts date back to the shah's regime."

"The protests were strictly about water during their first week," Khansarinia continued. "People came holding old deeds to water rights. But by the second week, they became much bigger protests, as other Iranians from all walks of life joined the farmers. The chants moved from demands for water to 'death to the dictator' and 'those who wear turbans have sh*t on the country.' They expanded from Isfahan to a neighboring province."

One of the notable aspects of the protests in Iran is their ethnic diversity. Iran is a mosaic of faiths, nationalities and ethnicities, and Khansarinia notes that the anti-regime protests are ethnically diverse. "These are nationalist, rather than ethnic, protests. Persians, Azeris and Bakhtiaris are all protesting together against the regime."

For decades, Iranian calls to the West for help in bringing down the regime have fallen on deaf ears. According to a November report in Yahoo! News, in 2018, then-President Donald Trump's National Security Council composed a detailed plan to destabilize regime. But the plan, which was handed over to the Pentagon and the CIA for execution, was slow-walked and ultimately blocked by then-CIA Director Gina Haspel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and their colleagues.

Since the 2009 "Green Revolution," the protesters' message to the U.S. has always been the same: "We want regime change. But we don't want America to do it. It's our job."

The same Iranian regime that threatens to annihilate Israel and destroy the U.S., the regime that pursues a nuclear arsenal while fielding a massive missile arsenal and proxy armies throughout the Middle East, turned their once-prosperous country into a corruption-ridden, impoverished wasteland. Food, water, medicine, shelter, money and work are all in short supply. Seventy percent of Iranians are destitute.

These Iranians ask for the U.S. to stop giving legitimacy to the regime by ending the farce of the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna. They ask that the U.S. issue clear and unequivocal condemnations of the regime for its human rights abuses of the Iranian people, and implore the U.S. to support the goals of the protesters to replace the regime with an open, participatory, representative democracy. They ask the U.S. to sanction Iranian human rights violators. And finally, since the regime undermines the protests and the dissidents at home and abroad by blocking Internet access, regime opponents ask that the U.S. provide secure Internet service to the Iranian public.

The Raisi government is clearly not impressed by the Biden administration's genuflections in Vienna. The Iranians are playing to win. And for them, winning means achieving military nuclear capabilities, destroying Israel, bringing the U.S. to its knees and exerting hegemonic power over the broader Islamic world.

As Wright noted, seven presidents have failed to successfully contend with the threat Iran poses to America. For Biden to have any chance of breaking that long-running record of failure, of averting a terrible war and blocking Iran's march to regional hegemony and a nuclear arsenal, he must adopt the only concerted strategy that has not yet failed: Sabotage, combined with the one option that has never been seriously tried—supporting the Iranian people's quest for freedom.

Caroline B. Glick is a senior columnist at Israel Hayom and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East, (Crown Forum, 2014). From 1994 to 1996, she served as a core member of Israel's negotiating team with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.