Iran is pretty much a nuclear threshold state, having enriched enough uranium to build multiple nuclear bombs within a few weeks while hard at work weaponising them in a timeframe that is so far unknown but probably under a year.
Much of this came to pass during Joe Biden's presidency. When President Donald Trump pulled out of President Barack Obama's flawed JCPOA nuclear deal, Iran's uranium enrichment was under 5% and Trump kept it there with his "maximum pressure" campaign of sanctions. The ayatollahs were also running scared of Trump and didn't want to tempt him to kinetic action, a fear reinforced by his targeted killing of the international terrorist and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Qasem Soleimani in 2020.
When Biden entered the White House a year later, he wanted nothing more than to resurrect the JCPOA, as part of his obsessive undoing of everything Trump had done -- except leaving Afghanistan -- along with a determination by him and his Obama-inherited staff to restore their former boss's legacy. Added to which, Biden decided to slavishly return to Obama's wrongheaded strategy of rebalancing power in the Middle East by giving Iran the upper hand. So he eased off on sanctions and made it blatantly obvious he would do almost anything for a deal.
The consequence has been uranium enrichment from 5% to 60%, and with some material up to 84%, according to IAEA suspicions — verging on the levels needed for a bomb.
Biden was so fixated on gaining a deal that he allowed Moscow to take the lead on international negotiations, and his plans even envisaged Russia getting control of Iran's highly enriched uranium. All of this as Putin has been threatening the West with his own nuclear weapons and savaging Ukraine while US taxpayers spend billions of dollars to counter him.
Now Biden is reportedly on the verge of a "mini-deal" or "non-deal," under which Iran agrees to freeze further enrichment, maybe release a few American hostages and condescend to stop attacking US contractors in Syria and Iraq. "Freeze" apparently means not enriching any more uranium above 60%, a short hop to weapons-grade purity. Compare that to the bad JCPOA deal, which constrained enrichment to 3.67%.
In return for virtually nothing, Tehran would get an initial $20 billion release of frozen assets with perhaps hundreds of billions more to follow, plus US undertakings not to add further sanctions or pursue resolutions against Iran in the UN Security Council or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
This freeze-for-unfreeze deal makes no sense on any level, especially with Iran, a country that has a track record of breaching the terms of the JCPOA not to mention its documented violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which it signed.
With Iran's long history of violence across the region and around the world, the administration can't point to any signs of a reformed, more peacefully-inclined regime that might provide some rationale for thinking it can be dealt with like a civilised country.
Quite the opposite. As of this writing, Iranian-supplied drones are yet again being launched at the civilian population of Ukraine, making Tehran an accomplice to multiple war crimes. The ayatollahs continue to supply killer drones to Russia, with specially enhanced lethality, and are working with Moscow on a plant to manufacture them on an even larger scale. A deal to supply ballistic missiles is in the pipeline. All of this breaks the terms of an extant UN Security Council Resolution supporting the JCPOA.
At home the ayatollahs have been ruthlessly suppressing popular protests against human rights abuses and the savage repression of Iranian women. Meanwhile, a few weeks ago Iran's proxy, Islamic Jihad, launched 1,500 missiles, supplied or funded by Tehran, against Israel's civilian population: more war crimes.
Hell-bent on inflicting death and destruction on America's leading Middle East ally, Iran continues to work in Syria on a base of attack against Israel, and has been topping up the many thousands of lethal weapons in Lebanon as well as pushing its Hizballah proxy to provocations on the ground. In Judea and Samaria, Iranian agents have been stirring up violence, supplying weapons and funds and inciting young Arabs to carry out terrorist attacks against Israelis.
The list really does go on and on. It is proof positive of Iran's continued violent intent which will be enabled and fuelled by the huge cash injection Biden is proposing. Some of this money will also of course be funnelled into Iran's nuclear weapons programme.
Any sane person would ask: what is this all about? First, Biden is desperate for something that can be sold to the American people as a foreign policy win before the elections next year. He certainly needs one, having humiliated the US and NATO with his catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan. That show of abject weakness was a key factor in emboldening Russian President Vladimir Putin to launch his full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
Biden will also be peering down the barrel of further policy failure if Ukraine cannot prevail against Russian military might despite enormous quantities of US aid. He knows that if Kyiv cannot prevail, some of the responsibility for that will lie at his own door, given his drip-feeding of weaponry when a deluge was not only necessary but also possible. It will represent another defeat for the US and NATO on his watch.
Add to all that Biden's misjudgement in the Middle East: not only his appeasement of Iran but also his petulant and insulting treatment of Saudi Arabia, which opened the door to the Chinese Communist Party becoming a major regional power broker.
That is part of the story. The other part is Biden's desire to shackle Israeli action against Iran's nuclear programme. Jerusalem has set it back by perhaps ten years with a highly effective campaign of cyberwar, sabotage and, reportedly, targeted killings of nuclear scientists. Israel, above all nations, cannot afford for Iran to become a nuclear-armed state. It is Tehran's number-one target. Jerusalem cannot take any chances with a regime that has repeatedly stated its intention to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and is developing the means to do so.
Biden fears that when it comes to the crunch, Israel will launch a major strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. His putative new deal is intended to complicate Jerusalem's decision-making, including calculations on the likely geopolitical consequences. Much the same as Obama's thinking with the JCPOA.
What is clear is that Biden has no more intention of standing by his repeated undertakings to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran than Obama had. Like his Democratic Party predecessor, Biden has rolled over to the inevitability of Tehran getting the bomb and is opting for a policy of containment based largely on appeasing the ayatollahs, camouflaged by a nuclear agreement. It amounts to nothing less than capitulation to Iranian blackmail.
Despite all the rumours and leaks, and even public murmurings of assent from Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Biden Administration maintains that a formal treaty is not on the table. This putative disclaimer strongly suggests the plan is reportedly to come to an informal agreement with Iran that would not require Congressional validation: nothing in writing, and perhaps calling the agreement something like a "meeting of the minds" or whatever.
Unfortunately for the Biden Administration, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) of 2015 was enacted by Congress, with strong bipartisan support, precisely to avoid such a sleight-of-hand.
US Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote in a letter to Biden on June 15, 2023:
"INARA was enacted with strong bipartisan support to ensure Congressional oversight of U.S. policy regarding Iran's nuclear program.... This definition makes clear that any arrangement or understanding with Iran, even informal, requires submission to Congress... I urge the Administration to remember that U.S. law requires that any agreement, arrangement, or understanding with Iran needs to be submitted to Congress pursuant to INARA."
Congress should not tolerate being circumvented, with its constitutional powers cynically usurped in this way. It is time for those Congressmen on both sides of the political divide, who vowed not to let Tehran acquire nuclear weapons, to show up and stand up. They should do all they can to force Biden's hand and push hard for UN snapback sanctions against Iran under the terms of the JCPOA.
Aside from the untold destructive potential, consider the extent to which Western leaders have been cowed by Putin's nuclear sabre-rattling. It is not only Israel that is threatened by another nuclear-armed terrorist dictatorship, but the entire region and the world.
Colonel Richard Kemp is a former British Army Commander. He was also head of the international terrorism team in the U.K. Cabinet Office and is now a writer and speaker on international and military affairs. He is a Shillman Fellow at Gatestone Institute.