The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the JCPOA was supposed to be the landmark deal between the P5+1 and Iran. A diplomatic path to peace to stop nuclear enrichment in return for sanctions relief, the nuclear deal has gone the opposite of what Washington and the world expected it to be.
Attempting to stop the Islamic Republic from becoming a rogue regime with nuclear weapons like North Korea, the Obama Administration drew up diplomatic plans approved by the United Nations and IAEA on a peaceful solution to stop Tehran’s enrichment. The JCPOA was not recognized by regional nations such as the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, and Israel stated it would continue striking Iran’s facilities regardless of DC’s policies.
Ever since the Biden administration expressed willingness to renegotiate the nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic has taken full advantage of the hospitality to buy time for the IRGC and top military scientists to enhance their strategic capabilities.
Recently, the IAEA confirmed nuclear enrichment in Iran’s nuclear program is far more than what was expected with uranium particles up to 83.7%. This is close to weapons grade material needed for a nuclear bomb—a major red line for both America, Israel, and other regional economic powerhouse nations such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Sense of Urgency
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has reviewed potential strike plans for Iran’s nuclear facilities with his cabinet. The US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides reaffirmed support for Israel’s decision to conduct whatever they deem necessary on Feb. 19. Though a Democratic Party led administration has attempted to mitigate direct military action on Iran, stemming from former President Obama and current President Biden, the IRGC openly supplying Russian Forces in Ukraine has put the JCPOA on thin ice with no open negotiations taking place for the past year.
Perhaps a major turning point in the sense of urgency over Iran’s potential nuclear weapons program was the growing relationship between the authoritarian regimes of Vladimir Putin and the Mullahs. Originally staying idle due to having thousands of Russian soldiers on their borders in Syria, Israel remained careful to stay on the good diplomatic side of the Kremlin over fears their weapons could end up in the hands of the IRGC. Now that the Islamic Republic is testing their weaponry in Ukraine, this cavalier relationship is also on thin ice.
The Institute for Science has stated Iran could potentially have enough weapons grade enrichment for a bomb in less than two weeks. Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu stated the 90% enrichment would be the country’s red line.
Recent US intelligence has shown a potential no limits partnership between Iran and Russia, especially now that Putin has become desperate with almost none of his ‘allies’ providing military or diplomatic support to his armed forces and occupation of several Ukrainian regions. Some of this information includes potential help by Russia with Iran’s military industry, which along with the growing enrichment could be signs of the final phases of nuclear weapons.
Shadow War Becoming an Open War
Though Israel has frequently struck IRGC weapons transfer and forward bases outside of Iran, the Jan. 29 strikes inside Iran marked a major geopolitical shift in their policies of countering Iran. Directly striking a Shahed drone factory inside of Isfahan, the attack was the first by the IDF inside of Iran and the first attack the Islamic Republic has faced from a foreign nation since their war with Iraq in the 1980s.
The Kremlin was the first to condemn the attacks against the drone facility as it was rumored to be a weapons transfer directly to Russia’s war effort. The Israel ambassador to Germany stated the country has been quietly helping Ukraine due to the delicate power balance on their border and now with Russia reportedly helping Iran, support could become more open in the coming months.
The attack directly on Iran came after months of the US warnings not to intervene in Ukraine and this year saw the largest joint military drills between America and Israel — a direct warning to the Mullahs. Several high profile visits to Israel have been made by major cabinet members of the Biden Administration with a future visit by SecDef Austin which could have implications on the course of action on alternative military plans on the JCPOA.
Regional Repercussions if Strikes are Made
If the US gives a green light to Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, there will be an almost certain measure of reprisal attacks or blowback. The IRGC has built a plethora of militias across the Middle East that hold direct allegiance to the Supreme Leader. This includes Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, various pro-Iranian Palestinian factions, and many Shiite paramilitaries of Iraq and Syria.
The IRGC and Quds Force could order them to activate and attack key targets against their rivals in Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and the US. These targets could include American and other western embassies, the Saudi oil fields, and military and civilian targets in Israel.
Iran, though under a decades long weapons embargo, has nearly perfected a dangerous and sophisticated arsenal of ballistic missiles and their Shahed drones, combat tested against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine have proved to be quite fatal. Their ballistic missiles can cover the majority of the Middle East and they could increase weapons transfers to their proxies located in close proximity to Israel.
Though there will almost certainly be an escalation, it is unlikely Iran would go directly to war with Israel or the US over the strike. With rising inflation and an increasingly progressive and anti-theocratic population, Iranian civilians could potentially mutiny and mass protests before they are sent to die for a war the Islamic Republic played a role in instigating.
America, who liquidated Qasem Soleimani, considered Iran’s top general in a drone strike showed the IR would most likely bluff and have a show of force before military escalation would occur. Nonetheless, stalled negotiations and appeasement led to North Korea, a rogue regime to have nuclear weapons and constantly threaten the world with annually provocative missile tests. As seen with strikes against Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear program, Israel will most likely take the direct action course instead of the now failing JCPOA.
[Photo by IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”