The current, bumpy negotiations aimed at preventing the Iranian regime from developing nuclear weapons are among the Biden administration’s highest priorities. The administration liftedsanctions on more than a dozen former Iranian officials in June, a move that Iranian officials viewed as a victory.
Iran even claimed that 1,000 more sanctions will soon be lifted, which the US State Department spokesman denied. Days later, it was reported that the Biden administration might remove what it considers symbolic sanctions on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
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This all comes as Iran faces new internal pressures. Severe water shortages have triggered six days of massive anti-government protests, including chants of “Death to [Ayatollah] Khamenei.”
As diplomacy continues, Iran is not relenting in pursuing its violent objectives. US troops in Syria were shelled by Iranian rocket fire following US airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias. While US forces responded to the attacks, it was not enough to stop six reprisal attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria this month alone. “President Biden must put forward a real strategy for deterring and ending these attacks, rather than continuing his bare-minimum, tit-for-tat approach that is failing to deter Iran or its militias and puts American lives at increased risk.” said US Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council on Tuesday rejected a new draft nuclear agreement because it was incompatible with legislation passed by Iran’s parliament last December. That law prohibits the country from dropping below 20 percent enriched uranium, which would not be allowed in any negotiated nuclear deal.
In 2015, Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)with the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, and Germany. This lifted some sanctions on the Iranian government in exchange for restricting the amount of enriched uranium stockpiles Iran could maintain.
Since then, Iran has ratcheted up its expansionist plans in the Middle East, underwriting terrorist groups and even assassinating dissidents in Western countries.
Those aggressive international terrorist operations continue. Four Iranian nationals were charged in New York on July 14 with attempting to kidnapAmerican journalist Masih Alinejad and take her to Iran. The plot began in 2018, the indictment says.
The 2015 JCPOA clearly benefited Iran, freeing up money to expand its Middle East hegemony. In Lebanon, Hezbollah continues to use force to expand its influence on the state politics. Backed by $700 million in annual Iranian financing, Hezbollah has become Lebanon’s most influential political player.
In Iraq, the Popular Mobilization Forces PMF, which was allegedly formed to curb ISIS’ rapid expansion in 2014, has become an Iranian proxy, committing atrocities and assassinating citizens. Iraqi authorities arrested PMF commander Qasem Muslah in May, charging him in connection with the assassinations of pro-democracy activists.
Since winning election as Iran’s new president last month, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi has said that he will not negotiate over Iran’s missile program or meet with Biden, even if both sides agreed on terms to revive the JCPOA. No one has proposed such a meeting, but it is a sign that Iran’s hard-line policies are not going to change.
While Iran’s economy struggles, its support for terrorist groups continues. Despite May’s Gaza war, Hamas has enough Iranian money to continue its operations, said Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar. “All the thanks to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which never spared any expenses on us or other Palestinian factions, Sinwar said in a May 30 news conference. “They provided us with money, arms and expertise.” Hamas will “scorch the earth,” he threatened, if Gaza’s problems are not solved.
Threats of Israel’s annihilation are consistent with Hamas’ founding charter. But they also match Iran’s repeated goal. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described Israel in 2005 as “disgraceful blot” that should be “wiped off the face of the earth.”
In 2017, Iranian authorities installed a doomsday clock, ticking toward 2040, the year Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei predicted Israel would be destroyed. But in a sign of Iran’s misplaced priorities, the clock stopped working earlier this month due to power shortages in the country.
In the meantime, Iran is closer to producing its first nuclear bomb.
For the past six months, the Biden administration has been sendingmessages that it intends to deescalate the situation with Iran, but Iranian officials interpret that as a sign of weakness. Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence chief Hussein Taeb last week urged an escalation in attacks against US forces in Iraq.
“History has repeatedly proven that appeasement will only embolden and empower a rogue state. But the Biden administration and the EU appear determined to pursue this dangerous policy with a regime that is a top state sponsor of terrorism, according to the US State Department, and a leading human rights violator,” wrote Iranian-American political scientist Majid Rafizadeh in the Arab News.
Iran is technically capable of enriching uranium to weapons-grade should it choose so, said outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. After six rounds of talks in Vienna, an agreement still seems far away.
In spite of President Biden’s declarationthat Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons on his watch, it is becoming clearer that the current US administration has no tangible plan to counter or deal with the Iranian threat to the Middle East and US interests there, and is simply improvising. Accordingly, if the Iranian regime is capable of creating all the above mentioned havoc while still under US sanctions, how much worse will it behave when sanctions are lifted?
Investigative Project on Terrorism Senior Fellow Hany Ghoraba is an Egyptian writer, political and counter-terrorism analyst at Al Ahram Weekly, author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy and a regular contributor to the BBC.
A version of this article was originally published by the Investigative Project on Terrorism.