16.12.2020 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

How Israel’s Plan to Kill JCPOA Failed


While the killing of the Iranian nuclear scientist was always meant to sabotage the JCPOA and establish Israel as the ringleader in the Middle East against Iran, counter-productive moves from otherwise Israeli allies and Iran together are threatening to sabotage Israel’s own plans. Iran, instead of restoring to direct action, has chosen to respond to the matter through non-military yet lethal ways. Crucially enough, it has decided to maintain its current nuclear policy regime. Seeing through “the trap” that had been set for it, Iran has decided to keep its current defense and nuclear policies intact and unchanged. Underscoring the support for diplomacy, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said while “Iran and the US will continue to have fundamental differences,” the tension between Tehran and Washington needn’t continue after Trump is out of office. “Under Trump’s presidency, Iran and US tensions rose to a 40-year peak. It seems unnecessary for this situation to continue,” Zarif argued further. For Israel, therefore, the assassination has practically left no impact on a US-Iranian-European bid to revive the JCPOA post-Trump presidency. On the contrary, the bid has got further strengthened. Unsurprisingly, Europe countries (UK, Germany, and France), theE3, are leading the path to a reconciliation at institutional levels between the US and Iran.

Even before the assassination, the UK, Germany, and France had started coordination to lay a path for the in-coming US president to take the US to the negotiating table with Iran. The E3, whose ministers recently met in Berlin, are hoping Tehran can reach an agreement under which the US would lift its crippling sanctions in return for Iran starting its full compliance with the 2015 JCPOA. In other words, the E3 are looking only to revive the original JCPOA and not engage both the US and Iran in another lengthy process of negotiations and deliberations to do an altogether new agreement, something that the Trump administration had been trying ever since its ascendance to power in 2016.

On November 30, European Council on Foreign Relations, which was directly involved in the 2015 nuclear deal negotiations, said that:

“The election of Joe Biden presents an opening to strengthen transatlantic relations on critical security issues, including on Iran. Having worked so hard to preserve the Iran nuclear deal over the last four years, European governments and the EU must now unequivocally call on the incoming Biden administration and Iran to swiftly come back into full compliance with the deal. European actors should pro-actively, and in a coordinated fashion lay out a viable roadmap to support this effort.”

Laying a complete roadmap to recovery from the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy, the statement also said that that the US and Iran, in order to bring stability back to the Middle East, “should start with rehabilitating the nuclear deal, which is a critical global non-proliferation agreement, and move towards the wider set of issues fuelling regional instability that is so detrimental to European interests.”

There is as such no sense in Europe to either succumb to the pressures that Israel and its regional allies have created through the assassination or even yield to the Trump administration’s insistence on negotiating a new agreement. The E3 are building on Joe Biden’s own stance to reenter the JCPOA as an original signatory.

Instead of feeling the heat of the assassination and taking a step back from JCPOA, Europe has condemned the killing as “a criminal act”, which runs “counter to the principle of respect for human rights the EU stands for.” The British Foreign Secretary said on Sunday that while “still waiting to see the full facts to address the full facts of what’s happened in Iran …  we stick to the rule of international humanitarian law which is very clear against targeting civilians.”

Speaking at an event organized by the European External Action Service (EEAS), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist was “not the way you’re solving problems,” he asserted, underlining that the EU had been working throughout the year to keep the Iran nuclear deal in effect “in spite of the American withdrawal.”

In this context, if the objective behind the assassination was to hinder diplomacy and trigger conflict, it has had an exactly opposite effect. As such, contrary to what Tel Aviv may have envisaged, the assassination has galvanized Europe into further action. To Israel’s utter disadvantage, this assassination has come at a time when the white House will be occupied by a man who is not completely pro-Israel. Instead, it is quite likely that this assassination will be seen by the Joe Biden administration as an Israeli attempt to present the US with fait accomplice.

Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed, sees US exit from the JCPOA as a counter-productive move. Biden thinks that a return to the deal is the best way to avoid an arms race deal in the Middle East. Although he would want to make some changes to the deal, including increasing its time-limit, there is no gainsaying that he will be assisted by Iran’s own willingness to return to full compliance and engage in negotiations. “If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord … and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5 + 1,” Zarif said in a recent interview.

Iran’s resolve to stay in the deal; Biden’s willingness to bring American back to the centre of global affairs and end Trump’s ‘America First’, and the sense of urgency prevailing in Europe to capitalize on the momentum have all combined to sabotage the Israeli plans to scrap and kill the JCPOA. This failure will have massive implications for both Israel and the Abraham Accords in terms of the new Middle Eastern allies’ [Israel, the UAE and Saudia] ability to tackle Iran through sanctions and/or other more direct and deadly means such as assassinations.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.