Saturday, November 21, 2020


No nation will gain more from the apparent election victory of former Vice President Joe Biden than Iran. Its gloating response to that event sounds a lot like a gangster selling “protection.” 

In the great 1987 movie “The Untouchables,” there’s a scene where Eliot Ness is coming home one night. He doesn’t see Capone henchman Frank Nitti in a parked car across the street until Nitti yells, “nice house.” Nitti asks if Ness’ daughter is having a birthday party. Ness acknowledges that she is and then Nitti says, “Nice to have a family. Man should take care. See that nothing happens to them,” and drives away. 

On Nov. 8 Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted, “Trump’s gone in 70 days. But we’ll remain here forever. Betting on outsiders to provide security is never a good gamble. We extend our hand to our neighbors for dialog to resolve differences. Only together can we build a better future for all.” 

There are only slight differences in style and subtlety between the fictional Nitti threat and the actuality of Mr. Zarif’s.

Mr. Zarif’s threat is aimed at the Arab states — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan — that have made peace deals with Israel under President Trump’s guidance and those, such as Saudi Arabia, that might be tempted to join them. 

Mr. Zarif’s threat is also aimed at Israel, which Iran has often threatened to destroy. Mr. Trump has been a faithful ally to Israel but Mr. Biden — even if he doesn’t take as hard an anti-Israel stance as Barack Obama did — will be an inconstant and unreliable ally of Israel. That inconstancy will roil Israeli politics and probably result in the downfall of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has benefited considerably from Mr. Trump’s support.

One of the first things Mr. Biden intends to do as president is to rejoin the Joint Cooperative Plan of Action (JCPOA) that former President Obama’s highly dangerous nuclear weapons deal with Iran. By so doing, Mr. Biden will abandon Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions against Iran, which has delivered Iran’s economy to the trash heap. 

As a direct result, Iran’s economy — spurred by trade with China, Russia and some European nations — will recover quickly. Much of Iran’s economy is owned by its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which, in turn, will benefit directly from economic recovery. The IRGC runs Iran’s global terror operations.

Moreover, the expiration of the U.N. embargo on arms sales to Iran last October will spur China and Russia to sell it all sorts of advanced aircraft, ships, submarines and radar systems, making it even more dangerous than it is now. And then there is its relentless efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. 

Iran will never give up its nuclear weapons ambition — or even limit it — as a result of diplomatic pressure or international agreements. The recent report by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has 12 times the amount of enriched uranium it is permitted by the JCPOA points out how close Iran is to building nuclear weapons. 

Responding to that report, Mr. Trump reportedly sought military options to attack one or more Iranian nuclear sites. He was dissuaded from such a strike by the fact that it would start a much larger war which we are not prepared to fight. 

Mr. Biden said during a primary election debate that the Obama nuclear weapons deal with Iran was working despite the fact that it wasn’t. In the same breath, he said he wanted to get Iran back into the agreement and, with the resulting pressure applied by our somehow force its compliance. None of the other signatories to the JCPOA — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China — will cooperate to force Iran to do anything. 

Mr. Biden has said that Iran must never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. How will reviving Iran’s economy help to do that?

Iran, vastly weakened economically by Mr. Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign, probably slowed its nuclear weapons development because of the expense it entails. An economically-recovered Iran has no reason to slow, far less stop, its development of nuclear weapons. Iran already has missiles capable of delivering them. 

When, as a direct result of Mr. Biden rejoining the JCPOA, Iran’s economy is greatly strengthened, it will be emboldened to increase its funding of terrorist networks such as al Qaeda, whose second-in command was given safe haven in Tehran until assassinated by Israeli agents in August. It will also support Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens Israel and the Houthi rebels in Yemen who attacked Saudi Arabian oil facilities. It may try to make good on its threats to close the Strait of Hormuz.

As Henry Kissinger wrote in his book “World Order,” Iran is a revolutionary state that “… conceives of the state not as a legitimate entity in its own right but as a weapon of convenience in a broader religious struggle.” The era in which Iran calibrated its aggression against the likelihood of a U.S. military response is apparently over.

Iran’s struggle is against the West and its religions as well as the Sunni Arab states and theirs. Its ideology compels Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. So what, Mr. Biden, are you prepared to do?  

• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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