The Bomb that Did not Detonate


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Iran’s nuclear program that was in process to develop that country’s first bomb had created an explosive situation throughout the Middle East and in many ways it impacted relations in the region. The standoff between Iran and Israel defined not only regional politics but also international relations. Iran’s bombastic leaders in the past only provided ammunition to Israel’s maximalists to justify a pre-emptive strike and draw reluctant leadership in Washington into the ensuing conflict.

Two years of intense negotiations between the Big Six (US, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain) and Iran finally yielded some positive results, in Lausanne, Switzerland. Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear program for five to 10 years and accept intrusive international inspections. In return, the US and the international community promised to lift the sanctions which have crippled Iran’s economy.

With the prospects of a better life, there is elation in Tehran’s streets, but Iranian hardliners as well as President Obama’s domestic opponents, not to say anything about Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all oppose the deal.

Under the accord, which will be finalized before June 30, Iran has agreed to reduce the number of operating centrifuges by two-thirds, to 5,600 and to cut its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium from 10,000 kilograms to 300, for 15 years.

While President Obama hailed the agreement as “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to curb the spread of nuclear weapons in a dangerous region, Israel’s premier responded that “not a single centrifuge is destroyed” in his state of the union speech, “not a single nuclear facility is shut down, including the underground facilities that they have built illicitly. Thousands of centrifuges will keep spinning, enriching uranium. That is a very bad deal.”

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What Mr. Netanyahu intended to say but didn’t was completed by George W. Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who had bullied and insulted every decent diplomat at the UN forum during his contentious tenure there. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Bolton dispensed his own remedy to Iran’s nuclear problem: he plainly advocated bombing Iran, regardless of the consequences, completely ignoring the fact that that kind of neocon might-first policy has turned the Middle East into a blood bath without an end in sight.

Mr. Netanyahu’s speech at the US Congress was an affront to President Obama, with the implication that he has America’s legislative body in his pocket and he can cripple the executive’s actions anytime he wishes. Mr. Netanyahu’s meddling in the US domestic politics turned the Iran deal into a partisan issue, pitting the Republicans against the Democrats. Forty seven Republican Senators wrote a threatening letter to Iran’s leadership, undercutting the authority of President Obama. While his trip abroad right before the election might have secured Mr. Netanyahu another term at the helm of his country with the support of the ultra-right, his prestige around the world as well as with the moderate and liberal Israelis plummeted.

Mr. Obama himself could not have pursued an independent policy vis-à-vis the maximalist leader of Israel, had it not been for the divisions Mr. Netanyahu had created within the Jewish community itself.

Indeed, a powerful Jewish lobbying firm, the J Street Group, privately and publicly tried to block Mr. Netanyahu’s speech at the Congress, telling him that taking the US public for granted may engender a backlash against Israel. Although J Street could not stop the Israeli prime minister’s march on Capitol Hill, at least it showed some solidarity with Mr. Obama in his squaring off with the Israeli leader.

Despite Mr. Obama’s conciliatory call to the Israeli prime minister, the latter has been continuing his vitriolic attack on the Iran deal. Mr. Netanyahu has conceded, deep down, that the deal enjoys the consensus of the international community, but his eyes are already behind that deal.

The next political step is on the Palestinian issue. After his flip-flop on the two-state solution, the Israeli leader will face once more the demands of the international community. Indeed, France will soon place on the UN Security Council agenda the issue of Palestinian statehood. Mr. Netanyahu will extract a price from the Obama administration for toning down his rhetoric on the Iran deal; he will expect the Obama administration to use its veto power to shoot down the French proposal.

Mr. Obama has invited prominent journalist Thomas L. Friedman to the White House to explain to him the Obama doctrine. Mr. Friedman is a deft and suave salesman of Israeli policies. He is a smooth, authoritative and convincing columnist and under the pretense of criticizing the excesses of the Israeli political leadership, he can dexterously defend them and justify their policies.

According to Mr. Friedman’s article in the New York Times, Mr. Obama perceives the Iran deal within the context of his world vision. The US does not need to convince anyone that it is the strongest power on earth. Based on that premise, President Obama has relaxed relations with Burma, Cuba and now with Iran. We may also add his reluctance to jump into the Syrian melee or participating (directly) in the aggression against Libya. That would allow the parties under sanctions to cut deals with the US and abide by the terms, recognizing full well the consequences of the alternative.

The Obama doctrine has contributed to the relaxation of tensions in many regions, Russia remains one sore point where it seems, entrenched neocons and Cold War hawks have still their tight grip.

US and Iran pursue a very intricate policy with each other; while negotiating a major nuclear deal for a peaceful region, the US and Iran were fighting each other on the opposing sides in Syria, supporting opposing proxies in Yemen (Tehran bankrolling Houthi rebels, the US supporting Saudi airstrikes) and in Iraq war tacitly cooperative to defeat the ISIS in Tikrit.

Once the nuclear deal is sealed in June, Iran will emerge as a major power in the Middle East, overshadowing Saudi Arabia and its perennial rival, Turkey. That is why Ankara has been criticizing Tehran and has joined deposed Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in its Yemeni campaign.

Armenia and Iran have been on friendly terms but they have not utilized the full potential of their cooperation because Iran was under sanctions and considered a pariah nation. Although Washington understood Armenia’s limited options in dealing with Iran, their cooperation remained suspect in the eyes of American leaders.

Should the present deal prove to be a workable solution, Iran may interact with regional and major powers in resolving many other intractable issues. One such issue may be Azerbaijan’s pretensions on Northern Iranian territory.

Armenia welcomed the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. The deal “gives an opportunity to reach a comprehensive settlement,” said Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian. “The sanctions have inhibited our relations with Iran,” echoed Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian.

According to government data, last year the volume of trade between the two countries was $291 million, which amounted to only 5 percent of Armenia’s total foreign trade.

The sanctions have put on hold the implementation of Armenian-Iranian energy projects, such as the $350-million construction of a major hydroelectric plant on the Arax River. The two countries also plan to build a high-voltage transmission line that will enable Armenia to export more electricity to Iran and import larger volumes of Iranian natural gas. Tourism also has a great potential, as Armenia being an open society will offer more attractive alternatives to Iranian travelers.

Above all, Iran’s political rehabilitation will tame Turkey’s pan-Turkic ambitions in the region and will act as a balancing bulwark in Caucasian politics.

Israel and the US are more worried about the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb. But imagine what the fallout would be for Armenia and in the entire region if Mr. Netanyahu had the opportunity for his “pre-emptive strike” or trigger-happy John Bolton and his ilk were in power in Washington.

Edmond Azadian
Edmond Azadian
Edmond Azadian
Edmond Azadian

Fortunately the Iranian bomb was not manufactured and Mr. Bolton’s bomb did not detonate and therefore the region can enjoy the benefits of a peaceful prospect.