Between a Nuke and a Hard Place: The Iranian Dilemma

By Nick Anstett

Opinion Editor

Pope Francis was not the only religious icon that made headlines this month. On Sept. 9, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who represents the theocratic side of the Iranian government, said to the in-state newspaper Haaretz that in 20 years, he hopes to see the end of “Zionist regimes,” i.e. Israel. Khamenei’s anti-Israel comments follow the announcement by the Obama administration in junction with the United Nations Security Council and the European Union of a diplomatic solution to curb Iranian development of nuclear weapons.

The proposed deal, which calls for an elimination and reduction of medium and low-enriched uranium respectively, as well as a two-thirds removal of all existing centrifuges was announced in July after a 20 month interim agreement between the various parties. Following the initial reduction, Iran would submit itself to routine inspections by a joint committee to ensure that further nuclear research fits the regulations set in part by the deal. In return, the United States and its allies will lift some existing economic sanctions, but maintains the ability to re-instate them should the deal show signs of violation of the agreement.

Since its announcement, the deal has been met with controversy both in the United States and abroad with its international allies. In particular, concerns have arisen regarding the ability for the joint inspection committee to adequately monitor and reprimand potential violations of the deal by the Iranian government. There is also debate about whether the lifting of economic sanctions would actually prove beneficial enough to Iran to be a long term enticement for the halting of their nuclear development program. In a Sept. 22 story by NPR, Mehdi Khalaji, an analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, suggested that a large portion of western banks and businesses would be reluctant to invest in Iran considering the continual existence of some sanctions and the temporality of the deal as a whole. Other critics of the deal point to the potential threat that a more economically free Iran may pose to US allies in the region, primarily Israel. This is particulaly highlighted by the formerly mentioned violent statements by the Ayatollah. According to The Jerusalem Post, former Israeli national security advisor Benjamin Netanyahu hinted towards the possibility of war with the Islamic Republic of Iran in August even if the deal goes through. He elaborated that the deal itself aims to delay the development of nuclear weapons, not halt it indefinitely. Iranian hostility towards the states that it sees violates its own revolutionary ideology both in the region and abroad will not end even with the existing agreement made.

While it appears that the deal may soon become a reality in the US after the blocking of a Republican effort to halt its existence failed, criticism continues. Proposed solutions by opponents to the deal range from further, stricter economic sanctions to the threat of strategic military force. The application of these alternatives remain speculative at best. While Iran seems unlikely to end its vitriolic language, even with the possibility of lifted economic sanctions, the upping of existing sanctions would do little other than to further the current status quo and increase ill will towards the US and its allies. If economic sanctions have failed to slow the development of a nuclear arsenal in Iran stricter ones are unlikely to change this. Military action remains an option that lacks practical applicability as well. While the threat of US military force may prove intimidating to those interested in continuing nuclear weapon development in Iranian borders, the execution of any form of strike or campaign would prove geopolitically disastrous and would only lead to further chaos in the region. Threatening military action, but lacking actual applicability also amounts to little more than an international shouting match that, at best, goes unheard and, at worst, leads to an extended cold war between both countries.

The current deal presented may have potential flaws and it may do little to curb long-term violent sentiments within Iran, but it may just be the only attainable solution presented at the moment. The deal in question was reached after years of long-term negotiations which often threatened to collapse in upon themselves. In the same interview with Haaretz, Khamenei declared that he only approved the existing deal for “specific reasons” and that he would be unwilling to accept further negotiations. This deal is certainly preferable to none at all. Even if Khamenei and the other political leaders of Iran stand, at the moment, reluctant to engage in a further dialogue with the US and its allies, the current agreement allows for a baseline for possible future negotiations should it prove beneficial. Rejection of the current deal denies this possibility with only options that lack applicability or effectiveness left as unwanted alternatives.

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