by Alastair Crooke
The reactivation of the JCPOA has drawn unexpected supporters – senior Israeli security officials wanting to bring Iran back into the JCPOA.
Last weekend, a senior Russian official said something that highlights the times we live in today. It may sound like a superficial remark, but behind it, just out of sight, is something deep. He said the JCPOA (for many, not just Iran) has become the main symbol of how the rules-based world order is used precisely to suppress a people’s sovereignty and autonomy. and to turn it into its Siamese twin, the rules-based monetary order.
At first glance, such a comment may seem a bit exaggerated, even hostile – for the intention to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons is certainly a laudable goal.
This may sound like the US goal (a goal shared by Russia). But it is also true that the methodology of the JCPOA corresponds to a particular model: To unilaterally declare that a certain vision, as well as its values, are universal, then to set the “rules of the road” for that universal. These rules will not necessarily conform to international law, but, in accordance with Carl Schmitt’s infamous phrase, “Sovereign is the one who decides on the exception (to the law)”, and since universality is taken for a distinct cut above backward nationalist civilizations, in this measure alone, it claims exceptionality. And rule-based “order”, as such, must replace and supplant “law”.
In the case of Iran, the superimposed “universal” rules of conduct were intended to supplant the legal rights of the NPT: to reverse the revolutionary momentum in Iran, to drain its residue of radicalism by the drudgery of complying with the tedious rules of the NPT. JCPOA and ultimately forcing Iran’s assimilation into global monetary governance as well.
Ok, nothing new – standard western procedure. Yet these comments about how the JCPOA has become the icon of how to bring sovereignty out of the blood of a nation speak of a bigger shift affecting both Russia and Iran. They are part of a conversation almost unimaginable in the Beltway speech, in much of the world.
Until five years ago, many people in Russia believed that the state should at least have an “indicator” immersed in the flowing waters of Western dynamism. It was necessary (even at some cost to Russian sovereignty), due to Western technology, finance and know-how. Then came Putin’s 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference – a key point of inflection. “Russia is under attack from the West. We accept the challenge, and we will rise to it ”.
In 2007, Russia realized that the waters of the well of Western dynamism were stagnating. Last month in Davos, Putin suggested that the water in the well was not only stagnant, but it was now contaminated. The Western project found itself crippled by the rigging of the entire system in favor of 0.1%.
The EU as an entity is cut off from the same “universalist code of conduct” as the American project that preceded it (although marketed, in this case, as a European universal common good). But European waters are similarly stagnant. Russian leaders have understood that Greater Europe will never “be”. Most importantly, Russia has discovered that it can harness cultural “energy”, from its own resources, to innovate and develop the Russian nation.
Many Iranians have come to a similar conclusion about Iran. While in the past most Iranians – perhaps 80% – would have liked to have had some idea of Western technical dynamics, today few do. The danger to their own society from too close contact with stagnant water is obvious. Like Russia, they strive to find internal energy from their own resources and to use the strengths they have. And discover that these strengths can be as present in Asia as they once were in Europe.
This is the “other” conversation. Besides the loud narratives emanating from the Beltway’s closed circuit on Iran, this alternate discussion – and the way Putin carefully framed it – is “present,” widely dissected in much of the world. But it will not be heard in Washington. In his Munich briefing, Biden portrayed Russia as some sort of voodoo figure, uttering damaging incantations to the United States. He wanted to imply that anyone who criticizes the United States in the same way, must therefore be a Russian agent – a traitor. Russia has become the voodoo doll to wield, to frighten the American public and discipline public discourse.
How is it, when Iran is on the eve, just like Russia, of a possible decoupling from Europe, that the reactivation of the JCPOA has attracted unexpected supporters – current and former highs Israeli security officials wanting to bring Iran back into the JCPOA.
What is going on ? A rebellion against Netanyahu’s maximum pressure line? More interestingly, a number of these senior Israeli security officials are arguing for a return to the JCPOA – as Ben Caspit explains, “a particularly seasoned team of [Israeli] experts concluded that, contrary to the position of the Most leading members of the Netanyahu-Gantz government, the deal with Iran should not include Tehran’s missile program or its regional activities ”.
Is this the ultimate paradox? Just as Iranian skepticism threatens to prevail, should Israeli skepticism fade? Maybe they will cross paths, without meeting, and nothing will happen.
These former senior Israeli officials now suggest that the JCPOA was not that bad, after all: “When the [JCPOA] deal came up,” says former commander of Israel’s Northern Command, Gen. (Res.) Yair Golan, “we had a discussion with all the officials and we said to ourselves that if Iran complied, it would be an incredible result.”
Or maybe it is the “dark secret” that no one wants to discuss publicly, that Israel has been outmatched. As the whole world obsesses over the ‘Big One’ (the prospect of a nuclear weapon) and whether or not Trump’s maximum pressure would induce Iran to comply with the JCPOA, Iran is preparing – not the Big One – but many, many “Little Ones”.
Israel is now surrounded by thousands of intelligent cruise missiles and swarm-capable attack drones. Nuclear weapons have always been a vicious cycle (the Middle East being too small and too dense for nuclear weapons to make any sense). The borders of war, on which Netanyahu loves to dance, pose too grave a risk – perhaps – for these former Israeli security officials to consider going any further.
They know (unlike Blinken, it seems) that Iran will never put its missiles on a negotiating table. Perhaps these Israeli security officials are realistic and see a return to the JCPOA as the only way forward. They are probably right on this point.
But why advocate a return of Iran to the JCPOA? Well, the full return of Iran and the United States to the JCPOA could lead to the emergence of a security architecture in the Gulf that would include Iran (but not Israel – obviously). And that this architecture could facilitate the retreat of Iran’s smart anti-missile deterrent.
Would it be a way for Israel to back down with Iran – to get out of Netanyahu’s dangerous war policy? Perhaps.
But would doctrinaire American hawks agree? They still long for revolutionary Iran to be somehow contained. And will the Iranians trust Washington again? Probably not.