The Biden administration's policy on Iran and the JCPOA leaves Tehran with plenty of options to develop its nuclear program. Photo: AFP / Iran's Revolutionary Guard / Sepah News

The New York Times disclosure that the Biden administration was threatening Israel if it continued to try and stop Iran’s nuclear program was clear evidence that it is not trying to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Rather, it is trying to stop Israel from stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

What also has become clear is the Biden administration’s rush to try and get a new agreement with Iran is not designed to stop Iran at all, but is aimed at stopping Israel. Israel has been conducting a mostly covert war against Iran’s nuclear program, although concern is growing in Israel that covert action is not enough.

new Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal is also aimed at reversing then-president Donald Trump’s decision to scuttle US participation in the JCPOA because that agreement was allowing Iran to continue its nuclear program covertly and in earnest. 

Compelling and irrefutable evidence, on a massive scale, was dug out by the Israelis after they raided a secret Iranian document store that laid out Iran’s nuclear weapon objectives in detail.

The Biden policy, in the meantime, has been aimed at removing obstacles to Iran’s effort to dominate the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.

The biggest step by the US administration has been to pull out US missile defenses from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iraq and Jordan. These missile defenses included advanced Patriot (PAC-3) air defenses and a THAAD system aimed at stopping Iran’s long-range ballistic missiles.

The Biden administration has also weakened US defenses in Iraq and Syria by not delivering air defense systems to US forces – something that would have been quite easy after the US removed systems from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

A member of the US Air Force near a Patriot missile battery at the Prince Sultan airbase in Al-Kharj, in central Saudi Arabia, on February 20, 2020. Photo: AFP / Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

Significantly, the US did not complain about Iran’s drone strike on the small US base in Syria, al Tanf, on October 20. The New York Times says that strike was really retaliation against Israel, which stretches credulity. The Times says it knows this based on eight anonymous sources in Israel and the US but it’s not clear they’ve got the story right. 

Now America’s allies in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are looking for support either from the Russians or the Chinese as trust in the United States has mostly collapsed. 

Some of the distrust comes from the US behavior in dumping its Afghan allies in favor of the Taliban, a move with both geostrategic and political implications, leaving aside the moral consequences. But some of it comes as the US policy shift is endangering both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

That endangerment comes from US efforts to stop the Yemen war and to do with the Houthis the same thing that was done with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The first step by the administration was to remove the Houthis from the US Terrorism List, thereby making it possible for the administration to negotiate with the Houthis. 

The second step, which started near the end of the Trump administration, was to warn Saudi Arabia and the UAE to stop airstrikes and other efforts aimed at stopping the Houthi takeover of Yemen.

The Houthis, of course, are sponsored by Iran, which supplies weapons, provides advisers and no doubt gives the Houthis intelligence, especially on targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. US concessions to the Houthis are, therefore, intended to bolster Iran.

In a similar fashion, despite numerous challenges in the Persian Gulf by Iran against commercial ships (no complaints from Washington) and harassment of US naval operations (no complaints or countermeasures here either), the administration has been seeking to show that it can be a partner with Iran.  

In early November, Houthi forces occupied the US Embassy in Sanaa and took as hostage a number of Yemenis employed by the US at the embassy and other locals working for the US aid program (USAID) in that country. 

The US demanded their return and told the Houthis to leave the compound, but did nothing else. There were no consequences because the administration did not want to disrupt relations with the Houthis. There is a very strong possibility the US has been conducting secret talks with the Houthis, as they did with the Taliban.

The Biden administration is hiding the real reasons for its major policy shift in favor of Iran. Since the administration still pretends it is friends with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan and Israel, including sending US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to visit, it is clear that the administration has made some critical (and unfortunate) decisions. 

What are they?

The first decision appears to be that the administration reads the intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program differently than Israel. Israel reads the intelligence that there is a looming danger Iran will soon have nuclear weapons. 

This file handout picture released by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization on November 4, 2019, shows atomic enrichment facilities at Natanz nuclear power plant, some 300 kilometers south of capital Tehran. Photo: AFP / Atomic Energy Organization of Iran

The Biden administration has most likely concluded a nuclear Iran is inevitable and cannot be stopped except by military action, which it strongly opposes. Thus a new JCPOA would allow Iran to continue to hide its nuclear program, letting the Biden administration off the hook in terms of having to do something about Iran’s nuclear capability. 

It isn’t clear Iran will sign up unless it gets all the concessions it wants from the United States, but the chances are that some deal will be struck.

The second decision is geostrategic. The Biden administration does not want to be in a position to provide security guarantees to anyone in the Middle East, including Israel. The administration likely thinks that a rapprochement with Iran will help cover its retreat from the region. 

The administration thinks it can squeeze the Saudis, UAE, Jordan and Israel into finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict with Iran, and there is some evidence already that at least the Saudis are talking to the Iranians.

To achieve its immediate goals, the administration thinks it has to control Israel. With former premier Benjamin Netanyahu out of the way and with a weak Israeli coalition government now in place, the Biden administration thinks it can shake down Israel and facilitate a nuclear Iran.