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Opinion | Dear Joe, It’s Not About Iran’s Nukes Anymore

But a key result is that as Biden considers reopening negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal — which Trump abandoned in 2018 — he can expect to find Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates operating as a loose anti-Iran coalition. This will almost certainly complicate things for Biden, owing to the second huge fallout from the Iranian attack on Abqaiq: The impact it had on Israel.

After Trump scrapped the nuclear deal, Iran abandoned its commitments to restrict its enrichment of uranium that could be used for a nuclear bomb. But since Biden’s election, Iran has said it would “automatically” return to its nuclear commitments if Biden lifts the crippling sanctions imposed by Trump. Only after those sanctions are lifted, said Tehran, might it discuss regional issues, like curbs on Iran’s precision missile exports and capabilities.

This is where the problems will start for Biden. Yes, Israel and the Sunni Arab states want to make sure that Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon. But some Israeli military experts will tell you today that the prospect of Iran having a nuke is not what keeps them up at night — because they don’t see Tehran using it. That would be suicide and Iran’s clerical leaders are not suicidal.

They are, though, homicidal.

And Iran’s new preferred weapons for homicide are the precision-guided missiles, that it used on Saudi Arabia and that it keeps trying to export to its proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq, which pose an immediate homicidal threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and U.S. forces in the region. (Iran has a network of factories manufacturing its own precision-guided missiles.)

If Biden tries to just resume the Iran nuclear deal as it was — and gives up the leverage of extreme economic sanctions on Iran, before reaching some understanding on its export of precision-guided missiles — I suspect that he’ll meet a lot of resistance from Israel, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia.

Why? It’s all in the word “precision.” In the 2006 war in Lebanon, Iran’s proxy militia, Hezbollah, had to fire some 20 dumb, unguided, surface-to-surface rockets of limited range in the hope of damaging a single Israeli target. With precision-guided missiles manufactured in Iran, Hezbollah — in theory — just needs to fire one rocket each at 20 different targets in Israel with a high probability of damaging each one. We’re talking about Israel’s nuclear plant, airport, ports, power plants, high-tech factories and military bases.

That is why Israel has been fighting a shadow war with Iran for the past five years to prevent Tehran from reaching its goal of virtually encircling Israel with proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Gaza, all armed with precision-guided missiles. The Saudis have been trying to do the same versus Iran’s proxies in Yemen, who have fired on its airports. These missiles are so much more lethal.


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