Security, Middle East
They’re watching carefully for any slip-ups.
In discussing the reaction to the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that was signed by Iran and the international community in July 2015, scholars have warned about the possible cascade of proliferation in the Middle East. They have been particularly concerned about the responses of two key Middle Eastern countries—Israel and Saudi Arabia—to the JCPOA. While the architects of the nuclear agreement hailed it as a way to limit proliferation in the region, critics have contended that the deal would actually spur a nuclear race.
According to the JCPOA, Iran committed itself to a serious rollback of its nuclear project in exchange for lifting sanctions. In December 2015, the International Atomic Energy Agency certified Iran in compliance with the agreement, thus paving the way for sanction relief. The IAEA promised stringent oversight of Iran’s remaining civil program for the fifteen-year duration of the agreement. All sides to the agreement expressed optimism that the historical deal would prevent proliferation in the Middle East.
However, Iran has a long history of fomenting tensions in the region and an equally long record of deception in dealing with the Safeguard Division of the IAEA. As a result, a strong residue of mistrust has clouded the achievements of the JCPOA. Concerns have been raised that, despite stringent oversight, Iran could manage an illicit weapons program. Questions about Iran’s ultimate intention of achieving nuclear dominance in the Middle East have also not been put to rest.
Two countries—Israel and Saudi Arabia—offered guarded acceptance of the JCPOA, but reserved the right to reevaluate their decision should Iran fail to comply with the deal. Iran’s future behavior is thus of critical importance in shaping their respective responses. Israel, the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, has emerged as a leading opponent of the nuclear agreement.
As envisaged by David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli nuclear arsenal was to provide deterrence against threats from Arab countries with numerically strong armies. To sustain this deterrent power, however, Israel has to preserve its nuclear monopoly in the region. As a result of this assumption, under the so-called Begin doctrine, the Israel Air Force bombed the Iraqi Osirak reactor in 1981 and a Syrian reactor in 2007.