Restoring Deterrence: Destabilising the Iranian Regime

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Restoring Deterrence: Destabilising the Iranian Regime

DATE: 4.00pm, 30th May 2024

VENUE: Online

SPEAKER: Barak Seener, Rt. Lt. Colonel Jonathan Cronicus, Robert Greenway, Yonah Jeremy Bob

EVENT CHAIR: Barak Seener


[0:18] Barak Seener

Welcome to the report launch for Restoring Deterrence: Destabilising the Iranian Regime. I am very, very lucky to have here the respected guests amongst us that include Robert Greenway. Robert is the director of the Allison Centre for the National Defence at the Heritage Foundation. He previously served as President and Executive Director of the Abraham accords Peace Institute. Robert served as Deputy Assistant to the US President and senior director of the National Security Council’s Middle Eastern and North African Direct Affairs Directorate. In that role, he was responsible for developing, coordinating and implementing US government policy for all those regions. Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Jonathan Conricus is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies focused on the Middle East. He served in the Israeli Defence Forces for 24 years as Combat Commander in Lebanon and Gaza Strip. Jonathan was the first Israeli officer to be seconded to the UN, during which he provided military and strategic analysis for UN peacekeeping forces. Jonathan Conricus will be with us via video today – a pre-recorded video. Yonah Jeremy Bob is the author of target Teheran, which is about the Mossad secret war against Iran’s nuclear programme and its role in the Abraham accords. It was published by Simon & Schuster in September 2023. Yonah is also the Jerusalem Post senior military correspondent, intelligence analyst and literary editor. He covers the Israeli military, the Mossad, the Shin Bet defence technologies, Iran’s WMD cyber warfare and war crimes allegations.

To start off with the reason why I wrote this report was because I identified that deterrence was lying in tatters, it had completely broken down. Iran could not be deterred anymore. And this actually led just a few weeks ago to the unprecedented direct attacks of missiles and drones from Iranian soil directly into Israeli territory. The reason for deterrence lying in tatters is because of the different approaches that the West has, including Israel, in contrast to Iran. The West’s approach is about precision strikes, strategically what its priority is to de-escalate tensions and localised tensions. It focuses very much on responding to Iranian proxies, that’s when it is responsive, as opposed to Iran that is the source of the attacks, it’s been responsive to the Houthis as opposed to Iran that has galvanised the Houthis to striking Western shipping assets. Israel also has prioritised and targeting Iran’s proxies, whether it be Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and Israel strategic priority has been to prevent Iran from achieving a military strategic foothold in Lebanon. What Israel arguably hasn’t done is overtly adopted a policy of holding Iran to account for the actions of its proxies and targeting Iranian personnel or facilities on Iranian soil. In contrast, Iran’s approach is incredibly organic, as opposed to precision. It wields both its proxies, as well as the IRGC to attack. Whether it be the great Satan or the little of Satan. It is very much focused on escalating tensions, as opposed to de-escalating tensions. And as a result of that it successfully shaped the regional landscape in its own image by extending its arcs of influence, and even getting involved in spilled over to Iran being a disruptor in foreign theatres, such as Russia, against Ukraine. And as Iran escalates its disruption, it’s not only focused on the Middle East, it evolves to Iran, deciding to become part of the Axis of Resistance and to join Russia and China to counter the US led liberal international order. My report is advocating targeting Iranian facilities and interests on its soil. In the past, deterrence and targeting Iranian assets were considered mutually exclusive. They were diverging. Today they have converged, the only way to restore deterrence and put Iran back in its box is by more forcefully projecting power, adopting a more assertive foreign policy and striking at Iranian interests on its soil. By destabilising the regime – if the regime perceives that its future is not guaranteed, that they are held accountable for that acts of disruption, that is the only way to deter Iran. One final point, this is even more important, as Iran is inching towards the nuclear status, which has contributed to the unravelling of deterrence, Iran feels it’s less accountable as it’s increasingly able to inch closer to provide a nuclear umbrella to its proxies, imagine had for most enjoyed nuclear umbrella on October 7th, it would be a catastrophe. So now is the time to really adopt a more robust foreign policy towards Iran. At this point, I’m going to request that the pre prepared video of Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus be played.

[8:47] Jonathan Cronicus

Thank you, Barack, for inviting me to be part of this, I think very timely and interesting discussion. I’ll be sure to catch up on the pearls of wisdom of my colleagues here. My contribution is rather short. I think it’s we’re in a quite an absurd situation. For, I would say, between 15 to 20 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its totalitarian regime has actually established the ground rules of engagement in the Middle East, by which they build proxies, the proxies attack Israel, attack the US, to a lesser extent US assets and US soldiers, but the main focus of Iranian proxies is to attack Israel. And what the Iranians have been able to establish is that, as these proxies attack Israel, Israel does not react, retaliate against Iran itself, against the source of violence, but against the proxies. And that is of course, the situation that benefits the Iranians extremely well; it undermines Israeli security, and in terms of cost benefit ratio for the Iranians, probably the best solution that they could think – limited exposure, quite good yield from those activities, limited risk so far for the Iranians. All of that, of course, depending on Israeli strategy and Israeli decisions. As long as Israeli decisions will be to continue with this strategy and to allow Iran impunity in attacking Israeli civilians, then I think that the Iranians would be very wise to continue with the strategy, sadly, because it’s working. At the moment, Israel will change its strategy and start to ask tough questions of the Iranian regime, then maybe their calculations will have to change. I spoke with an Israeli Intel officer and I asked him in out of 100%, how much time and effort and resources and energy do you think that the Quds Force and the Revolutionary Guard spends on building and attacking Israel, building capabilities to attack Israel? And he responded between 70 and 80%. I said, good. And then the second question I asked was, what’s the percentage that they spend on defending their own regime, as we all know, an oppressive regime that oppresses Iranian civilians needs of course, to continue to apply force to do conduct surveillance to make sure that there is no signs of dissidents, and that people are in check, and that freedom of opinion is stifled and of course, that there’s no political assembly that could challenge the Iranian regime. And he responded that he assessed between 20 to 30%. To this, I asked, wouldn’t it be better if we turn those numbers around, that they’d be busy defending their own regime much more than they have time to attack Israel, and to destabilise the Middle East. And I think this is what really is at the heart of the matter. The balance needs to shift, the Iranian regime needs to be undermined, and Israel, since it is the main target of the Islamic Republic’s terror regime and terror activities in the Middle East, should change his own strategy, and first and foremost, start asking tough questions of Iran. Now, Iran is probably best in the world at puppeteering, and sending Palestinians, Lebanese, Yemenites, Syrians and others to do their work for them, to fight for them and to die for them as necessary – I don’t know how good the Iranians are at fighting themselves. And I think that there’s only really one way to find out. Up until now, in the limited activities that Israel has indeed conducted against Iranians, according to four news reports, the killing of Reza Zahedi, and a few other prominent Iranian officials that are related to the nuclear war programme of Iran. Israeli didn’t see a very significant response and a very disciplined Iranian regime continued with building its nuclear weapons and not retaliating against Israel. What I think needs to happen is a paradigm shift in the Middle East, whereby Israel needs to change its strategy, start asking tough questions of the regime, and without being too specific, I can say that Israel, I think has proven beyond all doubt for the entire Middle East, friends, allies, adversaries and enemies alike, that Israel has the intelligence gathering capabilities, the operational capabilities, and when push comes to shove, also the will to strike inside Iran. Now Iran might seem mighty, and it might seem like a very smart and long reaching octopus with tentacles all over the Middle East. But I think that Iran is quite exposed. I think that they are very reliant on exporting oil and petrochemical products from a very set amount, a very finite amount of infrastructure in Iran. And I think that any disturbance to those illicit exports, by the way in violation of international sanctions, would have a significant effect on the regime. And there are many other possible targets, quality targets that Israel would be able to ask questions about that would make the Iranian regime think differently, and to the name of the webinar that we’re doing here, deterrence is very important, but I think that in this current situation, first what is what needs to do is to start asking questions, and then perhaps force the Iranian regime to reconsider, and in the long run, establish some kind of deterrence. Currently, I think that the level of deterrence between Israel and Iran, sadly, is not in a good situation, not in a good state. And that Israel definitely needs to operate differently with its current capabilities in order to improve that. And I think that Israel can, and I think that eventually, under the right leadership and the right guidance, Israel will. So there’s a lot more to uncover here. And I think that to summarise, the biggest positive change that could happen for stability in the Middle East for prosperity, for the lack of fighting, I won’t dare say peace, but for the absence of fighting would be the demise of the totalitarian and oppressive regime in Iran. If that happens, then we would see much of its evil empire crumble, Hezbollah would not be receiving between 800 million US dollars and 1 billion US dollars per year. Hamas would not be supplied with advanced weapons, explosives, know how and political guidance, numerous Iranian proxies in Syria would be out of weapons, equipment, money, uniforms, and Intel; and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza would be totally out of weapons, since they rely almost 100% on Iranian supplies, and the Houthis in Yemen, wouldn’t be able to disrupt international shipping, and wouldn’t be able to fire advanced shore to sea missiles or ballistic missiles or attack drones. And I think that Ukraine would be in a much better situation as well. All of that I think is within reach, and what Israel needs to do, and then I think other countries will follow suit, is to lead by example, and to change Israeli strategy towards Iran, and to start to ask tough questions that will force them to behave differently. Thank you for listening.


[17:36] Barak Seener

I thank Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, for his pre prepared video. And please Robert, if you would be able to take the lead now.


[18:03] Robert Greenway

Thanks very much Barak for today’s event. And give me the opportunity to talk about your paper in this issue. And thanks also to the Henry Jackson Society and everyone participating today. I’ve really four points to build on the comments made in the work you’ve done in your paper on an important subject and the first I think is most critical, is why it matters to an external and to a regional audience. The impact of the loss of deterrence, as you rightly point out is felt in two ways. Economically, this cost is distributed to really everyone that buys purchases and transports commodities, prices are already up 20% as a result of the disruption of international shipping that Jonathan just mentioned. And this has also forced us to apply limited resources that are available in the security domain, to address other threats in Europe and potentially Indo-Pacific and elsewhere, because of the rise in crisis and the loss of deterrence; and so this does, in fact, have an impact. Second, this is not an accident, this is the result of deliberate voluntary erosion of deterrence on the part of the United States. This is a selected policy decision. It is concurrent with the appeasement of Iran. And so when the decision was made, to attempt to encourage Iran’s better behaviour by providing them economic incentives, on a scale even greater than the Obama administration did during the conclusion of the JCPOA. We’re seeing the inevitable consequence of the erosion of deterrence and the loss of it. The consequences again, are significant and growing, but it is a systemic decision and policies are judged by one ultimate arbiter and that is the result they achieve. Absent a reversal in policy, it’s unlikely that deterrence would be restored. In my judgement, the United States alone is capable of restoring regional deterrence and preventing greater escalation and the US alone is responsible for acting in this matter. Our partners and allies, including Israel play a critical role in doing so, but in the end, I think deterrence has has to be and must be and has been historically provided by the United States and it’s in our vital national interest to do so. Lastly, I would say that the actions required, including those outlined Barak in your paper, I think are important. I think it is vital that Iran pays a price, that ultimately all of the groups that are currently manifesting their activities in the Axis of Resistance are acting at the direction control, and so provided resources, funding equipment and training by Iran. And so unless and until Iran pays a price, the actions will continue and in fact, will increase. As Jonathan and Barak both pointed out in their comments and in the paper, they’re incentivized to do so, and they have to be de-incentivized to do so which means they have to pay a price directly. Again, the United States has a role here, our partners and allies likewise have a supporting role to play, and they should be provided the capabilities necessary to do so, but again, US leadership is vital in this. Last point is that if the response is not made, the escalation will continue and the price will only increase on an economic scale in terms of commodity and energy market disruption, but also with the greater price of loss of security and again, competing demands as global crisis. Weakness breeds aggression and that’s what we’re seeing, not just the Middle East, but also in Europe, and increasingly in the Indo Pacific and in Latin America. All of those place greater demands on the United States unlimited resources and those of our partners and allies. The sooner we can restore deterrence in the Middle East, the better we can prioritise those assets and prevent the loss of deterrence and restore things before escalation continues in other theatres. Again, thanks for the opportunity to talk today. I look forward to your questions and the time we have remaining. Thanks again, Barak, and congratulations on publishing your paper.

[21:48] Barak Seener

Thank you, Robert. I very much appreciate that. I’m already looking forward to the Q&A in order to ask you some questions to amplify upon a couple of your points. May I introduce Yonah Jeremy Bob, please take it away.

[22:04] Yonah Jeremy Bob

Okay, I also want to thank Barak, for publishing his paper on an important topic. Iran is the major threat for Israel and in the Middle East and one of the largest threats in the world, not for the next five months, but the next five years, probably the next 25 years, and clearly, neither Israel, the United States, the West, the globe has gotten the strategy right, because Iran is being more aggressive, more encouraging more terror around the world, the Mossad announced today additional recent Iranian terror operations. But coming back to the two specific topics that we’re focusing on, destabilising the Iranian regime, I’ll treat first, restoring deterrence I’ll treat second, and a very important point that I’m going to hit on also that Barak makes in terms of some of the others made in terms of bringing the battle directly to Iran. But first in terms of destabilising the regime. In my book Targets Iran, we have a chapter called Death by 1000 cuts – this is a phrase that then Prime Minister Naftali Bennett use this sort of summarising his strategy for this issue. One thing we reveal in the book, and this is something I do various sort of popular audiences – it’s nice to speak to a think tank audience where it can get into the details. So a very interesting detail that we talked about is Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, gave a book from author by Peter Schweitzer in 1994, called Victory it’s about hastening the fall of the USSR. So he gave this book to Israeli intelligence officials, and Mossad Chief David Barnea gave this book to Bennett, when Bennett was the Prime Minister and Bennett then ordered to basically the entire intelligence and defence establishment to read the book. But he said, ‘this is how we need to go about destabilising Iran’, taking pages out of what was done with the USSR, which means not one or two methods, but dozens of methods. One thing that he talked about was there are parts of Iran where instead of water coming out of faucets, mud comes out of faucets, and there are a variety of ways that Iran is messing itself up that can be taken advantage of in a long term sense, in order to bring it down gradually, over time, gradually weakening it as was done with the Soviet Union. And by the way, this is also a good way to recruit spies, whether it’s for Israel, the United States or other countries. There are just so many things, the nuclear weapons I’m going to talk about, drones I’m going to talk about, but there’s so many things that Iran is doing wrong because it’s a corrupt regime, because it doesn’t care about most of its people, certainly not the tens of millions of Iranians that aren’t Shiites. So, these are things that can be taken advantage of in a long term sense. In terms of taking the battle to Iran. Yes, I would agree it’s important to go after the nuclear programme, but not only that, it’s important to go after their terrorists, their masterminds, the people who plan the operations, not just the lower down people, it’s important to go after the conventional weapons, their drone developers, not just the nuclear scientists, although it’s good to go after the nuclear scientists too. I do think in terms of destabilising the regime, we have to show patients, this isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight, you know, Abraham Raisi goes down in a helicopter crash, and they have a well-oiled machine for replacing him. So this was regime with all of the things that it does wrong. It has worked very hard to keep itself stable and a lot of areas. And so there is going to need to be a certain amount of patience to take it down. Coming back again to restoring deterrence – look, there’s some things that Israel has done well, in the past; February 2022, Iran sent two drones after Israel, and within less than 24 hours, Israel blew up 125 drones in Iran. That is deterrence. You didn’t see Iran, send more drones in the near future after that. Look, after the October 7 attack, me personally, I understand why Israel focused on Gaza, and to some extent the border with Hezbollah. But I would have hit Iran. There was an opportunity, the world had sympathy, Hezbollah fired on Israel, I would have hit Iran. No one should conclude from the April 14 defensive success of Israel and its allies, the United States, France, a number of other countries, that Israel is safe, and that everybody know that Israel has a hermetic defence and that other countries have a hermetic defence, should Iran decide to direct some of its conventional weapons against other countries besides Israel, as it has before, such as against the Saudis. So there’s this myth that’s going around from April 14, that Iran warned Israel, that Iran didn’t want to succeed, Iran wanted to kill hundreds of Israelis, destroy certain strategic military aspects of Israel’s power. And it was really, a fantastic defensive job again, by Israel, the United States, various allies, including Sunni allies coming out of Abraham Accords, who prevented that from happening. But, to just leave that as is a big problem. And now, to be frank, I think the Israeli response in April 19 was too weak. Certainly hitting, I have to say, since I’m a journalist, according to foreign sources, Israel hit the S300 anti-aircraft missile system, which was guarding Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, so that certainly was a strong message, in a sense, ‘hey, we couldn’t have hit your nuclear facility’, because if we can hit your best defence system, we could hit the nuclear facility too. But why not take away some of the capabilities? I think when you’re talking about deterrence, the biggest deterrence is taking capabilities away. Anything, any of the bases that sent drones, that sent ballistic missiles, I think this was a golden opportunity to attack those bases and say, self-defence, we’re just hitting the places that attacked us. And again, I would do that even sometimes when there are attacks from Iranian operatives in Gaza and Iranian proxies in Lebanon, that certainly after April 14, and there should be a plan that the next time that Iran, and there is unfortunately going to be a next time, that Iran does anything like that, any part of Iran that these used to attack Israel, Israel should hit back directly. I do want to say one last word on the nuclear issue. I think this was also a missed opportunity. Israel had a lot of world sympathy after April 14, the world was like, ‘wow, Iran really is a bad actor’, they remember that for a moment. So I think this was an opportunity to have taken out some nuclear capabilities understand what Israel didn’t. There were concerns that could lead to a regional war. But you know, I think in that environment, I think Israel actually could have gotten away with so to speak, hitting certain facilities that normally might have led to a nuclear war, not a nuclear war, but a regional war with Iran. In short, I think Barak makes a number of good suggestions. In terms of taking the war to Iran, that is the most powerful way to deter somebody taking away their capabilities and making it clear to them that when they activate proxies, it will cost them.

[29:42] Barak Seener

Thank you, Yonah. I know it sounds strange to say at a report launch, I read your book ‘Targeting Tehran’, are you able to lift the book up for people to see because I thought it was a fantastic book.


[30:02] Yonah Jeremy Bob

So it comes in, I think, backwards, but you can sort of see the what the cover looks like.

[30:09] Barak Seener

It’s the only book that I read, that went into the specific actions that have been taken till now. I got a lot out of the book. But I think one of the reasons why I even wrote the report was, the sense that I got from your book was that Israel’s shadow warfare with Iran was very much a ‘tit for tat’ type of thing. So for example, creating blackouts in Tehran or something like that, just to demonstrate what it’s capacity was, didn’t at all appear to be conducted within a strategic framework of how we’re going to achieve deterrence again, how are we going to destabilise the regime? I do agree with you on a couple of points, though, that Israel sacrificed a couple of pivotal moments where it could have had far ranging responses. And in order to do so Israel needs to demonstrate that it’s able to conduct a multi front war at the same time. At the moment, now, Israel is portraying that it is only capable of conducting sequential conflicts, therefore, it may have very limited strikes against Hezbollah, but it’s mostly focusing on Hamas and it’s not even beginning to think about Iran. So I don’t know if that is a doctrinal shift that Israel requires, but it has to demonstrate that it can function on multiple fronts simultaneously. The final point that I’ll comment on what you just said now Yonah is regarding the Abraham accords. I published another report on the Abraham Accords, which was ‘Unfreezing to Abraham Accords’, and it was prior to the attacks on April the 19th. And the impression that I have is that the Abraham Accords has created a really successful security architecture in the region, which threatens Iran, but at which prompted Iran to sponsor October 7th. However, what it is not doing is it’s not deterring Iran, it’s a great defensive architecture, it’s a great security and defensive architecture, but not a deterrence. Robert and Yonah, are you able to shed light on my thinking in that respect?

[33:10] Robert Greenway

Yeah, I’m happy to look on the broader principle for us in the Trump administration. Aside from confronting Iran and the threat from ISIS, which we inherited in 2017, our goal and objective was to do two things in the region on the positive side of the ledger. One was to build an enduring regional security architecture, which we refer to as the Middle East strategic alliance. It’s its own story, but our recognition was that our partner capacity had to be greater, that it had to be integrated on a multilateral basis, and that Israel had to be a component of it, which leads to the second positive effort that we directed, which was increasing Israel’s relationship with its neighbours that resulted in normalisation ultimately the Abraham Accords. The two were designed to intersect, for obvious reasons. And in the end, that’s the equation that works for the United States, and I think for the region. And that we’ve got to redraw the balance of power and the correlation of forces so that our partners and allies have greater capacity and capabilities with US support and assistance relative to our adversaries, chiefly Iran. And to the extent that we’re successful doing that we can then limit the amount and the expenditure of US forces that are committed to the region. And ultimately, that demand for US military power across the globe is greater than our ability to do it. So at the end of the day, that’s  the greater point here, and I think it reinforces your conclusion, which I think is accurate. Unfortunately, bad policies get bad outcomes. And if the policy of the current administration of the United States is to appease Iran and provide them unlimited access to resources to encourage better behaviour, you get neither. And so with that access to unlimited resources, they’re able to fuel the Axis of Resistance and the threat from Israel without deterrence – obviously, the heart of the conversation today, and the results speak for themselves. And the Abraham Accords as a result are frozen dependent upon the United States reversal policy. The good news is I think it can, I think it has to be, undone. And I think if there’s a change in administration in United States, I think it will be undone.

[35:15] Barak Seener

Yonah before you respond, I just want to follow up with Robert, on something that you said both now and previously, which touched upon the issue of limited resources, and it kind of creates a conundrum for the US this was the [inaudible] result of that, it seeks to de-escalate and localise tensions. As a result of that Iran exploit that localization, that limited response or non-response due to limited resources. [inaudible] The needs to restore deterrence. Now as a result of that Iran has exploited American  record [inaudible] In the meantime, Iran, [inaudible] action it’s disruptive nature, regionally and internationally. Which, again, America is unable to effectively respond to lack resources and this cyclical action leads to the erosion, the spiralling out of control of deterrence, to its utter erosion. So you mentioned the issue of resources. Now, how would you suggest America allocate the required resources in order to shore up the Middle East strategic alliances in order that that which is offered is greater than the potential for its undermining or that which it is offered enables to completely reestablished deterrence?

[37:51] Robert Greenway

So it’s an important question, but I would say that it’d be a mistake to conclude that resources play the outsized or decisive role in the loss of or restoration of deterrence. And it is true that the United States has limited capacity to meet threats, it is limited under any circumstances. But as threats increase, our capacities have been declining, which is a longer story, but it is a stark reality. And in the end, it’s the policies that determine the outcome and resources are slave to it. And so what I mean by that is that if the calculation is that the risk is too excessive, that the price has to be paid for us to commit resources to restore and maintain deterrence, it is actually a more cost effective model, the demands placed on US resources actually increase as escalation increases, as deterrence is lost. And so what you get in the United States’ response in the Middle East and other theatres is this pendulum that swings wildly from somewhere approaching zero to somewhere approaching greater than 100,000 plus US servicemember. Look, historically, since 1950, and I’ve written about this publicly, and I’ve certainly done it in government, the United States average about 29,500 troops in Middle East since 1950. At transition between presidential administrations, we had somewhere approaching 12,500. We’re a little north of that now. But we’re well below the historic mean. And if we miscalculate and deterrence is lost and a crisis occurs, we have to surge capacity in the region to restore it, and to again, to protect our vital national interests, which historically have always been economic. It’s why I stress that in my comments. And so the price of us not committing those resources is far greater. Now in the long term, it’s unsustainable for us to maintain a significant presence because it accepts risk elsewhere. And this becomes a strategic shell game. And in the end, our priority is the Indo-Pacific because the greater threat is China. And so ultimately, we need more capable partners and that gets to the heart of this right, which is establishing a new enduring regional security architecture or more capable partners working together. It can’t be done bilaterally. You can’t make an individual country, any individual country capable enough, we have to build a team to take the field to meet the range of threats. Israel should be in must be, I think a part of it, not just because it’s our principal investment, but also because it’s one of our most successful investments. And it’s one of the region’s most capable partners. That’s the long term goal. But in the meantime, the United States is going to be required to introduce more forces to restore deterrence, the worse it gets, the more required, the harder our decision becomes. We’re not buying anything by avoiding risk, we’re actually eating greater risk by avoiding the commitment of resources.

[40:36] Barak Seener

Thank you for that. I would just add to that, what you’ve just expressed is healthy coherent thinking that resources is a slave to policy, I get very much the impression from the current Biden administration, that policy is a slave to resources. And that’s where the problem lies. And Yonah, if you want to share your thoughts before I open it up to Q&A?

[41:05] Yonah Jeremy Bob

There’s four short points I want to make. First of all, the Saudis. The original Abraham accords were great, but they were missing the Saudis. And until you have the Saudis, there isn’t going to be true strategic shift in the region, because Iran still believes that it can turn back the clock. Once the Saudis crossed the Rubicon, everything changes and Iran will suddenly need to be confronted with ‘wow, actually, we are not going to be able to achieve hegemony, we’re going to have to sort of deal with a Middle East where we might have a certain amount of power, but we are going to be contained whether we like it or not’. The second point, I would say, is balancing both diplomacy and military power. I don’t think any of the administrations have gotten this exactly right. There needs to be a mix of both. If you want Iran to behave anywhere near what we would like it to do, it’s not going to become a good state but not do the things we really don’t want it to do, then you need to have a viable military alternative, but you also need to have real and somewhat realistic diplomacy – some of the diplomatic ideas that have been thrown out by multiple administrations haven’t been realistic in terms of getting Iran to a certain spot. Deterrence after October 7, it’s just a different world. Whatever the problems were with Iran before that, certainly in terms of Israel, the bludgeoning that happened to Israel on October 7, Israel’s invincibility was shattered. And Israel has restored some of that with what it’s done in Gaza. But some of that isn’t restored. And so you’re going to need to see, if other countries provoke Israel, whether it’s Israel, the United States, we need to flex military muscles a little bit more. This is part of the debate in Israel about the day after Israel needs to have somebody else other than Israel running Gaza, but it can’t appear as if Israel is rewarding Hamas with something good because of the invasion. So as Israel hands it over there has to be messaged in such a way that Hamas doesn’t get something out of it, and Israeli deterrence, and Western deterrence are restored in terms of US forces. Again, I would say, I don’t think any of the recent administrations have gotten this right. All the recent administrations have tried to pull out of the Middle East in one way or another. Some very smart advisors sometimes prevented each of the Presidents from pulling out. But as long as we are trying to contain Iran, I think if the United States under whatever President tries to pull forces out of the Middle East before Iran is more contained is more deterred, they will find themselves having to throw more forces into the Middle East in emergency conditions at a later point, whether they like it or not.

[43:59] Barak Seener

Thank you, Yonah. A question of clarification. Robert, you spoke about the dangers of targeting Iran’s energy infrastructure that could lead to a spike in energy markets. If this oil is anyway sanctioned, why would it achieve that?

[44:22] Robert Greenway

Yeah, and I know that you listed it logically as an option. It is an option. It always is on the range of options that are considered by those wishing to restore deterrence and impose costs on Iran. Obviously, they derived their principal source of revenue it is their number one, export revenue. Second is petrochemicals after that, is metals followed by agricultural products. So if you want to impose costs on Iran going after their record energy exports, which are theoretically sanctioned, but completely unenforced by the United States under the current administration, it makes sense and it is exposed, it is vulnerable, and depending upon the capability employed, it can be eased done. The problem is the resultant costs and increase in price would affect everyone – all markets, including United States, and that cost would be borne. And so in the public relations sense, the price borne for that action [inaudible].

[45:13] Barak Seener

Sorry, even if it’s sanctioned, it would still increase the costs.

[45:18] Robert Greenway

Yes, of course, it’s a supply and demand issue. It’s irrelevant to sanctions, if you limit the amount of supply in the global market, even the impression that perception of it would increase prices, right, the threat of disruption is enough to rise to produce a rise in global prices. So an actual disruption of attack, you just look at what happened in Abqaiq–Khurais in September 2019, in Saudi Arabia. Before we even knew the consequences of the action taken, which were less than anticipated, it produced an immediate spike in global oil prices, the same would happen if you went after Iran. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying you have to calculate those costs. Under the current environment, I suspect Israel would pay a higher price, perhaps even higher than Iran would in the near term for imposing a cost on Iran. And by default, other Americans and European markets for that matter. The second thing I would say relative to this on a related point is that in every calculation for an act to restore deterrence, you can’t look at the act in isolation, you have to actually look at the potential response, it seems self-evident. What I mean is that it takes greater forces to deter a response to an attack than it does to do the attack itself. If you want to attack Iran, if you want to tag sensitive facilities in Iran, you should have, you almost must have, more resources in theatre to deter response and to arrest deterrence. And so unless that’s done, you have to deal with the consequences. And so for those wondering why Israel didn’t take a greater action against Iran, in the recent escalatory events, the answer is Israel doesn’t have the capacity to stop the potential response. United States alone has the capacity to do that, and it doesn’t have the forces in the region. So you don’t want to climb a rung in the escalation ladder unless you’re prepared to make the next few. And right now the correlation of forces are not advantageous. Again, this is where the United States has a decisive role to play or not.

[47:10] Barak Seener

That’s a critical point, your issue or resources is gold Robert, thank you for that. I want to open it up to Q&A. And I’m going to take two, two so far to begin with. Gonzalo Andrus, Alvarez asks, how can the world eliminate the money sources of Iranian proxies? And Phyaiza Alavi he asks, apart from destabilising the regime how is it possible to support the Iranian opposition? On that latter point, I remember critics of regime change in the past, they always used to speak about organic, new supporting indigenous liberal movements. And yet when the Arab Spring hits, the Obama administration did nothing to support local, pro-Western liberal opposition movements throughout the Middle East. It just simply followed the trend, even if the trends were Islamists. So that second question is quite an interesting one. What type of support can be given to the Iranian opposition? So if I could pose both those questions to you, Robert and Yonah?

[48:45] Yonah Jeremy Bob

I’m going to just say something about the money issue, if maybe if you want to adjust the political groups issue. Look, there has been very effective efforts in the past, to block Iran’s terror financing. It, you know, there was an operation that basically the Mossad started in the 2000s, when Meir Dagan was the Mossad Chief. And for a number of years all kinds of Iranian accounts and Iranian proxies accounts were being seized, because there was a real focus on it, and resources were thrown at it and personnel were thrown at it, and United States was supporting it. And basically, most of the world at some point, even Russia and China were supporting. It’s more difficult now. The world financially is more split. It’s almost impossible to see China and Russia supporting these efforts these days. So I think there would need to be serious creative thinking, much larger resources thrown at it in order to figure out ways to tear apart Iranian financing and for its proxies, even given whatever support it has from China and Russia, there would have to be is to sort of intervene in China and Russia attempt to prop up Iran. But it absolutely can be done. It’s a question of planning, strategy, resources. And realising that money is not a secondary front, that it can be primary front. If the United States, Israel, EU countries, some other allies all worked on it very seriously together, it could absolutely be done. And it could have a major impact.

[50:34] Robert Greenway

Yeah, I would second us comments, I would add only this, from having coordinated what most people refer to as maximum economic pressure campaign. Under the last administration, I would say first that it’s essential. That if you don’t deny access to resources, you’re only inviting mischief and providing, I think, for greater threat. Second is and Jonathan mentioned this, I think in his video remarks, where he wanted to change the ratio of concern and resources in Iran from external threats to internal security problems. So there’s a third, probably more than just three choices in that equation. You could also compel the Iranians to spend an inordinate amount of time focused on obtaining resources required to fuel all of their economy, their nuclear programme and the Axis of Resistance. And that was one of the principal goals of applying economic pressure. To jump to Yonah’s point also, it’s absolutely possible to do, but it is now going to take more time. When we started in 2015, Iran was at a substantial level, enjoying the benefits of international trade and cooperation and direct payments from the Obama administration JCPOA signatories. We had to eat that down before we could have a significant impact on their economy, they have grown by far more than they were at the level in 2015. So that has to be decremented accordingly. That will take time to do it is not impossible, it is very possible to do and it again, is very essential to do. But it’s going to take more time and concerted effort in order to reprise that impact. In the end, Iran had less  foreign exchange accessible than the country of Haiti, which obviously is a lot smaller. When it comes to support for international groups we have during the Trump administration, and since, have advocated with others, for the provision of communications to the Iranian people, independent of Iran’s vast and significant and Chinese supported control measures against the population to monitor and to throttle access to external communications and internal communications. We can and should do more technologically, this is an incredibly light lift financially, it’s actually a very light lift, surprisingly so. There are some capabilities out to be introduced, again, not impossible. We would advocate for that, and we have, and I think that’s essential for myriad reasons. Second, again it comes down to a policy choice. Obama and Biden have both made the choice not to support the Iranian people. Interestingly enough, Khamenei the Supreme Leader is voicing public support for protests and students in the United States protesting on a variety of spectrums, including those against Israel in support of the Palestinians nominally. And so they’ve taken that step to do so publicly. It has to be, I think, done reciprocally so that they start to feel that pain. Look, in the end, I think most students of Iran, and certainly those that come from Iran recognise the fraught divisions within internal society and between the people and the governing regime. Those are fissures that can be exploited. And I think the first place to start denying them access to resources, provide external communications, and then you have to make a policy decision about how far you want to increase the internal divisions within the country. I suspect those debates will happen when the US changes administration.

[54:04] Barak Seener

Thank you for that. From Dr. Colin Lassie, how come there’s not been any action to remove the raw material sources such as non-radioactive heavy water plant at Arak, the ammonia production facilities at Shiraz, hydrazine fuel for rockets and the air separation plant that produces liquid oxygen for the ICBMs? And a second question is the Obama and Biden White House appeased Iran and unlimited Israel’s ability to operate towards Iran, Lebanon and Gaza as long as the US continues this policy deterrence is impossible, what will happen if Biden retains the White House, also does Netanyahu risk averse policies have any implications?

[55:03] Robert Greenway

On the on the first question, I think those are valid targets. There are a range of others, I think it comes down to the anticipated response, if you’re going to hit a sensitive target inside of Iran, especially if you do so overtly, which has a deterrence value of itself. You need to be prepared for the consequences, which means you need to have additional resources. Israel confronted with multi threats across numerous axes, their resources are not entirely committed, but they are under significant demand. The US has made a policy choice not to and so I think absent a reversal, you’re unlikely to see strategic target service inside of Iran. On the second question, in terms of what are the implications of Biden getting a second term? Well, you can only imagine if Iran doesn’t test a nuclear weapon by the end of the year, and they’re increasingly able to do so that changes the equation if there’s a second Biden administration, I think it’s almost certain that Iran would be a nuclear power over the course of it. And the consequences for the region and for global economies would be stark. Our hope certainly is that doesn’t take place.

[56:11] Yonah Jeremy Bob

So in terms of attacking facilities, I think it’s a question of priorities. I agree all of those facilities are problematic. But if you take Iraq, Iraq is related to heavy water, it’s related to the plutonium path to nuclear weapon Iran is overwhelmingly pushed forward on its uranium path to nuclear weapon. It’s the most advanced country, it’s 60% enrichment of any country that hasn’t yet developed a nuclear weapon. It has probably enough enriched uranium at 60% and 20%. If you put it together, if they make the short jump to 90%, weaponized uranium, to have weaponized uranium for several nuclear weapons, doesn’t mean that it would have an actual nuclear weapon, because there’s some other weapons group issues that it would need to address. But so what you’re talking about is that means if there was an attack, you would focus on [inaudible locations] because those are the facilities that are responsible for the uranium path. And that path is a lot further forward than the plutonium path in Iraq. And again, some of the other facilities, they’re important, but not as important [invaluable locations]. By the way, I’ve seen classified Israeli briefings on what they would do to Iran, if they were attacking the nuclear programme. I can’t say, you know, what was in it was classified. But I’ll just say that it is much wider than people might expect Israel’s capabilities, certainly on the attack. I think Robert correct; Israel cannot completely defend everything that Iran could throw at it. But on the attack, Israel’s capabilities are vast and immense to hit a large, large number of sites. In terms of the question, it’s basically an election question, what happens if this person wins, or that person wins? And I understand the tendency to say that Trump’s Iran policy was much closer to what Israel would like, than either Obama or Biden’s policy. I think that’s sort of self-evident, but I would say is, nobody knows who’s going to win the election, it could be Biden again. And I think the most important thing is to be working on explaining to the American public, whoever is the President, whoever wins the election, to make it clear to them that there needs to be a red line on Iran getting a nuclear weapon, and that is something that could endanger the United States, because if Americans think that it’s just a danger for Israel, then they’re not necessarily going to invest in the issue as much. And if they think it’s going to be a danger for the United States, if people talk about, ‘hey, Iran could build ICBMs within two to three years after it has the ability to hit Israel and Saudi Arabia’, that’s something that whoever is going to be president. And again, the pendulum swings back and forth in the United States. If it’s a Republican, this time it is going to be a Democrat the next time, it’s an important thing to explain to all Americans that they could be threatened next, that will be something that whoever is President will make that President take the threat seriously.

[59:22] Barak Seener

Thank you, Yonah. The final point that I just wanted to make was, I wanted to reiterate a point that I made earlier, but I wasn’t necessarily heard, because of the technology. I showed this chart beforehand, regarding Robert’s point on America allocating limited resources, I see that as a momentum that leads to the inexorable erosion of deterrence. So America at the moment is allocating limited resources to the region its focuses the Asia Pacific. This lends itself to America, de-escalating and localising its responses or overlook many attacks against its own assets in the region. Iran exploits this as being a sign of Western weakness. And so as America has limited capabilities to restore to deterrence, that leads to an escalation in Iran’s actions in the region, heightened levels of disruptions by its terrorist proxies, or even direct strikes, then once again, due to limited resources, America focuses on de-escalating and Iran exploits that leading to an inevitable erosion of deterrence. I know you have a couple more minutes. So I just thought I could ask another few questions. There is an anonymous question – will the cost to Israel of this war adversely affect its finances or resources for the near future?

[01:01:20] Yonah Jeremy Bob

Yes. Israel has lost a tremendous amount of money. The second that Hamas invaded caused huge damage to the economy. I mean, we’re talking about money now, and we’re not talking about the 1200 people who were killed, the 250 hostages that were taken. Israel lost a lot of money in that moment. The fact that the war has been going on Israel has lost a huge amount of tourism money Israel has lost a huge amounts of business just because you know, the airlines haven’t been flying people haven’t been getting to see each other in person. Now Israel is stabilising itself it was the economy was in was in good enough shape. And Israel has support from the United States from some, some other allies. So it’s going to make it through it will remain strong, but Israel is going to have to invest a lot more in military defence. One lesson we learned on October 7th, is technology is fantastic, but you need boots on the ground in large volumes, protecting the border. And that is going to cost a lot more. So yeah – the cost is is a problem. And Israel will probably ask for additional aid from some of its friends. And that is going to be another important issue going forward.

[01:02:35] Barak Seener

Yohan I would like to thank you for participating in this forum. also like to thank Robert Greenway and Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus for contributing. It’s just been a really fantastic forum. And thank you so much.


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