What are Iran’s intentions in Vienna? Non-Iranian intelligence agencies do not appear to know. Many weeks ago there was a flood of Israeli predictions of an imminent deal in Vienna but those fears have certainly not materialized and now even the Americans appear skeptical at the feasibility of a return to the JCPOA. I have argued all along that the Iranians are merely playing for time in order to advance their nuclear weapons program while appeasing Beijing and Moscow through pro forma participation in “negotiations”. While it is true that Ayatollah Khomeini instituted a state principle that Iranian national interests have precedence over sharia, this is a religiously motivated apocalyptic regime with fundamentally irrational motivations. The game theory notion that this totalitarian regime can be bought off through oil revenues for 3 years until Donald Trump returns to the White House and rescinds the agreement fundamentally misunderstands the Iranians. The Iranians are not fools and do understand that the Americans are trying to purchase time by buying them off for three years and the Iranians are not falling into this “trap”. The Iranians believe that they were deceived by the Americans when the Trump administration rescinded the JCPOA and have simply no interest in repeating this scenario. The Iranians are not of the view that their national honor is up for sale. The mullahs do understand that Joe Biden will not be reelected and so for them giving up their enriched uranium in return for three years of substantially increased oil revenues simply does not make sense. It may be a rude awakening for some but not everyone can be bought off with money.
Of course rationally speaking, it makes perfect economic sense for Iran to return to the JCPOA but it would also make perfect economic sense for Iran to normalize economic and diplomatic relations with the United States and that is not about to happen either. Tehran clearly prioritizes accelerating its nuclear weapons program over temporarily increased oil revenues. As for trade and investments, Tehran is all too aware that the international private sector will not be interested in investing in or trading with Iran considering that American economic sanctions would be reinstated in only three years time. Then there is the apocalyptic imperative. The Khomeinist regime is longing for the apocalypse which they intend to bring about using weapons of mass destruction around the world. They believe that this man-made apocalypse will prompt the reappearance of the Hidden Imam and so the octogenarian Ayatollah Khamenei has every personal incentive to bring about this messianic event in his own lifetime.
Put yourself in the shoes of the ruling mullahs. You believe that you have the power to bring about the coming of your long expected Messiah, why would you defer that event in return for money? It is important to understand that the Iranian nuclear weapons program has significantly advanced in the seven years that passed since the signing of the JCPOA. The Iranians believe that nuclear weapons are within reach and that no one will prevent them from developing a nuclear arsenal. The Iranians argue that if contrary to their expectations their nuclear weapons program is destroyed, then they will recognize this as a divine sign that it is time for the apocalypse and so they will lash out around the world with chemical and biological weapons against those nations Tehran deem to be central to the ostensible global Jewish-American conspiracy to destroy Islam.
Every week in the past months we have heard that the coming week will prove determinative in Vienna but it always comes to nought. I have argued that Israeli intelligence (particularly Aman) misjudges the intentions of Tehran in Vienna although I could of course still be proven wrong. There is a whole intelligence analysis culture in Aman of misjudging both Hezbollah and the Iranians and this is a big conceptzia (Hebrew for strategic error with devastating military consequences). Israel has long avoided confronting Hezbollah and will pay a particularly heavy price in vast numbers of killed Israeli civilians. Of course, the heaviest price will be paid by the American people whose current leaders recklessly undermined and single-handedly destroyed America’s deterrence vis-a-vis Iran through the futile Vienna negotiations which were always stillborn due to Iranian strategic rejectionism. Iran plans to perpetrate genocide with biological weapons against major American cities after Israel and/or the United States destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons program. The Iranians are absolutely convinced that Allah is on their side and that the apocalypse is increasingly imminent, after all they determine the timing.
What takes place is highly convenient for the Iranians. Under the cover of “negotiations” can they advance their nuclear weapons program unhindered. Rather than militarily attacking the Iranian nuclear weapons program, the American government focuses on appeasing the Khomeinist regime. “Negotiations” effectively offer legitimacy for advancing the Iranian nuclear weapons program given that no American military action will be undertaken against the Iranian nuclear weapons program for as long as there is even a semblance of a horizon of “negotiations”.
What then you may ask is different now than in 2015 when the JCPOA was concluded? The JCPOA was successful from Iran’s perspective in breaking up international unity against Iran amongst the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and pivotally removing international sanctions against Iran. Notably, these achievements will remain in place even without a return to the JCPOA. Nevertheless, Iran felt it was cheated by the ostensible American-Jewish conspiracy when President Trump abrogated the JCPOA in 2018 and now when they believe that nuclear weapons are within reach, the mullahs are in no mood for deferring their nuclear weapons program.
In late 2021 US government officials repeatedly stated that negotiations would end by early February 2022 were there not to be an agreement for a return to the JCPOA before that. Now it is soon early April and American officials publicly acknowledge that a return to the JCPOA is neither certain nor imminent. The first question is of course for how long the Vienna charade will go on and the second question obviously is when the Iranians will enrich uranium up to weapons grade purity? There are no apparent answers to either question but what is obvious is that the Iranians are operating according to their own game plan and their own time schedule and the Americans are behaving exactly as the Iranians want them to at the same time as Tehran continues to masterfully manipulate Moscow and Beijing in appeasing both great powers in a carefully calibrated manner through pro forma participation in “negotiations”. The Iranians believe that President Biden is a useless fool who poses no danger to Iran and whose administration has issued empty threats that simply cannot be taken seriously. Irrational totalitarians are as many times before in modern history successfully manipulating international politics.