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​Nearly four years ago, at around the time that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or as it more commonly known, “the Iran deal”) was reached, I wrote a post for this blog on the “snapback sanctions” part of the deal. The biting U.N. Security Council sanctions—which had brought Iran to the table in the first place—were supposed to be snapped back into place if Iran was not living up to the deal. The snapback sanctions were meant to mollify critics and skeptics who questioned the wisdom of so quickly reversing sanctions on a country that had been found to be cheating on numerous commitments.
My original post went into the cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles that would be necessary before the sanctions could be reinstated. This is the key paragraph:
“Aside from unnecessary bureaucracy, the more serious problem is that the language in the nuclear deal and in the subsequent U.N. Security Council resolution state that it must be a ‘significant’ compliance issue. This is vague—what exactly constitutes ‘significant non-compliance?’ The fear is that the tendency of the world powers will be to minimize or ignore non-compliance issues as not ‘significant’ enough to rise to the level that would require ‘snapback’ sanctions. Why? Because once the U.N. sanctions are re-introduced, the U.N. Security Council resolution ‘noted’ Iran’s stated position that Iran would stop living up to its commitments in the nuclear deal in full. Essentially, the Security Council resolution allowed the ‘snapback’ sanctions to be held hostage by the deal. “
Much has happened in the meantime. The U.S., led by a new administration, pulled out of the JCPOA and re-imposed U.S. sanctions (which are extremely tough, but not as far-reaching as Security Council sanctions could be) and added new sanctions as well. The Europeans have been trying to get around the U.S. sanctions by creating a loophole for companies to do business with Iran. Iran, feeling the bite of the U.S. sanctions on its weak economy, has been trying to extort the Europeans—who are desperate to save the JCPOA—into giving it more money through nuclear blackmail. Iran has already exceeded the limit of enriched uranium allowed under the deal and is increasing the percentage of enrichment on its stockpile of uranium, two steps on the road towards building nuclear weapons. Iran has also been trying to wreak havoc in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, threatening the oil supply from some of the world’s most productive oil fields.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bombshell news conference displaying evidence seized by the Mossad in a daring raid on the Iranian regime’s clandestine atomic archive in Tehran, which showed that Iran had deceived the international community by not declaring the true extent of their advanced nuclear weapons program, was greeted with a shrug by the international community. We were told that everyone knew that Iran had a nuclear program, that this was the point of the JCPOA—to stop it. But Iran’s declarations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were to be the baseline of the deal. If the international community is so willing to accept a lie as the baseline to the deal, what else will Iran be allowed to get away with?
Following the press conference, Netanyahu presented at the U.N. General Assembly evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear warehouse in Tehran. As this, too, was undeclared to the IAEA, it would also be a breach of the deal, and a grave one at that. The international community initially shrugged this off as well. However, months later, the IAEA inspected the warehouse and reportedly found radioactive traces. If the reports are true, this is yet another undeclared violation, to go along with the declared violations that Iran has now begun to openly tout.
In the face of Iran’s breaches of the JCPOA, the countries party to the deal (minus the U.S., of course) met to discuss the violations. The verdict? Iranian non-compliance was not “significant” enough to warrant even starting the bureaucratic complaint process.
The fears that many Iran deal skeptics had regarding the JCPOA—that the deal itself would end up becoming more precious than the goal of a de-nuclearized Iran—are sadly being borne out by the behavior of the countries party to the deal. What does Iran have to do before the international community will decide that a “significant” breach of its nuclear commitments has been made?


Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. Click here to view more of his additional content.