July 14 was the first anniversary of President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran. Because the agreement renders our intelligence community deaf and blind to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the new report from a German intelligence agency that Iran is violating the deal comes as no surprise.
Mr. Obama told us then, and on many occasions since, that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would block all of Iran’s paths to nuclear weapons. We were told that we’d know if the agreement were violated, and that the international sanctions that the United Nations and America had imposed on Iran would “snap back” quickly if Iran didn’t live up to its obligations.
All of this was based on Mr. Obama’s three Iran delusions. The first was that they would live up to the agreement made with the P5+1 group (the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council: United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany). In its 36-year existence before Mr. Obama’s deal, the ayatollahs’ regime had never — not once — changed its behavior as the result of any diplomatic initiative or agreement.
The second conceit was that we would know if Iran violated the deal, a point on which Mr. Obama insisted to get the Republican-led Senate to approve the deal. One of the provisions of the misbegotten Corker Amendment, which turned the Constitution upside-down to allow Mr. Obama to claim Senate approval of the deal, was that all of the side agreements made would be disclosed to the Senate. They were not, as I have been told by a senior Republican senator.
Parts of the side deals evidently bar Americans from participating in the inspection of Iranian nuclear sites. The side deals also allow Iran to inspect some of its own sites, preventing U.N. inspectors any access. To no one’s surprise, the Iranians have reported they are complying with the deal even in the uninspected sites.
The third conceit was that the P5+1 would agree to reimpose sanctions if Iran broke the deal. But the fact that we, and all of our P5+1 “partners,” are rushing to do business with Iran makes that claim risible.
Iran has, since 1979, been a “denied area,” meaning it is virtually impenetrable by western intelligence agencies. A 2006 report by the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence said that our intelligence had so many gaps that analysts couldn’t have confidence in their conclusions. Mr. Obama’s deal with Iran was the first opportunity to fill those gaps, but the president willingly gave it away.
We can grasp and absorb some information from other sources, but those data don’t fill the critical gaps. The latest comes from the annual report of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. As the Financial Times reported, the German report said Iran had continued to violate the nuclear agreement by attempting to illegally procure nuclear-related technology “on a quantitatively high level by international standards” in Germany in 2015.
The report found Iran tried 141 times to purchase materiel that was very likely related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, i.e., nuclear weapons. About two-thirds of them were attributed to Iranian nuclear programs and some 90 percent were blocked. Iran evidently used front companies from the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and China to conceal the final destination of the purchased technology.
Just as interesting was the German finding that some of the purchases were of parts for missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads, according to the Financial Times. The nuclear agreement didn’t cover or restrict Iran’s rapid development of long-range ballistic missiles. That is a huge gap in the entire concept of the Obama-Iran deal.
This puts Mr. Obama’s successor in a worse position than in which George W. Bush found himself in 2002 before the Iraq invasion. At that point, U.N. inspectors were reporting openly that Saddam Hussein’s efforts to duck and dodge their inspections were ongoing. The intelligence agencies of Britain, Germany, Russia, China, Israel and France all agreed with our CIA that Iraq was continuing its nuclear and chemical weapons programs.
We and they all were wrong. Saddam’s claims to weapons of mass destruction were found after the 2003 invasion to have been all brag and no fact. Mr. Obama’s Iran deal leaves us in a worse position because we have no access to what Iran is doing and no means of assessing the intelligence to determine what Iran is doing. The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, under its former chief, Mohammed el-Baradei, was for more than a decade an apologist for Iran. Its credibility is no greater today, especially in Iran, where it is barred from some sites and dependent on Iran’s good will in all the others.
The German intelligence report has to mean that despite all of Mr. Obama’s good words and despite all of the profits American and European companies will make in Iran, Iran is proceeding — secretly and relentlessly — toward producing nuclear weapons.
In 2003 Iraq, mistaken intelligence led to war. In 2016 Iran, the lack of intelligence is leading to a false peace while the enemy develops the capability to deliver on its existential threats against us and allies such as Israel.
In September 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly, “The relevant question is not when Iran will get the bomb. The relevant question is at what stage can we no longer stop Iran from getting the bomb.” That point has almost certainly been passed.
Thanks to Mr. Obama and the rest of the P5+1 leaders, we and their successors won’t have any way of knowing Iran’s nuclear capability until it has been deployed atop intercontinental ballistic missiles. They couldn’t have created a more dangerous and ugly situation for their successors if they’d spent a month trying to design it.
• Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”