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Two separate, high-stakes showdowns have played out in recent months on the world stage: the first concerns the Iranian nuclear program, while the second is between Russia and the United States and European countries concerning Ukraine.

In the showdown over the Iranian nuclear program, Tehran has been pushing hard against US and European demands to return to last decade’s nuclear agreement (the JCPOA), and presented (at least initially) hard-line negotiating demands. All the while, Iran’s continued non-compliance with the JCPOA and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) have raised the specter of conflict arising from an attempt to delay the program by military means.

In the Ukraine, Western countries have seen Russia amass significant military forces (over 100,000 troops and military equipment), threaten Kiev with military attack, and produce false narratives about Western aggression that requires a Russian response.

Moscow is already under sanctions for occupying and annexing the Crimean Peninsula, and has received warnings from the US about stiff sanctions should it initiate a military operation in Ukraine.

At first glance, these two issues seem unrelated: One is a multilateral nonproliferation negotiation regarding return to a nuclear deal; the second is a potential war on European soil, which may lead to a crisis between two nuclear-armed great powers.

But at closer look, the similarities begin to emerge:

  1. Iran and Russia are both belligerent actors in their respective arenas:
  2. The Kremlin and its allies are continuously intervening (through various tools — diplomatic, economic, covert, information, military) in the affairs of former Soviet republics, attempting to stifle pro-democracy dissent and prop up pro-Russian leaders, while supporting separatist pro-Russian groups.
  3. Iran is also employing various tools to undermine the governments of Middle Eastern countries, while funding and arming proxies who serve as its long arm. Iranian involvement has perpetuated governance crises in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Gaza Strip, and has exacerbated the humanitarian crises in Yemen and Syria.
  4. Iran and Russia have both increased their belligerence in response to sanctions that sought to deal with their behavior. They are also willing to use capabilities that are deemed unacceptable by the West such as assassinations (including using chemical agents), supporting terror groups, and developing various WMD capabilities.
  5. Both Iran and Russia do not shy from sending forces to prop up authoritarian allies or from the use of force to quash popular demands, such as in Syria, Belarus, or Kazakhstan.
  6. Iran and Russia see themselves as victims of the current situation, or at least adopt these positions outwardly:
  7. Iran depicts itself as a victim of Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA and the subsequent imposition of sanctions on Tehran. However, the “Nuclear Archives” showed that Iran had manifestly violated the JCPOA and the NPT by holding on to the blueprints and components of a military nuclear program, and it has also violated NPT safeguards by holding and hiding enriched uranium.
  8. Iran has also expanded its support for militias and terror groups around the Middle East that have targeted US forces and their allies, while claiming the US is violating the nuclear agreement by sanctioning it for those behaviors.
  9. Russia also sees itself as a victim of Western interference. It sees the 20+ years of NATO enlargement to the east as an encroachment on its borders by a military alliance that primarily views Russia as its enemy.
  10. It also views the development and deployment of ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities in Europe over the past decade as a significantly destabilizing development, as these can reduce the effectiveness of its nuclear deterrence.
  11. Conspicuously, both Iran and Russia seek guarantees from the US and its allies that they will refrain from becoming involved in what Iran and Russia consider their spheres of influence.

As the US seeks to reinforce the notion of a rules-based international order, it is of paramount importance that regional bullies do not get a free pass on their behavior. Even if the US and its allies might have done better in dealing with both nations, it is ultimately their aggressive policies that bear most of the responsibility for their current predicament.

Accepting the narrative that Iran or Russia are victims would be counterproductive, and an open invitation to aggression. This would also be closely monitored by an attentive Beijing.

Even if diplomacy is still the best road to address most of the issues between the US, Russia, and Iran, it would be foolhardy to attempt to kick the can down the road by acquiescing to unacceptable demands. Accepting them in diplomatic discourse with one actor would surely embolden the other to seek the same.

Even if the US and Israel cannot fully agree on the nuclear negotiations with Iran, this should be a point they are united on.

Ltc. Yochai Guiski (IDF, Ret.) is a publishing Expert at The MirYam Institute. He served in various roles for the Israeli government including: Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (C.O.G.A.T.), Strategic Planning Division, and the Ministry of Defense (politico-military directorate).

The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.

Source of original article: Yochai Guiski / Opinion – Algemeiner.com (www.algemeiner.com).
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