A part of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is seen, some 750 miles (1,245 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP)
July 29, 2021
“The international community has Iran on the ropes,” former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly in 2013. “If you want to knock out Iran’s nuclear weapons program peacefully, don’t let up the pressure. Keep it up.”
The US, under president Barack Obama, did not listen and neither did the international community. And even though in 2013 Iran was feeling the weight of sanctions and had only recently emerged from a year of domestic protest and turmoil, the US lifted its foot off the gas and began negotiations with the Islamic Republic. According to Netanyahu’s analogy, it let Iran off the ropes.
The same dynamic is at work today. Iran is now facing the most significant domestic protests in 18 months, with demonstrations moving from the parched southwest of the country where they began two weeks ago over water shortages, to Tehran, where they are taking on a distinctly anti-regime character.
Among the chants heard at Monday’s protests were “Death to the dictator,” “Shame on Khamenei, let go of the country,” and “Neither for Gaza nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life only for Iran.”
And the US response? Take the foot off the gas.
In an MSNBC interview on Sunday, America’s lead Iran negotiator, Rob Malley
, revealed that since March, the US has agreed to remove all sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
“If Iran wanted to see the sanctions lifted, it could have had them lifted in March, in April, May, June or July,” he said. “At all of those stages, the US offered [to do so]… in exchange for Iran coming back into compliance with the 2015 deal.”
And even though the US was willing to lift all the sanctions, Iran still has not agreed to re-enter the deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and is saying that negotiations will not begin again until after the August 5 inauguration of new president Ebrahim Raisi.
In the meantime, Tehran is moving ahead with its nuclear ambitions during this “limbo” period, enriching uranium to its highest-ever levels, using more advanced centrifuges and producing uranium metal. Israeli officials have expressed concern that the Iranians are using the lull in the talks – the last round broke off at the end of June – to inch perilously close to a nuclear weapon.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz is expected to express this concern in Paris on Wednesday when he meets his French counterpart
, Florence Parly, and his concerns are likely to fall on receptive ears, as the French Foreign Ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of reviving the JCPOA with world powers if it did not return quickly to the negotiating table.
Israel’s problem is not in Paris, but rather, in Washington, which – as Malley admitted – was willing to give up all its sanctions leverage to get the 2015 deal reinstated.
Prime Minister Bennett is expected to travel next month to the US for his first meeting with President Joe Biden.
While it is understandable that Bennett will want this meeting to go as smoothly as possible to get relations with Biden off on the right foot and show the Democratic administration that he is not Netanyahu, someone with whom many of those in the administration had a rocky relationship, Bennett will need to stand firm and inform the president that allowing the Iranians to remain as close as they are now to a nuclear weapon is completely unacceptable to Israel.
Israel has little leverage over the Americans when it comes to Iran, as was evident in Netanyahu’s high profile – but ultimately unsuccessful – attempt in 2015 to scuttle the deal. If Washington deems that reentering the deal, even under worse conditions than in 2015, serves its interests, it will do it.
What Israel can do, however, is to articulate its continued strong opposition to such a deal. To try to get commitments from Washington on how it will act if Tehran crosses certain red lines, to probe whether the US may be willing to “compensate” Israel by providing it with more advanced weaponry to deal with an increased Iranian threat, and make it clear that come what may, Israel’s policy will remain as it has been for the last 25 years: do all it can to ensure Iran never gets the bomb.
The Jerusalem Post