12 April 2021   Leave a comment

It is no secret that Israel’s current government considers the possibility that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon an “existential threat“. Former US President worked with other countries to prevent that possibility by forging the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iranian nuclear deal. Former President Trump pulled out of the agreement, ostensibly because the agreement did not address the Iranian ballistic missile capability nor did it do anything about Iranian support for anti-Israel groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Since the US abrogation of the agreement, Iran has slowly begun to violate some of the terms of the agreement. US President Biden has initiated steps to bring both the US and Iran back to the original terms of the agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has opposed a revitalized agreement:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Wednesday that a renegotiated nuclear deal between world powers and Iran will not stop the Jewish state from protecting itself from malign regimes seeking its destruction. 

“While delivering remarks at Israel’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Jerusalem, Netanyahu highlighted the threat his government says a revitalized nuclear deal will pose to Israel. 

“’A deal with Iran that threatens us with annihilation will not obligate us,’ Netanyahu declared.

“’Unlike in the past, today there is no one in the world that will deprive us of the right and the might to defend ourselves from an existential threat,’ he said. 

“’The nuclear deal with Iran is once again on the table. Such deals with extreme regimes are worthless.’

“World powers are currently holding talks with the Islamic Republic in the Austrian capital of Vienna, aimed at bringing the US back into the 2015 agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“’I say to our closest friends too: ‘A deal with Iran that threatens us with annihilation will not obligate us.’ Only one thing will obligate us: to prevent those who wish to destroy us from carrying out their plans.’”

The difference between Israel and the US on the JCPOA is dramatic, which raises the question of how closely strong allies should coordinate their foreign policies. It is not unusual for allies to disagree, but generally speaking, close allies do not try deliberately to undermine each other. But Israel has taken actions recently that have made Biden’s desire to renew the JCPOA very, very difficult. A few days ago, an Iranian military vessel was attacked off the coast of Yemen and the circumstantial evidence suggests that Israel was behind the attack.

“An attack this week on an Iranian cargo ship that is said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen has escalated a years long shadow war in Mideast waters. The development comes just as world powers are negotiating over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal.

“The assault on the MV Saviz on Tuesday appears to have caused the most-extensive damage yet in this shadow war, seemingly between Iran and Israel — and one that could further escalate regional tensions. Attacks and counterattacks between the two nations could spin out of control.

“Since at least 2019, there have been a series of mysterious attacks on vessels, typically with limpet mines attached by a special forces diver to a ship’s hull. The attacks came at a time of mounting tensions between Iran and the United States over then-President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally pull out of the atomic accord….

“Iranian officials, however, so far have been trying to downplay the incident. That likely springs from the ongoing talks in Vienna that could mean billions of dollars in American sanctions relief. They also have faced two mysterious attacks later blamed on Israel last year without a major response — the explosion at an advanced centrifuge plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.”

Yesterday there was a cyberattack on the Iranian underground nuclear facility near Natanz which caused a blackout at the facility. According to CNN:

“Reports in several Israeli media outlets Sunday quoted intelligence officials saying Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, was responsible for the incident. While few details of the unnamed officials are offered, some outlets described them as ‘Western intelligence sources,’ though it is not immediately clear whether ‘Western’ includes the possibility the sources are from Israel or not.

“Israel’s Prime Minister’s office offered no comment on the reports, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Iran Sunday at a toast to mark the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. ‘The struggle against Iran and its proxies and the Iranian armament efforts is a huge mission,’ he said, appearing alongside Israel Defense Forces chief Kochavi and his senior commanders, as well as Defense Minister Benny Gantz. ‘The situation that exists today will not necessarily be the situation that will exist tomorrow.'”

The damage from the blackout was significant, but intelligence sources suggest that it will only set back Iranian uranium enrichment efforts by about 9 months. The US has clearly stated that it was not involved in the attack on Natanz:

“A White House spokesman said Monday that ‘the U.S. was not involved in any manner and we have nothing to add to speculation about the causes.’

“The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not comment on whether the United States had been given advance notice of the attack.”

However, both of these events are acts of war and much depends on how Iran decides to respond to them. Right now, the Iranians seems to be banking on the hope that the Biden Administration will reduce the sanctions that former President Trump imposed and any act of retaliation would scuttle that opportunity. The Iranian government is nonetheless probably under incredible pressure to retaliate against Israel, and it has asserted that it has captured an individual associated with the Natanz attack.

US Secretary of Defense Austin is meeting with Israeli officials in Israel and there is little doubt that the US will remain committed to the defense of Israel if the Iranians do counterattack. But Israel is clearly testing the limits of that commitment and we will learn much if such an attack occurs. There is no way that the US would allow any attack on Israeli civilians, but its response to Iranian attacks on purely military targets might be very restrained.

We should also ask whether Israel’s decision to deliberately undermine US policy should cause the US to rethink Israel’s status as an ally. Israel has made significant progress is cultivating better relationships with former enemies such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Perhaps the US should ask Israel to engage in similar diplomacy with Iran. Right now, the antagonistic relationship between Israel and Iran has yielded nothing in terms of greater stability in the region. The US should also decide whether it wishes Israel to determine the terms of its relationship with Iran.

Posted April 12, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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