Israel’s strategic leaders are expected to hold their first dialogue on Iran Monday, a full month after US President Joe Biden assumed the US presidency.
Yet recent Israeli responses to US actions show that Israel has already begun to shape its strategy in relation to the new administration in Washington.
The dialogue will include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.
The Biden administration has taken several steps concerning Iran in recent days. Together with the European states that are party to the 2015 Iran deal – France, Germany and the UK, known as the E3 – the US announced its willingness to return to diplomacy with Iran. It reiterated its position that it will return to the Iran deal if Tehran returns to strict compliance with it. The E3 and the US hoped to strengthen the agreement to address broader security concerns related to the Islamic Republic.
Washington also sent a letter to the UN Security Council saying that it does not regard “snapback sanctions” as being in effect. Last year, when the UN arms embargo on Iran was set to expire, then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced he was halting that process as any party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran deal is known, may do. Now, America does not recognize the action taken by the Trump administration less than six months ago.
However, this act was largely symbolic. The rest of the Security Council never recognized the embargo as having been snapped back, because the US left the Iran deal in 2018.
None of Washington’s signals that it wants to de-escalate seems to have made a big impression on Iran. Tehran threatened to scale back International Atomic Energy Agency inspections if the US does not remove all post-2018 sanctions by Sunday – and in recent months, it drastically increased its enrichment of uranium and began developing uranium metals.
Iranian politicians and spokespeople have repeatedly said the US must lift sanctions before they will make any kind of move towards complying with the JCPOA – and even then, they won’t negotiate any changes to the deal.
IN ISRAEL, preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and its position on the nuclear agreement has not changed. Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. Israel is in close contact with the United States on this matter.”
There are two key messages in that statement.
First is that “Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”
The US and E3 want to go back to the existing JCPOA, and then add to it. Their message says their goal is to “address broader security concerns related to Iran’s missile programs and regional activities,” and they would do so with “regional parties and the wider international community.”
The PMO is pointing out that the Iran deal would eventually allow Tehran to build a nuclear bomb, and addressing Iran’s other malign behavior will not fix the deal’s core problem.
One example that illustrates Israel’s problem with the JCPOA is uranium metal. Iran announced it would start producing the metal earlier this year, and the IAEA confirmed it. The E3 immediately opposed the move.
On Thursday, the E3 and US statement “expressed their shared concerns over Iran’s recent actions to produce both uranium enriched up to 20% and uranium metal.
“These activities have no credible civil justification. Uranium metal production is a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” they said.
BUT THE JCPOA would allow Iran to do the very thing that the E3 and US say is “a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon” – develop uranium metal that has “no credible civil justification” in 2030 – and they can do it with an international imprimatur.
Why is uranium metal offensive in 2021 but kosher in nine years?
At the same time, the Israeli statement gives some hope for a better US-Israel dialogue on Iran than under the Obama administration.
“Israel is in close contact with the United States on this matter,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
And, in fact, The Jerusalem Post has learned that Netanyahu was apprised of the Biden administration’s plans before they went forward with them in recent days.
This is a drastic change from the Obama policy, which as former national security adviser Ya’acov Amidror recently said, “tricked [Israel]. In conversations between [the US and Israel], they hid the negotiations and went to an agreement with Iran.”
Now, even if the US is making moves Jerusalem views as dangerous, knowing about it is advantageous. Israel is able to brace itself for any adverse impact. Plus, the fact that the Biden administration is not openly trying to put “daylight” between itself and Israel, as the Obama administration did, puts Israel in a stronger position in the region and the world.
When Netanyahu, Gantz, Ashkenazi, Cohen and Ben-Shabbat meet on Monday, these elements will surely come up as they set their strategy going forward – and the US seeks to renew negotiations with Iran.