As Biden era dawns, Netanyahu doubles down against Iran deal - analysis

The imminent changing of the guard in Washington, , and Netanyahu’s natural desire to want to start off with the president on the right foot, do not change the way he views the JCPOA.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in Jerusalem (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in Jerusalem
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
A couple days before the members of the US Electoral College officially cast their ballots, 306 of whom were expected on Monday to go to Joe Biden and 232 to US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removed a cover picture on his Facebook page of him meeting Trump.
In its place Netanyahu posted a Hanukkah greeting.
Was this a sign of Jerusalem preparing for the end of the Trump era, and the beginning of Biden’s reign – despite Trump’s refusal to concede defeat? Or was it just a desire of the prime minister to wish those coming to his page a good Hanukkah?
The meaning of that Facebook move is open for interpretation. The same cannot, however, be said of words Netanyahu delivered about Iran on Sunday, during a press conference in Jerusalem with outgoing National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. There, Netanyahu sent a strong message to the incoming Biden Administration, and there was absolutely no confusion about his intent.
“Both Israelis and Arabs praised President Trump when he pulled out of the failed Iran nuclear agreement; when he re-imposed and beefed up tough sanctions on Iran; when he took out the Iranian arch terrorist, Qasem Soleimani.
“When Israelis and Arabs agree on so many things, it makes sense for the world to pay attention. After all, we live in this region. We know something about it,” Netanyahu said, not so obliquely letting the Biden administration know that it, too, would do well to pay attention.
“As long as Iran continues to subjugate and threaten its neighbors; as long as Iran continues calling for Israel’s destruction; as long as Iran continues to bankroll, equip and train terrorist organizations throughout the region and the world; and as long as Iran persists in its dangerous quest for nuclear weapons – and the means to deliver them – we shouldn’t go back to business as usual with Iran,” he said. “We should all unite to prevent this major threat to world peace.”
Netanyahu’s words were said alongside O’Brien, but intended for the ears of his replacement, Jake Sullivan – and for his boss, Biden. And the message was simple: “Don’t go back to business with Iran as usual, don’t re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [the Iran nuclear deal]. And if you do, I – Netanyahu – will push back against it, just as I did when Barack Obama sat in the White House.”
Sullivan, it should be remembered, was one of the key architects of the JCPOA. And Biden, one of its key supporters, will in just over six weeks be in a position to deliver on his election promise to undo what Trump did regarding the Iranian nuclear deal, and re-enter it.
Sullivan sent a signal of his own on Monday that he has absolutely no illusions about whom he is dealing with in Tehran, at least when it comes to human rights violations. In response to Iran’s execution of dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam, Sullivan tweeted that this “is another horrifying human rights violation by the Iranian regime. We will join our partners in calling out and standing up to Iran’s abuses.”
Netanyahu’s comments were an indication that he will lobby loud and hard to convince Biden and Sullivan to take as equally hard and sober a look at Iran’s nuclear designs as Sullivan said they will take toward the regime’s human rights abuses. Netanyahu wants them to stand up against abuses the Iranians could promulgate were they ever to get their hands on nuclear weapons.
Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, in a Tikvah Fund podcast last week wrapping up seven years of service in the US capitol, said that Netanyahu’s highly controversial and polarizing speech to a joint session of Congress in 2015 against the Iranian deal was the highlight of his tenure in Washington.
“In making the decision to show up and give that speech,” Dermer said, “Netanyahu was fulfilling the most fundamental moral obligation the prime minister has in speaking out on a matter that affects the very survival of the country. Those people who see this through a partisan lens don’t seem to appreciate the fact that this is an existential issue for the State of Israel – that is how the prime minister sees it.”
Israel, Dermer said, “sees the JCPOA as a threat to the survival of Israel. Why? Because it does not block Iran’s path to a bomb. It never did. It puts restrictions for a brief number of years that are then automatically removed.”
The imminent changing of the guard in Washington, formalized by the Electoral College balloting on Monday – and the prime minister’s natural desire to want to start off with the president on the right foot – does not change the way he views the JCPOA: as a threat to the survival of Israel.
And Netanyahu made clear in his comments alongside O’Brien that he will not shy away, once again, from shouting this from the highest hilltop – even if doing so, once again, puts Jerusalem on a collision course with Washington.