Bennett has the answers on Iran - but is anyone listening? - analysis

World leaders want to hear Bennett and Israel's stance on Iran, but are they really listening?

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, November 1, 2021.  (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, November 1, 2021.
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

GLASGOW – Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was in Scotland this week because of the UN Climate Change Conference, and he had plenty to say on the topic and about Israeli innovation’s contribution to the fight, et cetera.

But diplomatically, the summit was an opportunity for Bennett to get other messages out in one-on-one meetings with leaders from around the world.

Unsurprisingly, the top item on Bennett’s non-climate-related agenda, which he brought up in every one of his bilateral meetings this week, was Iran. Those conversations came at a critical juncture, with Tehran continuing to avoid negotiations – stringing the world along with vague, noncommittal statements about when it will return to the table – while rapidly developing its nuclear program toward the point of breakout.

The advances in uranium enrichment are something the Western powers that were party to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action acknowledge, with the leaders of the US and the E3 – France, Germany and the UK – saying as much in their statement at the G20 in Rome several days ago.

“While Iran halted negotiations on a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] since June, it has accelerated the pace of provocative nuclear steps, such as the production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal,” they said. “Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure, but both are important to nuclear weapons programs.”

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, November 1, 2021. (credit: COURTESY) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, November 1, 2021. (credit: COURTESY)

Bennett came into meetings with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron at this strategically awkward time, when they are faced with the failure of their repeated attempts at engagement while Iran races toward a nuclear weapon.

His message to them and all other leaders he met was: Put more pressure on Tehran. Take a hard line against Iran in the UN Security Council, in the International Atomic Energy Agency and in bilateral relations.

Bennett said returning to the 2015 JCPOA would be a mistake and will have the opposite effect of what they seek. He told leaders that removing sanctions only means Iran will have more money to fund its regional aggression.

And Bennett told them Israel has designated billions of shekels in the new state budget to defense, with a focus on new operative plans to counter the Iranian threat.

“If I am not for myself, who will be?” A diplomatic source said, using the proverb by Hillel to describe Bennett’s view on preparing for possible independent Israeli action against Iran.

But at the same time, the US and the E3 made it clear that they’re holding out for a negotiated solution to get Iran back into the JCPOA and then continue diplomacy.

“We are convinced that it is possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on a return to full compliance and to ensure for the long term that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes,” the statement said. “We call upon President Raisi to seize this opportunity and return to a good faith effort to conclude our negotiations as a matter of urgency. That is the only sure way to avoid a dangerous escalation, which is not in any country’s interest.”

As Iran continues to enrich uranium, the US and the E3 are trying to come up with a strategy of carrots and sticks to get Tehran back into negotiations. But so far, they have only come up with imploring Iran to come back to the table. Of course, the US sanctions are still in play, but they haven’t convinced Iran yet.

Bennett would like to see more sticks, and he said so to everyone he met.

People want to hear Bennett’s stance on Iran, the diplomatic source said, and they agree to continue the dialogue in the future.

But are they really listening? For now, it seems like the US and the E3 are sticking to their plan A despite indications it’s not working.