Bushehr for Yitzhar, why are West Bank issues tied to Iran? - analysis

The world, instead of paying attention to Iran and its continued march towards nukes, is fretting over annexation.

Bushehr nuclear power plant (photo credit: REUTERS)
Bushehr nuclear power plant
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yitzhar for Bushehr is the pithy catchphrase coined in 2009 to refer to the purported linkage the Obama Administration was making between the Palestinian and Iranian issues.
Yitzhar is a settlement in Samaria, while Bushehr is an Iranian nuclear plant near the Persian Gulf. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be willing to dismantle settlements like Yitzhar, according to this linkage, then the US would work with Israel to ensure the disassembly of Bushehr.
It’s been more than a decade since the motto caught on, and – with the change of the US administration in 2016 – it has fallen into disuse. But a paper written by the staff at IDC’s  Institute for Policy and Strategy in Herzliya on Monday brought it back to mind, but only in reverse.
According to this paper’s thesis, Jerusalem’s talk of extending its sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements – including Yitzhar – is distracting the world from dealing with the much more serious issue that the Bushehr nuclear facility symbolizes.
The world, instead of paying attention to Iran and its continued march towards nukes, is fretting over annexation, and what to do if Israel actually goes ahead with the move.
But even as the July 1 date approaches when Netanyahu can, under his coalition agreement with Blue and White, extend Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, there are new and worrisome developments regarding Iran that the world should be fretting about:
First are recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports indicating that since February Iran has increased its stockpile of low-grade enriched uranium by some 50%.
Second, the IAEA on Friday took the rare step of passing a resolution calling on Iran to provide immediate access to two sites suspected of having been used for nuclear purposes in the past.
Third, a UN embargo on arms sales to Iran is set to expire in October as part of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. While the US wants to extend the embargo, it is not clear what other countries will do.
And, as the IPS study points out, the lifting of the embargo will encourage “Russia to provide Iran with advanced weapons systems, including air defense systems, that could give it a sense of immunity and encourage it to further accelerate the nuclear project.”
In other words, despite all the talk here about annexation and the coronavirus, and despite the fact that Iran is no longer on the front pages of the country’s newspapers every day, that issue – that threat – has by no means disappeared.
The IDF realizes this, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said on Sunday that Iran has “become the most dangerous country in the Middle East.”
“It has made considerable progress in its nuclear program, but the nuclear [threat] is no longer the only threat,” he continued. “Iran also holds conventional weapons. It is supporting and financing our enemies in the first circle and chiefly Hezbollah, it influences and supports Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and it is behind attempts at terror actions against Israel in a variety of arenas.”
But all that is being drowned out, the IPS study argues, because of annexation. As Exhibit A, the paper pointed to the visit to Israel two weeks ago by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
In normal days, the paper noted, the Iranian issue would have topped the agenda of a visit with the senior German diplomat, especially since Germany – one of Israel’s close friends in Europe – is a central player when it comes to Iran, is one of the signatories to the nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic, and is currently a member of the UN Security Council.
“But in the current reality, the visit took place as part of Germany’s efforts to dissuade Israel from annexation, and even created a diplomatic dispute with Berlin as a result of Israel’s decision to prevent Maas from going to Ramallah,” the study noted.
Instead of talking about sanctions against Iran, Maas’ message in Jerusalem was that Germany wouldn’t be able to prevent sanctions against Israel in Europe or the recognition by some European countries of a Palestinian state. Ironically it was not sanctions against Iran that were publicly highlighted during the visit, but rather the possibility of some European sanctions against the Jewish state.
And that shift of attention, obviously, does not serve Israel’s interests.
In sharp contrast to the last number of years, Israel’s voice, according to the authors of the IPS paper, is hardly being raised in the international arena now regarding the Iranian issue, and Jerusalem is not coming out strongly and vociferously these days against its greatest threat.
This silence, according to the paper, “is particularly thunderous in light of the fact that until annexation was placed at the top of the agenda, Israel – led by Prime Minister Netanyahu – was the ‘engine’ that pushed the international arena into taking an aggressive position against the Iranian threats. This was done through diplomatic means and public diplomacy, [through] exposing intelligence and even through threats – some more veiled than others – to attack Iran.”
The Iranian threat is complex and complicated and needs the mobilization of the world, according to the paper. But instead of that, Israel’s annexation talk only “draws fire and distracts the attention of the world community, which in any event is limited because of the corona, from the Iranian threat. So instead of mobilizing the world to thwart the Iranian nuclear program, Israel is forcing its allies to invest considerable energy and effort in trying to thwart the annexation plan.”
Or, as the title to the paper put it, “Annexation ‘in,’ Iran ‘out,’ Israel harms the struggle against a nuclear Iran.”

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