Johnson's backing of nuclear deal plan is a boon to Netanyahu - analysis

The British Prime Minister has come out in support for US President Trump's stance on the Iran nuclear deal - much to the delight of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Downing Street in London, Britain September 5, 2019. (photo credit: SIMON DAWSON/ REUTERS)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomes Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Downing Street in London, Britain September 5, 2019.
(photo credit: SIMON DAWSON/ REUTERS)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday that the Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015 and known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), could be replaced by a new deal.
“If we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it, and let’s replace it with the Trump deal,” he said. “That would be a great way forward.”
“President Trump is a great dealmaker, by his own account,” Johnson said. “Let’s work together to replace the JCPOA and get the Trump deal instead.”
Why are these comments significant? Because up until now, the European partners to the deal – Britain, France and Germany – have been hell-bent on preserving it. The US under Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, and the other two countries involved in the negotiations with Iran over the JCPOA deal – China and Russia – have shown no indication of wanting to change it.
Johnson’s saying the deal should be renegotiated moves him over to the side of Israel and the US, which have been arguing that for years.
The Johnson interview came shortly before the foreign ministers of the three European countries issued a statement triggering a dispute resolution mechanism in the deal, which is the first step toward snapping back UN sanctions on the Tehran regime for violating the terms of the agreement.
Under the agreement, the other signatories must now negotiate to try to get Iran back into compliance with the deal, which, as a result of the US withdrawal, it no longer feels bound by.
If these negotiations fail and Iran continues to violate the terms of the deal, UN sanctions, including an arms embargo, will be slapped on the Islamic Republic, which is reeling from the assassination of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, its responsibility for shooting down a civilian Ukrainian airliner and killing 176 people on board and ongoing protests inside the country against the regime.
The decision by the European countries to trigger the mechanism comes just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting for them to join the US in getting tough with the Iranians.
“I welcome President Trump’s decision to impose new very hard sanctions on that regime [Iran],” Netanyahu said, before adding a mantra he has been repeating for months: “I call on Britain, France and Germany to join the American efforts. They need to go to the UN Security Council and impose the sanctions that were decided upon previously.”
Last week, Trump also called on the Europeans to take action. “The very defective JCPOA expires shortly anyway and gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout,” he said during a speech following the Soleimani assassination.
“Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA, and we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place,” Trump said.
In announcing their decision to trigger the dispute-resolution mechanism in the JCPOA, the European powers made clear they disagree with Trump’s decision to leave the agreement in 2018 and were not joining his campaign of “maximum pressure” on the Islamic Republic.
At the same time, their move showed a rethinking about the deal and indicated their serious concern about Iranian noncompliance.
An unanticipated consequence of the European move now – and one that at least the leaders of France and Germany are not interested in – is that this will definitely be used by the Likud to boost Netanyahu in his reelection campaign.
Netanyahu, as he says frequently in his campaign speeches, stood solitary and alone against the world in opposing the nuclear deal – until Trump came along.
Then Israel and the US stood alone in opposing the deal, with the American opposition – and withdrawal from the deal – translated as well into crippling sanctions on Iran.
And now, the Likud will say, that stubbornness and determination are paying off, with even strong proponents of the deal – the Europeans – finally seeing and acknowledging its deep flaws.
With Wednesday’s closing of the deadline by which time the Knesset lists must be submitted, Israel’s third round of elections in a year will now officially kick off.
The primary thrust of the Blue and White Party in trying to dethrone Netanyahu is that because of the indictments over Netanyahu’s head, he is unfit to continue to serve.
The Likud’s main theme will be to highlight Netanyahu’s achievements in office: the country’s strong economy and its diplomatic standing in the world.
The Iran deal – or, more precisely, Netanyahu’s determined opposition to the deal – will now also be highlighted, with the recent developments and the apparent unraveling of the deal surely to be used as a vindication of Netanyahu’s dogged determination on this issue.
For Netanyahu, Tuesday’s developments on the JCPOA could not have come at a better time politically.