Netanyahu's return to helm timely for push on Iran

DIPLOMATIC AFFAIRS: Between the mullahs’ violent response to protests and arming Russia against Ukraine, the West is more concerned about Tehran's ambitions now than for years.

 THEN-PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points to a red line he drew on the graphic of a bomb used to represent Iran’s nuclear program as he addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the UN in New York, in 2012. (photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)
THEN-PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu points to a red line he drew on the graphic of a bomb used to represent Iran’s nuclear program as he addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the UN in New York, in 2012.
(photo credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)

Assuming prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu swears in a government later this month, he will be entering office at an opportune time to press Western leaders to take a tougher stance on Iran.

The protests against Iran’s tyrannical theocratic regime continue, along with its ruthless crackdown, and this week’s report on the abolishment or scaling back of its modesty police was quickly revealed to be a ruse.

All that is taking place as the Islamic Republic continues to provide Russia with drones and other weapons for its war on Ukraine.

Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers stalled months ago amid last-minute demands from Tehran for guarantees from Washington that it cannot legally provide, as well as the West refusing the Islamic Republic’s condition that the International Atomic Energy Agency close its investigation into undeclared nuclear sites. In the meantime, Iran is still making strides in its nuclear program.

All of this adds up to a US and E3 – France, Germany and the UK – that should, at the very least, be less likely to believe in the wisdom of reaching a diplomatic agreement with a regime that is taking an active part in the Russia-Ukraine war, massacring its own citizens and showing no interest in slowing down its race toward nuclear weapons. And that’s for those who favored the Iran deal.

For those, like Netanyahu, who thought the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and attempts to revive it never had any merit, the latest news only proves one of their many points against the deal, that an agreement with the mullahs’ regime is not worth the paper on which it is written.

Blinken sees it different

US SECRETARY of State Antony Blinken sees things differently, however.

Blinken’s remarks on judging the presumptive Israeli government’s policies and actions rather than the politicians populating it got the most attention at this week’s J Street National Conference, but he had some interesting remarks on Iran, as well.

US-Israel military cooperation is key in countering the threats posed by Iran, Blinken said.

“In recent months, more and more countries are realizing... what we have long known about the Iranian regime’s propensity to sow violence and instability,” Blinken stated. “We see this daily, as the regime is once again viciously cracking down on peaceful protesters at home, killing hundreds of his own people, including scores of women and children.... At the same time, the regime is arming and training Russian forces with drones, drones that [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin is using to kill Ukrainian civilians.”

The US stands with the protesters, Blinken said to applause. The US will never allow Iran to attain a nuclear weapon, he said to further applause.

 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets Israeli president Isaac Herzog in Washington, DC, October 25, 2022 (credit: STEFANI REYNOLDS/POOL VIA REUTERS) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets Israeli president Isaac Herzog in Washington, DC, October 25, 2022 (credit: STEFANI REYNOLDS/POOL VIA REUTERS)

And the audience was just as pleased with the next line: “We continue to believe that the best way to ensure this is through diplomacy.”

Then, he sang the praises of the JCPOA as having been effective, spoke out against “maximum pressure” sanctions, which he said led Iran to no longer comply with the agreement’s constraints, and blamed the previous administration for the advances in Iran’s nuclear program, though US President Joe Biden has been in office for almost two years at this point.

In other words, new evidence and new circumstances have not really changed the US position.

Blinken made similar remarks to Jake Tapper on CNN the same day, though he said the focus is on the protests, even if he hasn’t given up on the JCPOA.

Still, Blinken told J Street, if Tehran won’t engage in diplomacy, “all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Netanyahu may have an easier time with some of the other Western parties to the Iran Deal.

Though there’s no question that the US set the tone for the E3 during the last year-and-a-half’s talks to revive the JCPOA, Israeli diplomatic sources, including Prime Minister Yair Lapid himself, have said repeatedly that London and Paris are closer to Jerusalem’s position.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called, in a campaign speech to Conservative Friends of Israel in August, to “put snapback sanctions on the table.”

Snapback sanctions are a mechanism by which all pre-JCPOA sanctions on Iran would be brought back, if the Islamic Republic violates the agreement. Any party to the deal can unilaterally tell the UN Security Council to reinstate the sanctions, but when the US attempted to do so, the other countries rejected its attempt, because it was after the US left the deal in 2018.

Those sanctions are exactly what Netanyahu would want Israel’s allies to do, but Sunak was more circumspect in recent remarks, after becoming prime minister.

Last week, he wrote to Conservative Friends of Israel that Iran’s nuclear escalation is “threatening international security and undermining the global nonproliferation system,” and the UK “will continue working with Israel and all our allies to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

Sunak did not mention snapback sanctions or any specific actions.

French President Emmanuel Macron similarly didn’t mention specifics but said last month that a “new framework” will be needed to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“I don’t think there will be new proposals which can be made right now [to save the nuclear deal],” he stated.

Following Macron’s meeting with Biden last week, their offices said the leaders “remain determined to ensure that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon.”

“France and the United States continue to work with other international partners to address Iran’s nuclear escalation, its insufficient cooperation with the IAEA, including on serious and outstanding issues relating to Iran’s legal obligations under its Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, and its destabilizing activities in the Middle East, most urgently its transfers of missiles and drones, including to non-state actors,” the statement read.

The countries will work together to enforce “relevant UN Security Council resolutions” to counter those actions, they said. Snapback sanctions could be one of those resolutions, but Blinken’s comments imply that is not what they meant.

Netanyahu has long fixated on Iran as the primary threat to the State of Israel – even to the exclusion of addressing bipartisan relations in meetings with leaders of countries involved in the Iran deal, as one E3 diplomat recounted.

While his meetings may not be 100% about Iran, as the E3 diplomat described years’ worth of conversations between Netanyahu and his country’s leader, there is no reason to think that the prime minister-designate will change his tune very much, if at all.

Netanyahu is sure to take advantage of the timing and the West’s expressions of disgust and disappointment with Iran’s violence against protesters and aiding Russia, to point out the inconsistency of continuing to seek a revival of the JCPOA, and to push for sanctions and a credible military threat to the Islamic Republic, as it continues to pursue nuclear weapons.