Israel’s wish list for a new Iran Deal: Stop enrichment before missiles

Another Israeli priority is “anywhere, anytime inspections” of Iran nuclear sites, as opposed to Tehran being forewarned as the deal currently requires.

A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor, Iran (photo credit: REUTERS/RAHEB HOMAVANDI)
A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor, Iran
Ensuring US President Joe Biden’s administration works to fully and effectively prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is the first priority for Israel, before the oft-discussed clauses to stop Tehran’s ballistic missile program and malign actions throughout the Middle East, senior Israeli officials involved in formulating Israel’s strategy said this week.
Israel will first work to discourage the US from opening its discussions with Iran with “compliance for compliance,” meaning that the US would rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and lift sanctions as a gesture in exchange for Iran complying with the agreement, a high-level government source said.
If the Biden administration enters into talks with Iran, Israel will seek to ensure the weak points of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, are left out of the new deal.
Those include removing the sunset clauses, which gradually removed sanctions and limitations on uranium enrichment, such that Iran would have been able to develop a nuclear weapon in 2030 under the terms of the JCPOA.
Another Israeli priority is “anywhere, anytime inspections” of Iran nuclear sites, as opposed to Tehran being forewarned as the deal currently requires.
Those are far more important to Israel than something members of the Biden administration and some Israeli media reports have suggested: to add clauses to the JCPOA to stop Iran’s ballistic missile program and malign activities in the region.
“We can live with what [Iran does] in Syria – we attack there anyway,” the senior source said. “The sunset clauses are a bigger concern for Israel.”
A senior official from another part of the government said Iran must not have a right to enrich uranium under whatever future framework is reached.
“No country that wants a peaceful nuclear program should demand to enrich independently,” the official said.
Still, the government has yet to adopt an official plan on addressing the Biden administration’s intention to negotiate a return to the Iran deal. As reported in The Jerusalem Post earlier this week, the security cabinet has not met to discuss the matter, but the senior government source said a smaller forum of top ministers will likely determine overall strategy.
In recent weeks, Biden administration officials have said talk of rejoining the JCPOA is premature, and that they plan to speak with allies in the region, Israel among them, before negotiating with Iran.
Both sources said Israel is reassured by those remarks, and that Israel is not looking for a fight with Biden. Rather, Israeli officials prefer that there be conversations behind closed doors between top officials.
They pointed out that a good relationship with the US is of strategic importance to Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to seek an in-person meeting with Biden in the coming months. Such a meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the new US president is customary during the first few months of a new administration in Washington in recent decades, but has even greater urgency due to the administration’s Iran policies. However, Biden may not want to meet with Netanyahu before the March 23 election in order not to appear like he is taking sides.
“We’re hopeful for a positive, constructive dialogue” with the Biden administration, the senior official said, and not to “repeat the mistakes of the past. A public spat is something you do only if all other options pass you by.”
The source compared the Biden administration’s statements to those of US president Barack Obama’s administration: “In 2013 to 2015, the Americans deliberately misled us,” he said. “There was no serious dialogue, and we were presented with a fait accompli. Israel was responding to what we considered to be American bad faith.”
Similarly, former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror told 103FM on Wednesday: “Those who say we lashed out at [former US president Barack] Obama are wrong. The Americans tricked us. In conversations between us, they hid the negotiations and went to an agreement with Iran.”
Both sources also emphasized the importance of shared interests and cooperation with Gulf states when it comes to Iran, saying it will amplify their voices in opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
IN THE meantime, Israel continues to focus its public efforts on explaining why a return to the JCPOA would be unacceptable for the aforementioned reasons, and that Iran will not compromise if pressure – in the form of Trump-era sanctions – is lifted.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi signaled earlier this week that Israel’s defense establishment and government are of one mind on this matter.
“Going back to the Iran deal from 2015, or even to a similar deal with a few improvements, is a bad, wrong thing,” Kochavi said in an address to the Institute for National Security Studies Annual International Conference on Tuesday. “It is bad operationally and strategically. If the Iran deal, from 2015, would have materialized, at the end of the day Iran could have obtained a bomb, because the deal did not include limitations to stop it at the end.”
Both Kochavi and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in their remarks at the INSS conference that Israel must have a credible military option to respond to the Iranian nuclear threat.
The senior official pointed to Obama administration officials citing Israeli defense figures who were not as opposed to the Iran deal that was being negotiated to try to drive a wedge between Israeli officials and weaken their efforts against the JCPOA.
Similarly, Amirdror criticized those who claimed Kochavi’s statements were political, saying: “The same people who praised and glorified and said there is no choice – the head of the Mossad is opposed, the IDF chief of staff is opposed, the defense minister is opposed, so the prime minister can’t attack Iran – are now explaining that it’s not good that the IDF chief of staff is in favor [of the prime minister’s] policy and [asking] how can that be?”
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke with US Defense Secretary Lloyd James Austin III on Thursday in what was dubbed an introductory call.
A Defense Ministry statement said that Gantz congratulated the secretary on his new position, and expressed his anticipation at resuming the longstanding professional relationship between the two.
Gantz highlighted the importance of confronting Iranian aggression to ensure regional stability, and underlined the centrality of ongoing dialogue and strategic coordination at every level of interface between the two defense establishments.
The statement added that Austin reaffirmed the strength of the US-Israel defense relationship, and reiterated the US commitment to maintaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.
Both leaders agreed to remain in close coordination on shared defense priorities, and expressed their intention to meet in person at the earliest opportunity.
Udi Shaham contributed to this report.