Israel must prepare for a nuclear Iran - opinion

Israel will now have to make preparations for “Plan C” – defending itself against the threat posed by a nuclear Iran.

 US AMBASSADOR to Israel Thomas Nides greets Secretary of State Antony Blinken at Ben-Gurion Airport, upon the secretary’s arrival for a visit in March. US officials, including the ambassador, have openly stated they would not restrict Israel from acting against Iran if it felt compelled to do so. (photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters)
US AMBASSADOR to Israel Thomas Nides greets Secretary of State Antony Blinken at Ben-Gurion Airport, upon the secretary’s arrival for a visit in March. US officials, including the ambassador, have openly stated they would not restrict Israel from acting against Iran if it felt compelled to do so.
(photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters)

Israel is pursuing a delicate balancing act as it seeks to preserve and strengthen its alliance with its number one ally, the US, while at the same time objecting to the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. To understand the intricacies of this diplomatic maneuver, it is worth first examining the origins of the US-Israeli special relationship.

While no formal defense treaty exists between the two countries, there are numerous strategic formal and informal agreements on energy, technology, defense, intelligence cooperation, economy and trade. The bilateral bonds are strong, wide-ranging, and deep. Additionally, Israel is more than simply another ally or a recipient of generous American assistance; it actively assists the US.

American financial military funds for Israel, amounting to $3.9 billion a year, are invested in American defense industries. Israeli battlefield experience and technology directly assist American ballistic missile defense development, cyber defense and more. At the community level, in the US, Jewish and evangelical communities both treasure Israel’s welfare and security.

This is the foundation for some extremely significant principles that characterize bilateral relations. The first principle is complete transparency, meaning no concealment, and mutual respect.

The second principle is that of no surprises. This applies less to the tactical-military level and more to the grand strategic and political level. Neither side wants to catch the other off guard when making a significant move. This also suggests that both parties would know in advance about any US failure to veto a UN Security Council resolution against Israel.

 US AMBASSADOR to Israel Tom Nides meets with President Isaac Herzog. The ambassador has applied pressure on Israel to pass legislation to enter the Visa Waiver Program. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) US AMBASSADOR to Israel Tom Nides meets with President Isaac Herzog. The ambassador has applied pressure on Israel to pass legislation to enter the Visa Waiver Program. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The third principle is bipartisan American support for Israel. This is one of the three golden rules, and according to it, Israel is above any political debate in the US. Today, with extreme polarization underway in the US – something that has been in place throughout both the Obama and Trump administrations – this principle has been eroded.

Today, Israel deals with a new US president, one who is not necessarily a trailblazer, but who maintains fair ties with Israel. This is an administration that is well versed – as is the current Israeli government – in knowing how to agree to disagree. This means that relations are not undermined by a lack of agreement.

Can Washington revive the Iran deal?

INTO THIS framework enters the effort by Washington to revive the Iranian nuclear deal, which was scrapped in 2015. Back when the nuclear deal was first passed seven years ago, Israel bet on going to Congress to torpedo it, but this was a total failure, and as a result, the US excluded Israel from the talks. Back then, Jerusalem found itself without any control or up-to-date knowledge regarding the specifics of the agreement.

Based on the bitter experience of 2015, Israel should avoid public fights with the US, or any move that can be regarded as meddling in internal American politics. It should avoid crossing the known boundaries – but without giving up on any of its principled objections to the would-be deal, and the dangers that it could bring.

It is not necessary for Israel to align itself with all American policies; rather, it must communicate discreetly with members of Congress. This isn’t about self-censorship, but rather, about how the message is delivered.

Israel is still obligated to exert every effort that it can, without harming ties, to object to the proposed nuclear agreement. If the US still decides to sign the deal in the end, Israel will have the ability to reserve its right to announce that it is not a party to the agreement and that it retains its freedom of action.

In such a scenario, Israel’s government should switch to a “Plan B” – a compensation package for Israel that would better position it to strike Iran’s nuclear program in the future. American officials, including the Ambassador to Israel Thomas R. Nides, have openly stated that they would not restrict Israel from acting if it felt compelled to do so.

This means that if Israel felt it needed to strike the nuclear program in the future, Jerusalem would have to alert Washington (in a way that would not jeopardize the information’s security). This has precedent.

I was a political adviser to ex-Israeli premier Ariel Sharon, when the Americans first arrived in Afghanistan in 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11. We received a call from then-president George W. Bush to warn us that the attack was coming and that there could be regional repercussions from Islamists. In 2003, a similar scenario played out prior to the American attack on the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.   

In assessing the Israeli government’s performance in its dealings with the US administration over the current Iran nuclear negotiations, the government receives a good grade. Both prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid have been able to strike the balance described above.

It must also be noted that Israel’s influence on this issue is limited. The US is driven by global economic and military interests, such as bringing down energy prices – something Iranian oil and gas can certainly help to do if sanctions are lifted – and prioritizing great power competition with China and Russia.

These are factors Israel must comprehend, even if it does not like them.

Israel will now have to make preparations for “Plan C” – defending itself against the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. It must fully utilize the delivery of military platforms that it can secure from the US to do so. 

The writer is a publishing expert with The MirYam Institute. He served as Israel’s ambassador to the US from July 2002 to November 2006.